Hudson Rail Tunnels Have Up to 20 Years Left, Amtrak Says

Century-old rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River have at most two decades of service remaining and Amtrak lacks funding to replace them, according to Joseph Boardman, president and chief executive officer of Amtrak.

“I’m being told we’ve got something less than 20 years before we have to shut one or two down,” Boardman, the top executive at the U.S. national rail operator, said last month at a conference of the Regional Plan Association in New York.

“I don’t know if that something less than 20 is seven, or some other number,” he said at the April 25 event, in remarks reported yesterday on Capital New York’s website. “But to build new ones, you’re talking seven to nine years to deliver, if we all decided today that we could do it.”

Boardman’s comments show there’s no short-term solution for delay-plagued Manhattan-bound commuters on New Jersey Transit trains as well as for travelers on Amtrak’s Northeast corridor service. The Regional Plan Association, which studies transportation and development policy in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, posted the conference audio on its website.

Access to the Region’s Core, a $12.4 billion project to replace the Hudson tunnels, was canceled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2010. ARC would have more than doubled the number of peak-time runs, to 48 trains per hour.

‘Never-Ending Hook’

Christie’s decision to halt the Hudson tunnel cost the state $3 billion in federal assistance and, according to the U.S. General Accountability Office, more than 202,000 direct and indirect jobs over a decade.

The expenses were to be shared among the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the federal government and the state. Christie said he couldn’t put New Jersey taxpayers on a “never-ending hook” for potential cost overruns.

The tunnel would have led to $9 billion in business activity and $1.5 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue during nine years of construction, according to the March 2012 report by the GAO.

An ARC alternative that Amtrak calls Gateway, with a 2030 completion date, has no funding in place, Boardman said. Renovating the existing tunnels would be more expensive and would allow a maximum six trains per hour to pass, he said.

‘Tremendous Potential’

“Governor Christie has always recognized the need for additional trans-Hudson transit capacity, and he remains committed to a plan that is fair and equitable, with costs shared between all benefiting jurisdictions, including New York State, New York City and the federal government,” spokesman Michael Drewniak wrote in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, the ARC tunnel project was not an equitable solution and in fact left New Jersey exclusively responsible for billions in cost overruns.”

Wendy Pollack, a spokeswoman for the Regional Plan Association, said the Gateway project holds “tremendous potential” and needs to move forward soon to meet the timeframe.

“It would have an enormous impact on commuters if one of the tunnels had to be taken out of service for maintenance or worse,” she said in a telephone interview. “It would be chaos on the roadways. There isn’t even enough capacity in our other transportation systems.”

The rail connection between New York and New Jersey is the “lifeline of the region’s economy” and without the ability to move people through the New York area, companies would be likely to shift investment and operations elsewhere.

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