For NJ Commuters, Gateway is no ARC

As part of this afternoon’s announcement of the proposed Amtrak Gateway Tunnel, Senator Lautenberg’s (NJ-D) office has released a comparison of the three trans-hudson tunnel projects: Gateway, the now-defunct ARC tunnel, and the 7-Train to Secaucus.
This nifty chart is available at Lautenberg’s website:

If anything, the chart is a testament to just how benefitial the ARC Tunnel promised to be, noting, for example, that ARC promised to connect commuters to the Subway lines at Herald Square. The biggest difference between the two projects, however, are the compromises that Gateway requires of NJ Transit (NJT).  For passengers on trains from Bergen, Passaic, Rockland and Orange Counties on the Main-Bergen and Pascack Valley lines, Gateway will not provide the long-promised, one-seat ride to Manhattan (at least not at first). Furthermore, NJ Transit will have to coordinate operating control of the new tunnels. The current tunnels (technically known as the North River Tunnels) are controlled solely by Amtrak, whose trains take precedence over NJ Transit – wreaking havoc on the commuting schedule when an inter-city train is delayed.  In contrast, ARC promised a set of tunnels completely operated by NJT. The details of the Gateway operating arrangement are not clear, but improvements over the current arrangement are essential. Finally, as I noted yesterday, Gateway only increases NJT’s peak train capacity by 13 additional trains, as opposed to ARC’s 24 additional trains.

The Gateway project, however, also includes a grab-bag of brand new items. New access for Metro North at NY Penn is a full component of Gateway, whereas ARC mentioned it as a possible future project. In fact, a presentation on Lautenberg’s site promises capacity for six hourly trains on Metro North’s New Haven and Hudson Lines (the Harlem Line would not have access to the station). In addition, Gateway’s new Penn Station South adds four new platforms serving seven tracks underground between 30th and 31st streets from 7th Ave. to just west of 8th Ave. Finally, Amtrak’s proposal also suggests extending the 7-Train not westward, but eastward from its future terminus at 34th St. and 10th Ave to Penn Station. It seems the cost of this extension is not factored into Gateway’s estimated price.

A critical benefit of Gateway, that is not being widely touted, is the system redundancy that the connectivity to Penn provides. The ARC tunnels were to be completely separate from the existing Penn tubes. If for some reason a train dies in one tunnel, as happens frequently now, the Gateway tunnels will provide a back-up. Due to the complicated nature of the train platforms underneath Moynihan station, however, it seems impossible for NJTransit and Amtrak to utilize three of the four tunnels for peak-directional flow as the LIRR currently performs in its four tunnels under the East River.
The price comparisons between Gateway and ARC, reported at $13B and $10B respectively, are also misleading. The Gateway Tunnel also includes the Portal Bridge Replacement project, which ARC critics demanded should have been considered part of ARC’s total cost. Like ARC and the Portal Bridge projects, Gateway will double the Right-Of-Way from Newark Penn Station to New York Penn Station from two to four tracks.  Any changes to the connection between the Northeast Corridor and NJT’s Morris & Essex and Montclair Lines (located just west of the Portal Bridge) remain unclear at this time.

To view the full PDF presentation on Gateway, click here.

2 thoughts on “For NJ Commuters, Gateway is no ARC

  1. bob says:

    Firstly, although Sen. L probably doesn’t know it, the 7 Line extension goes to 26 St (tail tracks) so looping back up to Penn Station seems highly unlikely.

    More importantly, at the final public hearings for ARC, I remember them saying the Corp of Engineers made them go much deeper under the river, and that is why they lost the connection to Penn Station. (The FEIS blames it on poor rock quality in Manhattan, but I’m sure I heard the presenter mention the Corps wanting more space from the riverbed.) I don’t see anything in this plan to address that issue. They need to lock that down early, or it’s just a deep cavern under 31st St, not Macy’s.

    And since East Side Access should free up capacity in PSNY, that will allow MN to come in, so that really isn’t an issue here.

  2. […] ahead, the Gateway Tunnel would not have so dramatic of an effect as ARC. First, Gateway will not provide a one-seat ride to riders on […]

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