Amtrak Wants U.S. to Cover 80% of Tunnel as States Pay Remainder

Amtrak is looking for the federal government to foot 80 percent of the cost of its stalled Gateway tunnel project under the Hudson River.

The tunnel for Manhattan commuters could be in service by 2025, Stephen Gardner, executive vice president for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor business development, told New Jersey lawmakers Monday. Environmental research prior to construction would take two to four years and is expected to start as early as next month, he said.

In the meantime, service disruptions are “not likely to be entirely preventable” and “likely to increase,” Gardner said at a hearing called after equipment breakdowns caused a spate of delays for riders.

“It’s quite possible these delays will become the norm,” Gardner said.

New Jersey Transit riders faced delays of as much as 90 minutes on six out of July’s 22 business days due to problems with electrical wires. The disruptions led U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to call for meetings with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to discuss reviving Gateway, an alternative tunnel proposed by Amtrak in February 2011.

The $16 billion project, which includes replacement of the key Manhattan link on Amtrak’s Washington-to-Boston Northeast Corridor, has languished without financial commitments.

Gardner said the 80 percent federal cost-share plan envisions New York, New Jersey and Amtrak paying the rest. One financing option, he said, is a loan at roughly 2 percent interest from the Federal Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program.

On Aug. 7, Cuomo said the U.S. government’s offer of only lending was unacceptable.

New Jersey Transit, the nation’s largest statewide mass-transit system, handles 955,000 trips daily across 12 rail lines, 260 bus routes and three light-rail lines. Amtrak, the national railroad, owns the tracks and malfunctioning infrastructure that New Jersey Transit blames for the snarls.

The only direct rail access between New Jersey and Manhattan are a pair of century-old tubes that are at capacity and in need of major repairs. Amtrak would need to take each out of commission for at least a year to rebuild, according to Gardner. In that case, a maximum 24 trains per hour would drop to six.

At the same time, travel demand is expected to double by 2030. Even after tunnels are built, New York Pennsylvania Station won’t have capacity for the expanded traffic, Gardner said.

“Growth is threatened by bottlenecks” he said. “Without adding more trains, the corridor won’t be able to grow.”

Christie, a 52-year-old Republican running for president, in 2010 canceled a $12.4 billion tunnel project known as ARC, or Access to the Region’s Core, citing design issues and potential cost overruns. The biggest planned U.S. infrastructure project at the time, ARC would have doubled peak rail service to Manhattan as soon as 2018.