Amtrak Defrauds the Public on Gateway Benefits

A stenographer at Bloomberg is reporting an Amtrak study that says the social benefit-cost ratio of the Gateway program is about 4. Gateway, the project to quadruple the double-track line from New York to Newark, including most important the tunnel across the Hudson, is now estimated to cost $25 billion. Cost overruns have been constant and severe: it was $3 billion in the ARC era in 2003, $9 billion when Governor Chris Christie canceled it in 2010, and $13.5 billion when Amtrak took over in 2011 and renamed it Gateway. And now Amtrak is claiming that the net present value of Gateway approaches $100 billion; in a presentation from late 2016, it claims that at a 3% discount rate the benefit-cost ratio is 3.87, and compares it positively with Crossrail and California HSR. This is incorrect, and almost certainly deliberate fraud. Let me explain why.

First, the comparison with Crossrail should give everyone pause. Crossrail costs around the same as the current projection for Gateway: about $21 billion in purchasing power parity terms, but future inflation means that the $25 billion for Gateway is very close to $21 billion for Crossrail, built between 2009 and 2018. Per Amtrak, the benefit-cost ratio of Crossrail as 3.64 at the upper end – in other words, the benefits of Crossrail and Gateway should be similar. They are clearly not.

The projection for Crossrail is that it will fill as soon as it opens, with 200 million annual passengers. There is no chance Gateway as currently planned can reach that ridership level. New Jersey Transit has about 90 million annual rail riders, and NJT considers itself at capacity. This number could be raised significantly if NJT were run in such a way as to encourage off-peak ridership (see my writeup on Metro-North and the LIRR, for which I have time-of-day data), but Gateway includes none of the required operational modernization. Even doubling NJT’s ridership out of Gateway is unlikely, since a lot of ridership is Hoboken-bound today because of capacity limits on the way to New York, and Gateway would cannibalize it; only about 60 million NJT riders are taking a train to or from New York, so a more realistic projection is 60 million and not 90 million. Some additional ridership coming out of Amtrak is likely, but is unlikely to be high given Amtrak’s short trains, hauled by a locomotive so that only 5-7 cars have seats. Amtrak has an asterisk in its comparison saying the benefit-cost ratios for Crossrail and Gateway were computed by different methodologies, and apparently the methodologies differ by a factor of 3 on the value of a single rider.

That, by itself, does not suggest fraud. What does suggest fraud is the history of cost overruns. The benefits of Gateway have not materially increased in the last decade and a half. If Gateway is worth $100 billion today, it was worth $100 billion in 2011, and in 2003.

One change since 2011 is Hurricane Sandy, which filled the existing North River Tunnels with corrosive saltwater. A study on repairs recommended long-term closure, one tube at a time. But the difference is still small compared to how much Amtrak thinks Gateway is worth. The study does not claim long-term closure is necessary. Right now, crews repair the tunnels over weekends, with weekend closures, since weekend frequency is so poor it can fit on single track. The study does not say how much money could be saved with long-term closures, but the cost it cites for repairs with long-term closures is $350 million, and the cost under the current regime of weekend closures cannot be several billion dollars more expensive. The extra benefit of Gateway coming from Sandy is perhaps $1 billion, a far cry from the almost $100 billion projected by Amtrak for Gateway’s worth.

What this means is that, if Gateway really has a benefit-cost ratio approaching 4 today, then it had a benefit-cost ratio of about 7 in 2011. Amtrak did not cite any such figure at the time. In 2003 it would have have had a benefit-cost ratio approaching 25, even taking into account inflation artifacts. None of the studies claimed such a high figure. Nor did any of the elected or appointed officials in charge of the project act like it was so valuable. Construction was not rushed as it would have if the benefit-cost ratio was so high that a few years’ acceleration would have noticeable long-term consequences.

The scope of the project did not suggest an extreme benefit-cost ratio, either. ARC, then Gateway, was always just two tracks. If a two-track tunnel has a benefit-cost ratio higher than 20, then it’s very likely the next two-track tunnel has a high benefit-cost ratio as well. Even a benefit-cost ratio of 4 would lead to further plans: evidently, Transport for London is planning Crossrail 2, a northeast-southwest tunnel complementing the east-west Crossrail and north-south Thameslink. Perhaps in 2003 Port Authority thought it could not get money for two tunnels, but it still could have planned some as future phases, just as Second Avenue Subway was planned as a full line even when there was only enough money for Phase 1.

