Planetizen - Urban Planning News, Jobs, and Education

Northeast Rail Corridor Woes Extend Far Beyond Hudson River Tunnels

While Amtrak's century-old Hudson River rail tunnels may capture the public's attention, particularly when they are closed, infrastructure problems on the Northeast Corridor also plague the line from Rhode Island to Washington, D.C.
August 1, 2015, 5am PDT | Irvin Dawid
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments

Four days of delays for New Jersey Transit and Amtrak riders at New York's Penn Station caused by electrical problems in the Hudson River rail tunnels that shut down rail travel to New Jersey are emblematic of more widespread infrastructure problems that plague Amtrak's busiest and most profitable rail line, the Northeast Corridor.

Another century-old tunnel in Maryland and "an aging swing bridge (that) failed to close twice last summer" in Connecticut are described by Emma G. Fitzsimmons and David W. Chen at the onset of their comprehensive piece in The New York Times. 

Then there's the 104-year-old Portal Bridge, a swing bridge over the Hackensack River in New Jersey that frequently fails to close.

That's not to diminish the importance of replacing the Hudson River rail tunnels. New York Times architectural critic Michael Kimmelman wrote on July 8 that "a plan for a pair of new passenger tunnels under the Hudson River, called Gateway, surely ranks one, two and three in terms of urgent rail projects."

"These troubles have become all too common on the Northeast Corridor which stretches from Washington to Boston and carries about 750,000 riders each day on Amtrak and several commuter rail lines," write Fitzsimmons and Chen.

The corridor’s ridership has doubled in the last 30 years even as its old and overloaded infrastructure of tracks, power lines, bridges and tunnels has begun to wear out. And with Amtrak and local transit agencies struggling for funding, many fear the disruptions will continue to worsen in the years ahead.

The shutdown of the corridor for one day could cost the country $100 million in added congestion, productivity losses and other effects, according to a report from the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission, a group established by Congress to improve the network.

The reporters go on to describe poor on-time performance by commuter trains from Providence, R.I., and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) plagued by "problems or congestion in the short section of track they share with Amtrak at Penn Station."

In a separate piece, Fitzsimmons writes the New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), in response to a letter by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx for a meeting on the Hudson River rail tunnels, are asking the federal government to "make a significant contribution" toward the tunnels' replacement.

Federal transportation funding is far from certain, though The Gateway Program indicates that only $300 million is available for the $16 billion project. The six-year transportation bill (a stand-in for the DRIVE Act) passed by the U.S. Senate on Thursday set aside "$1.65 billion a year for Amtrak" through 2019, writes Joan Lowy of The Associated Press.

However, that bill won't be seen by the House until September. The Senate also passed a three-month patch bill that was approved by the House on Wednesday. That bill will keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through October.

Full Story:
Published on Sunday, July 26, 2015 in The New York Times - N.Y. / Region
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email