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Friday, October 02, 2009

NARP letter to FTA suggests changes to proposed Hudson River Tunnel

Written by 

(Below is a letter to The Honorable Peter M. Rogoff, Administrator, 
Federal Transit Administration
, from the National Association of Rail Pasengers. The letter was co-signed by several other organizations interested in rail passenger service.)

Thank you for meeting with Albert Papp, George Haikalis and Sean Jeans-Gail on August 21 to discuss the defects of New Jersey Transit's (NJT) new design for the Mass Transit Tunnel (formerly the Access to the Region's Core) project.

This project has the potential to promote economic development and job creation throughout the Northeast for the next century. However, if the project goes forward as now planned, it will probably go down as one of the greatest wastes of taxpayer money in history - because of what this $10.4-billion project should have delivered but didn't.

In its decision to eliminate the connection at Penn Station, NJT has put the entire region at risk. NJT's revised project has:

• Gambled that the two existing tunnels - engineered and constructed more than a century ago - will last for another century. That is far from certain. It is certain that a catastrophic failure of either tunnel would inflict incalculable damage on the Northeast and the nation.

• Made significant expansion of regional, intercity and high speed services along the Northeast Corridor enormously - and needlessly - more expensive.

• Reduced the value of the new tunnels even to its own customers. They will not double trans-Hudson capacity as one would expect because they dead end at a limited capacity station, buried 175 feet below 34th Street that lacks convenient connectivity with other regional services.

For these three reasons alone, the NJT plan is irresponsible at its core and offers a case study as to why deference to the "locally preferred alternative" does not serve the public interest.

There is still time for the Department of Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration to correct these mistakes without delaying completion or increasing costs:

• Establish "through running" of regional trains to increase capacity at Penn Station quickly;

• Restore the connection to Penn Station;

• Eliminate the deep cavern station under 34th Street and the construction of a deep shaft on the Manhattan side scheduled to begin in January 2010, saving $3 billion;

• Invest some of those savings to provide additional tracks and platforms at Penn Station;

• Accelerate the hard rock tunnels under the Palisades in New Jersey and the soft rock tunnels under the Hudson River;

• Change the profile of the tunnels under the river to meet the requirements of the "cut and cover" connection to Penn Station (this change would not delay the start of the soft rock tunnel construction, which begins at the New Jersey waterfront).

The U.S. Department of Transportation is in an excellent position to facilitate increased interstate cooperation by funding a demonstration project that would jump start a "through running" service plan at Penn Station. Further USDOT could lead in the effort to restart planning for the long sought connection between Penn Station and Grand Central that was developed and analyzed in the 2003 ARC Major Investment Study.

Completing the planning and design of this link - the most important rail station connection in the nation - could be finalized in as little as two years. In fewer than the eight years it would take to complete NJT's dead-end "deep cavern" terminal, a much more useful, game-changing regional rail plan could become fully operational. This result would be a credit to the foresight of the Obama Administration.

George Chilson , NARP 
Chairman of the Board

Ross Capon, NARP 
President & CEO

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