The plans for ARC included the awkward Secaucus loop bringing in trains from the Erie lines into Penn Station, with dual-mode diesel/electric locomotives. This is a kludge that makes sense for a marginal project that needs to save every penny, not for one where benefits exceed costs by more than an order of magnitude. For such a strong project, it’s better to spend more money to get it right, for example by electrifying everything. It would also have been better to avoid the loop kludge and send Erie trains to Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, as I have proposed in various iterations of my regional rail plan.

All of this together suggests that in 2003, nobody in charge of ARC thought it was worth $70 billion in 2003 dollars, or around $100 billion in 2017 dollars. Even in 2011, Amtrak did not think the project was worth $85 billion in 2011 dollars. It’s theoretically possible that some new analysis proves that old estimates of the project’s benefits were too low, but it’s unlikely. If such revisions were common, we would see upward and downward revisions independent of cost overruns. Some rail projects with stable costs would see their benefit-cost ratios shoot up to well more than 10. Others might be revised down below 1.

What we actually see is different. Megaprojects have official estimates on their benefit-cost ratios in a narrow band: never less than 1 or else they wouldn’t be built, never more than 4 or 5 or else people might disbelieve the numbers. In an environment of stable costs, this would make a lot of sense: all the 10+ projects have been built a long time ago, so the rail extensions on the table today are more marginal. But in an environment of rapid cost escalation, the fact that benefits seem to grow with the costs is not consistent with any honest explanation. The best explanation for this is that, desperate for money for its scheme to build Gateway, Amtrak is defrauding the public about the project’s benefits.

49 comments

  1. Mark E. Singer

    Your intensive review of the plethora of financial, political, construction, and logistical issues should be required reading in the HR T&I Committee, USDOT, and FRA. So much deferred maintenance of the NEC; so many high cost projects just to re-build, let alone expand, is all reminiscent of what Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen (R-IL) once said back in the 1960s: “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.”

    Of course, that was at a time of bi-partisanship, as LBJ would have never passed his civil rights legislation without Minority Leader Dirksen bringing along his GOP senators to support the legislation. Today, we are reeling from almost thirty years of a new politics that has responded to the demands of lower taxes by promoting a policy of defunding infrastructure. As the nation has hemorrhaged along political party and regional lines, it is frankly difficult to believe we will ever secure the requisite funding simply to repair those bridges and tunnels of the NEC. Yet, the FRA projects upon Connecticut and Rhode Island an ideal version of the NEC that will never be; serving only to disengage political support for what is feasible for the NEC.

    One principal issue for this default in political strategy has been the lack of prior leadership by the USDOT and FRA to competently present a vision for a national plan for passenger rail; identifying the priorities for the NEC, CREATE, South of the Lake, and other bottleneck gridlock relief projects. To add credence to this national plan, it would be relevant to include the Class 1 freight railroads in the same tent, in respect to their ownership of the infrastructure. Indeed, taking a page out of AMERICAN RAILROADS by Gallamore and Meyers, Class 1 infrastructure should also benefit from direct investment by the public treasury, as it currently provides for the Interstate Highway System; Air Traffic Control System; airports (munis). This would certainly enhance prospects of a true P3 to improve rail infrastructure to accommodate increased frequencies and route expansion for inter-city, regional, and commuter passenger services.

    Currently, the dis-connected approach to passenger, commuter, and freight rail infrastructure is as if we still suffered from different track gauges in every state. Consequently, such an environment makes it that much easier for the single industry lobbyists of competitors to attack HSR projects in Florida, Texas, and California. Lacking a mutual beneficial relationship has only perpetuated the OTP issues of Class 1s stabbing Amtrak reliability; creating excessive schedule padding to deny acceptable speeds; requiring multiple Amtrak schedules on routes, e.g., Chicago-Cleveland; Chicago-Galesburg, to fall within a tight time frame so as not to interrupt flow of freight.

    Adding these facts up impacts the credibility of the Gateway Project, allowing the taxpayer to be led down a political primrose path of unrealistic dreams, as if President Trump’s vision of a $1 Billion infrastructure renewal concept is to be all consumed between NY and NJ. Instead, continued political promotion of such a grandiose plan will only be at the expense of a national rail plan, and the requisite support of politicians and voters outside the NEC.

