Monthly Archives: April 2012

Breaking: Gateway Proposal to Include “Bergen Loop” Option

As reported by North Jersey.com, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole has set the record straight on Gateway’s benefits for NJ Transit commuters. Despite early reports, the current planning for Gateway includes an option for a “Bergen Loop” which would connect NJ TRANSIT’s Main/Bergen County Line and Pascack Valley Line to the Gateway tunnel, providing a one-seat ride to NYC. The Bergen Loop would also serve Metro-North’s Port Jervis Line, which connects to the Main/Bergen Line.

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ARC FEIS: The original plan for a Secaucus Loop which would have connected the Main/Bergen lines to the ARC tunnels.

According to Cole, the loop is just an option for the plan. Also, since it would only benefit NJT (and potentially MTA), financing the section would pose separate challenges than the main portions of Gateway, which would benefit the commuter rail road.

Since the Gateway project only promises to add 13 slots per hour to NJT’s peak-hour schedules, it’s unclear how frequently such a loop would be used and whether it would be a worthwhile investment.

The original ARC project included a loop (not as an option, but as the definitive plan), but NJT expected to gain 24 slots per hour. According to ARC Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), by 2030 NJT planned to distribute all 24 slots across all of its lines during the peak hour. The new service plan would introduce one-seat ride service to Manhattan on the Bergen County/Main, Pascack Valley and Raritan Valley lines, as well as to riders on the non-electrified portions of the North-Jersey Coast and Montclair-Boonton lines.

With only 13 new slots, there is no way this service plan could be implemented. For example, with ARC, NJ TRANSIT planned to give 5 peak hour slots to the Main/Bergen, 2 to the Pascack Valley, and 2 to the Port Jervis Line by 2030. (See chart below.) That total, 9, would amount to more than half of the 13 new slots for just two of NJT’s seven primary lines. If NJT distributed the new slots following the same proportions, these lines would see only about 4 or 5 trains per hour in the peak in total.

It is difficult to determine whether those levels of service would justify the expense of the now so-called “Bergen Loop” (the title of which will likely further politicize its fortune in NJ politics). On the one hand, even low levels of service to NYC, as seen on the Gladstone Branch, can benefit communities and increase ridership. On the other hand, according to the ARC FEIS, the planned service levels would have increased ridership on the Main/Bergen line over a no-build scenario by up to 30%, the largest increase of any line. Without those service levels, the benefits created by increased ridership (reduced travel time, increased productivity, higher property values, etc.) will not be realized. Furthermore, as the chart below indicates, NJT may not even need a loop to see big ridership gains. Even in a no-build scenario without ARC, NJT expected ridership on the Main/Bergen lines to double by 2030.

Regardless of its near- or medium-term impacts, the Bergen Loop may be a good investment for the very long term. At some point beyond Gateway, the region will need to further expand trans-Hudson capacity, as the Gateway project will fail to provide the capacity NJ TRANSIT will need in coming decades. Whether its 20, 50, or 100 years from now, the Bergen Loop could be ready for the third NEC rail tunnel between NY and NJ.

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ARC FEIS: Planned service levels with ARC by 2030.

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ARC FEIS: Expected ridership with ARC and without ARC (No-Build).

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves $20 Million for Gateway

This afternoon, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to appropriate $20 million to Amtrak for design and engineering of the Gateway Project, the railroad’s proposal to add two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River and expand NY Penn Station. The vote follows last week’s report challenging Governor Chris Christie’s cost estimates of the canceled ARC tunnel and calls from several outletslegislators and Amtrak to support the Gateway plan

Ray Smith reports for Politicker NJ:

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee today approved $20 million for Amtrak to continue work on the Gateway Tunnel project, according to a release from the offices of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).The $20 million is part of the 2013 fiscal year U.S. Senate Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Bill. The bill still has to be approved by the full Senate.

Whether Amtrak will see this money or not remains unclear. Even if the full Senate approves, it’s likely that the appropriations will need to be reconciled with spending plans in the House, where support for transit and Amtrak has been less popular.

Nevertheless, Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ), who just yesterday argued with Bill Baroni, the Deputy Director of the Port Authority of NY and NJ, over ARC and bridge tolls, greeted today’s vote with praise and continued to push for the project. In a joint release with Senator Menendez (D-NJ), Lauteneberg again called Gateway as “critical to addressing our state’s transportation crisis” and promised to “continue working to secure federal funds to advance the project.” Menendez also praised the vote, but also prepared advocates for a long journey for full funding: “This funding is an important step in a long process to get this project under construction.”

Last November, Congress approved $15 Million for design and engineering. If today’s appropriation is approved, Amtrak’s total for engineering would be $35 Million. That amount is a far cry from the total cost of the project, which Amtrak estimated last year at $10 Billion.

With 7-Train off the Table, Spotlight Shines on Gateway

After remarks by MTA Chairman Ray Lhota on Tuesday declaring the 7-Train extension to Secaucus too expensive for the MTA, Amtrak’s Gateway proposal has gotten some additional attention.

According to the Star Ledger and others, during his remarks to the New York Building Congress, Lohta his support to the Gateway project. After a flurry of press activity and a response from Mayor Blookmberg, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) took the opportunity to reiterate his support for the Gateway project. In a press statement, Lautenberg asserts:

As we look at the transportation challenges ahead, Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel is the best option for New Jersey commuters and the entire region. . . . The existing tunnel cannot keep up with commuters’ needs, and we need a solution as soon as possible.

Earlier this year, Lautenberg helped secure $15M in federal funding for Amtrak to start preliminary engineering and design of the Gateway Project. In March, Lautenberg also pushed Transportation Secretary LaHood on Gateway during a hearing in Congress. As reported by Kate Hinds on TransportationNation, LaHood responded, “We are working with both New Jersey and New York. We know this tunnel is absolutely critical and we will continue our work. Look, if this is the priority for the region, then it becomes a priority for us.”

Lautenber’s vocal support for the project has arisen amidst a fierce debate about  transportation spending in Congress. In recent weeks, political leaders in NY and NJ have been vocal about funding transportation in the region, following the Senate’s passage of the MAP-21 legislation. In March, Senators Lautenberg and Menendez (D-NJ) held a press conference in Hoboken with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to voice their support of the legislation.

The two-year,$109B legislation would have re-authorized the federal surface transportation program and increased spending for highways by 12% and transit by 14%. The legislation was ultimately not taken up by the House. Instead, on March 29, Congress approved a three-month extension of the previous legislation, SAFETEA-LU, which expired in 2009. By maintaing funding at previous levels, however, the extension poses fewer changes to spending than the re-authorization legislation proposed by House Republicans in January. The five-year, $260B bill would have reduced spending on transit, including cuts to Amtrak by 25% in 2012 and 2013.