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).

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