  2. Adirondacker12800

    It’s all costing too much. “Do nothing” isn’t a good alternative and any alternative that has the same capacity costs more.

    The :”almost 14 billion dollars!!!” was from people who wanted to kill the project and lied about a lot other things. The FTA was saying NJTransit’s estimate of 9 was a bit too low and it would be 12 billion or less, depending on problems that crop up and how fast it gets built. And that 10 was realistic. It’s pointless to argue over when the soup would have been hotter or cooler, thicker or thinner The Republicans pissed in it back in 2010. 600 million dollars of it.
    .
    D’ya ever wonder why it tales 20 minutes to get to Penn Station Newark from Penn Station New York or vice versa and half an hour to get to or from Broad Street? They are a few blocks apart, that is odd. Hidden back in the obscure eddies of the volumes of stuff floating around about ARC or Gateway or Portal Bridge, in normal operation the Morris and Esses lines will not be merging in and out of the traffic through Penn Station Newark. People are hopeful they both go to being 15 minutes to Manhattan. Wander the Amtrak Schedule museum, back in olden days the slow trains took 15 minutes.

    People along the Morris and Essex lines who are going downtown are very wistful that their service to Hoboken isn’t as frequent or convenient as service to Penn Station. They assume that in olden days that many trains all went to Hoboken. People who collect schedules pull out old schedules. There are as many trains going to Hoboken as there were back in the day,. They were expecting all of this stuff to reach capacity in 2010, It took months. The bus company attempted to sue for unfair competition because bus ridership collapsed. It had. It will on the Raritan Valley, Main, Bergen and Pascack Valley just like it did along the M&E. You are underestimating things. So are they. The limiting factor is going to be how fast they can buy moar trains. Until they run out of tunnel again. Which will be much sooner than most people expect.

    • Alon Levy

      When I’m saying Gateway should expect 60 million more riders, I’m not saying that this is because capacity will be unused. On the contrary, my ridership estimate is “take NJT’s ridership into Penn Station today, and double it.” I’m assuming all M&E and RVL trains will go to Penn Station, plus some extra NEC/NJC trains. This is why I’m proposing building not one but two tunnels: it’s because I’m optimistic about ridership, provided other organizational improvements (suburban TOD, fare integration, high off-peak frequency) permit all-day ridership.

      Right now, NJT is at capacity with 60 million riders at Penn Station, which is equivalent to 120 million on a double-ended line. Maybe make it 150 million taking into account that NJT doesn’t have full use of the tunnels because of Amtrak. This looks close to Crossrail, but it’s with bigger trains. The RER here has trains about as long as 8- to 9-car American commuter trains, and somewhat narrower; the RER A has close to 300 million annual passengers. The difference is that the RER gets ample use at all times of day, and NJT doesn’t. It’d be easier if I had numbers for both, but I don’t, I only have numbers close by: on the SNCF-run parts of the RER/Transilien, about 46% of suburban boardings are in the morning peak (not including La Defense and other job centers), vs. 67% on the LIRR and 69% on Metro-North (again not including job centers, i.e. White Plains and Stamford). You’re not getting Crossrail levels of ridership with NJT service levels, and the only people who are seriously talking about off-peak frequency are the types who insist on saying “regional rail” and not “commuter rail.”

      • Adirondacker12800

        New York City would look radically different if the reaction to the Equitable Building had been to ban building anything taller than the Brooklyn Bridge deck. Just like the glittering skyscrapers in metro DC are in Virginia, they would have been in New Jersey. Or if was something like a 3 mile ban the New York Times would have built their new skyscraper at 125th and Lenox not 42nd and Broadway.
        The RER goes all sorts of places. The LIRR goes to Penn Station and Penn Station and Penn Station and Penn Station and Brooklyn and Penn Station 12 more times and Long Island City Penn Station ten more times and Brooklyn and then a bunch-o-times to Penn Station and Hunterspoint Ave and for good measure throws in some more Penn Station. It’s not the same as the RER. In the future the only way to get to Brooklyn is to change trains in Jamaica. Apparently at peak they are going to Penn Station 37 times an hour and to Grand Central 20 times an hour. That’s still not anything like the RER. It’s closer to express subways than it is to something that wanders, in dazed and confused, from Port Jervis or Montauk.

