Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Amtrak Needs $38 Billion for Northeast Corridor Repairs

  • Scarce funds for line used mostly by N.Y. and N.J. commuters
  • Through 2022, $10 billion needed for Gateway tunnel project

The busiest U.S. passenger rail route needs $38 billion to stay in good working order, a 36 percent jump over the estimate just a year ago, according to a group that oversees the Northeast Corridor.

Though Amtrak and the regional railroads that use its tracks have pledged $3.3 billion for infrastructure over five years, that won’t go toward the backlog of projects needed to refurbish signals and power systems, replace bridges and build a new Hudson River tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, according to a five-year capital-investment plan released Thursday by the Northeast Corridor Commission.

All told, 820,000 daily riders -- two-thirds of them commuters using New Jersey Transit, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road -- are at risk of increased service interruptions or even failure of the entire 457-mile (735-kilometer) Boston-to-Washington route. Last fiscal year, 11 percent of trains using the line were late or canceled.

“The corridor’s aging infrastructure is already subject to service disruptions caused by infrastructure failures, rail-traffic congestion and other factors that cost the economy $500 million per year in lost productivity,” Connecticut Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, co-chairman of the commission, wrote in the report. A shutdown of the entire route could have a $100 million daily impact on the U.S. economy, he wrote.

The panel was created in 2008 by Congress to develop recommendations for the network. It comprises transportation officials from each of the Northeast Corridor states, Amtrak and the U.S. Transportation Department.

Delayed work is taking a toll on passengers at Amtrak’s New York Pennsylvania Station, its busiest, where two derailments in March and April required emergency repairs that upended commuter and regional service for days. After the mishap, Amtrak announced a stepped-up maintenance schedule that is resulting in regular New Jersey Transit delays of 15 minutes or more on weekdays, and twice that on weekends.

Starting in July, Amtrak has proposed a project schedule that would cause 44 days of major disruptions over two months, according to a preliminary plan obtained by Bloomberg. Amtrak and its tenant railroads say the schedule is in flux, and they are working together to minimize inconvenience.

The existing Hudson River tunnel was built in 1910, and Amtrak leadership has said it has less than 20 years of serviceable life left. Repairs from Hurricane Sandy will require those tubes to be taken out of service for extended periods, and won’t begin until the opening of a new tunnel, part of Amtrak’s $24 billion Gateway project. About 25 percent of Amtrak’s repair backlog -- $10 billion -- is for Gateway, according to the report.

“Without sufficient investment to begin to address the state-of-good-repair backlog, the NEC will eventually fail to support existing service,” according to the commission’s report.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, in 2010 canceled construction on another Hudson River tunnel, which would have opened in 2018, over design criticisms and potential cost overruns to be paid by New Jerseyans.

He since has raised New Jersey Transit fares twice and drained $2.94 billion from its capital budget over seven years to pay for operations. Last year, New Jersey Transit, the nation’s second-busiest commuter railroad after the Long Island Rail Road, logged the most accidents among its peers, federal records show. In 2015, according to the most recent available data, New Jersey Transit reported the most breakdowns.

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