        • Alon Levy

          The analysis I did is Transilien, including SNCF-operated parts of the RER. It also includes a lot of lines that run to the traditional Parisian train stations and terminate there, including a bunch that run over long distances. Nothing as far as New Haven, but a bunch of the outlying Ile-de-France stations are about as far from Paris as Ronkonkoma is from Penn Station, or Providence from Boston. (The corresponding figure for the MBTA is 81%, and the MBTA has nothing as long as the New Haven Line, unless you pretend there’s nonzero ridership at Wickford Junction.)

          • Adirondacker12800

            New York builds the new skyscrapers in Long Island City or Jersey City, we don’t have to put them out in La Defense or Rosslyn. that makes things look a little different. Personally I think it’s realllly realllly stupid to let them put even more office building on the East Side. They’ll spread things out if you don’t let them. ….to Hudson Yards, not East Orange. Things are going to be arranged a little differently. and a subtler difference is that the skyscrapers in La Defense or Rosslyn are stunted short things.
            The outer boroughs don’t need an RER, they already have one and have had one since the Dual Contracts. Instead of calling the C train the C train we could re-designate everything and call the A train to Lefferts Blvd the A2,to Far Rockaway the A3 and to Rockaway Park the A4. And everything to 207th St the A!. Then call the C the 15. The 6 circle could remain the 6 and the 6 diamond become the G1 when it’s headed to the Brooklyn Bridge and the G2 when it’s headed towards Pelham Park The slap a three dollar gallon tax on gasoline to discourage driving. As if 9 dollar tolls and 45 minute delays to cross the Hudson aren’t discouraging enough. People in Forest HIlls don’t find the LIRR particularly interesting because they have RER like service on the E and F. Which takes them where they are going without changing to the E or the F in Manhattan. Things look different in Chicago where it’s one blob off to the side instead of two blobs in the middle.

            When there is s tunnel to Wall Street they can do clever things out in Floral Park, Valley Stream, Rahway and Maplewood. Though they will probably be doing the clever thing at Broad Street. …It passes my addled brain once in a while that it’s odd that Penn Station Newark is Track A and then Tracks 1 through 5. Why issn’t just 1-6? And then the train comes in and I get distracted. Squint at it a bit and they were future proofig it., another bridge over the Passaic, convert Track A from a side platform to an island and the frequent local to Rahway or the alternating local to New Brunswick or South Amboy can be isolated out, all the stuff to …..Exchange Place…. Look at where the Coast Line merges in, at the border or Rahway and Woodbridge. They had something clever in mind. When the Californians are having another fit over putting the local in the middle, I don’t point them at that. Their brains would melt. Four tracks between the two islands with another two on the outside of the platforms? With duck unders so nothing is crossing tracks just diverging and merging? ! ? ! … North Brunswick when it gets built is going to be a balloon loop which has it’s charms compared to a pocket track in the center where the Toonerville Trolley changes ends twice an hour. The New Haven had delusions of grandeur and it’s ….. a really good thing that there are 8 tracks of unencroached railroad between Co-op City and Randall’s Island. Plenty of space for local and express subway service, local Metro North service and intercity to not have anything it’s way… It’s going to look different. We all like to eat and a surprising amount of the stuff being wholesaled at Hunts Point market gets there by rail in carload quantities. There’s going to be a freight track hiding in there someplace. It is going to look different.
            Valley Stream and Floral Park are going to be the place where you change between the local and express Translien and the express RER and Jamaica is going to be the place where the local RER terminates and Continental Avenue is going to be the place where you change between the local RER, express RER and the local subway.. It’s going to look different….. this would cost too much. The local waiting on a Spanish soluton track between the island the local RER stops at and the island the express RER stops at and people doing cross platform transfers between three trains… Nah it would cost too much. If it ever happens it’s going to be up and down.
            Probably no choice but to get a fleet of TBMs boring. We aren’t going to double deck the Long Island Expressway or widen the covered roadway into the Bergen Arches. Even if we did there’s no place to park.

          • The Economist

            Adirondacker12800, the balloon track at New Brunswick is dead. NJT does not have the money for it. They are going with pocket tracks. Trains will continue to need to cross over the express tracks.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They have to build it sooner or later. And a flyover for the Raritan Valley line. And duckunders for the Morris and Essex lines. And another bridge over the Hackensack. Or they won’t be able to get trains to the shiny new tunnels. They have to.

    • michael.r.james

      Maybe they may finally know what it cost, but it will be impossible to know how much real benefit it brings. Or how much value (GDP etc) would have been lost without it. Alon may have some valid points about this Cost-Benefit study but the questions that need answering is whether there is any alternative or entirely separate project where the money would be better spent. Thus, comparison with London Crossrail is irrelevant since it can only be meaningful in a local comparative sense. (Which is not to say the econo-rationalists will argue for the deep meaning of these numbers in some absolutist sense. Has some economist won a Nobel for this yet? Yep, who cares.)
      This Gateway epic, or the CAHSR, are perhaps the ne plus ultra of CBAs, where they have passed the point of credibility or meaning or influence–on the public or anyone else. The CBA has jumped the shark and really the justification of big infrastructure projects should dump this kind of absurd magic numerology. And I note in that Gateway report, to two decimal points!
      Incidentally I somehow doubt those who decided to build RER-A, and to keep upgrading it over its now forty years life, resorted to such esoteric arguments. Nor those who decided to build the Shinkansen or the Golden Gate bridge etc etc. CBAs have not made decision-making on big projects any clearer or easier, and really they aren’t even designed for that. They are designed to justify political decisions already made. The consultancies or accountants who are paid to determine the CBA are signalled what result they must obtain.

      • Benjamin Turon

        For me building the new tunnels as soon as possible for the least amount of money is the most important thing. I agree with what you say about “magic numerology”, cost-benefits studies should be done but in the end its just all just educated guess work, informed estimates. Look at politics, look at Washington arguments over healthcare and the budget, everyone has rival numbers. The question is do or do we not need more tunnels into Penn Station from the west? I think we do, but like arguments I have made about California HSR can it be done in a more cost effective way? At a lower price. We does the price keep rising and rising by billions? I have read that regulatory red tape plays a major role, if true then how can we address this issue? Overall the aim should be to maximize the bang for the buck.

  3. Connor Harris

    Nitpick, but a potentially confusing one: By “quadruple” in the second sentence, I assume you mean “quadruple-track” (2 tracks -> 4), not literally “quadruple the existing track count” (2 tracks -> 8). Feel free to delete this comment after you read it.

    • Adirondacker12800

      …… there are going to be brief stretches out in the Meadows where it’s going to be more than 8 tracks. The initial plans are for three tracks to Newark with space reserved for an additional one. Assuming the plans haven’t changed much.
      There is a brief stretch out in the Meadows that has been seven tracks, for decades. …. nobody is counting the two tracks PATH has dedicated to it…..

  4. Benjamin Turon

    Crazy idea, but could intercity trains from the NEC (or maybe NJT commuter trains) be run into the new WTC Station over the PATH system with a dedicated specialty built train-set (think Electroliner or Eurostar), just as suburban commuter trains into Tokyo run on the subway to access city center? I know that there are a lot of constraints including the loading gauge, but PATH is a FRA regulated railroad and not a transit system like the NYC Subway so regulatory it seems to be pretty straight forward that yes you could. The WTC station has been called a big waste of money, so it be nice if more use could be gotten out of it, if this was Japan I no doubt it could be done, but this is America so likely not!

    • Adirondacker12800

      No the gap between the platform and the car would be too wide out in the suburbs. All the way out to Denver. Colorado. Change trains in Newark or Hoboken.

      • Benjamin Turon

        More or less like I thought, but I do think running some intercity trains to Hoboken and Grand Central Terminal makes sense, I don’t see why every Amtrak train has to serve Penn Station, with investment in the NEC which will boost frequency why not terminate some at Hoboken and GCT (use push-pull, double-ended, or EMU sets) which both have excellent transit connections? For those bound to Manhattan, especially outside of the blocks around Penn Station to addresses further afield in Midtown or Downtown these two other terminals would seem to me to work just as well.

        • Eric

          I like the idea of running DC-Hoboken trains in addition to the DC-NYC-Boston ones.

  5. Adirondacker12800

    From the trains that pass through Penn Station Newark they can change to PATH in Newark to get downtown. Across the platform. Since 1937. They don’t for some reason. It could be improved but the track between Penn Station Newark and Hoboken is realllllly slow. Changing at Newark to PATH gets you to Hoboken faster than taking the train that does that once or twice a day. Changing at Secaucus beats it if you hit a good transfer. If trains are going to end their service day in Hoboken they have to send them out to Sunnyside or Philadelphia, if they still have facilities in Philadelphia. They may not since they went back to all electric for the trains to Harrisburg. Or spend a lot of money to be able to do that in Hoboken. Grand Central has the same kind of problem. They aren’t going to be doing that….

    • Benjamin Turon

      Given that we are over a decade, likely far more than a decade away from having more than two tracks into Penn Station (don’t forget completion of new tubes will be followed by rebuilding of old tubes) if there is additional capacity south of the North River Tunnels that could be used for additional NYC-DC intercity frequencies, could additional intercity trains terminate at stations other than Penn, perhaps Newark were PATH can be taken to both Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. Don’ forget that not all TGV service today terminates at city center in Paris, and not all trains on the Tokaido Shinkansen terminate at Tokyo Station. There are other capacity constraints for sure beyond the North River Tunnels, but they seem to be one of the most costly and time consuming projects that need to be under taken. Perhaps like the SNCF Amtrak could create a “budget” service that would add additional frequencies serving alternative end point stations. Just a thought.

      • Adirondacker12800

        The time of day when they could fill more trains are the time of day when PATH is packed to the gills. No they can’t. If they had the equipment they could get around a lot of it by just running longer trains.

  6. Tim

    One more thing I will add that “express” subway lines somewhat unique to NYC negate a lot of the need for a Paris style RER network. Or at the very least when I personally have used the Paris RER I have done so in a similar manner to how I use express trains in NYC.

    New Jersey as always is the exception though.

    • Alon Levy

      Counterpoints:

      1. The express subways in New York are still pretty slow. The A averages 30-33 km/h end to end, from Inwood to Far Rockaway. Even on the express segment, from 168th to Euclid, the range is just 33-36. For the most part, express lines either have slow local tails outside the Manhattan core (2/3, 4/5 in the Bronx, Q in Brooklyn, N in Queens) or make too many local stops in the Manhattan core (A, D, E, F). In contrast, the RER A averages 45 km/h.

      2. Lack of service to Jersey means there’s no coherent east-west service. The 7 exists but is slow as fuck; the E/F curve downtown. North-south service is better, which is why my regional rail maps underemphasize it.

      3. The express subways in New York don’t serve the suburbs, nor could they meaningfully serve them at current speeds. The RER goes into the suburbs, and nearly every branch goes into the Grande Couronne and not just the Petite Couronne.

      • Adirondacker12800

        It’s really too bad they didn’t have you around to tell them they should really put Midtown in the Bronx. And that it would be better to Rockefeller Center in East New York. But they didn’t.
        It looks different because it is different.
        A lot of it is suburban even though you don’t want to say so.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_Hills,_Queens

        • Alon Levy

          The line about New York having a bigger CBD than Paris would work better if Tokyo weren’t a world leader in through-running. The JR East network directly influenced the RER A.

          • Alon Levy

            No, but Tokyo was still monocentric around Central Tokyo, just as New York was monocentric around Lower Manhattan in 1900.

          • Adirondacker12800

            it was if you think all of life involves manipulating symbols.
            There were 20,000 people in the Western Electric plant in Kearney wielding soldering irons making stuff. And at peak 70,000 of them in the Brooklyn Navy Yard doing Navy stuff. Bell Labs didn’t invent radio astronomy in Central Park. Or the transistor. There was horse racing where Rochdale Village is today and people at the Otis works in Yonkers made elevators without going into Manhattan much

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, that’s still monocentric. The standard pattern in a monocentric city (mid-19c London, late-19c New York, mid-20c Tokyo and Singapore, modern-day Nairobi) is that people work in their home neighborhoods or commute to the CBD. So on the one hand, there would exist people in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn who lived their entire lives without visiting Manhattan, but on the other hand, people who commuted commuted to Lower Manhattan or maybe to Downtown Brooklyn. Some cities are still fairly monocentric, like Stockholm, but have some secondary business centers, like KTH and SU, or Kista. But for the most part, big first-world cities today have everywhere-to-everywhere commuting. People in random Brooklyn neighborhoods quite often work in neither their home neighborhood nor the Manhattan CBD, but in secondary centers in Queens and such.

          • Adirondacker12800

            TI give up. People in West Oragne have burning desier to go to Forest Hills and people in Mineola can’t wait to see all the attractions in Rahway.

    • crazytrainmatt

      The express subway lines are still too slow for interborough travel.The express lines take an hour or more to get between the Bronx and Brooklyn/Queens. On dedicated ROW (e.g. the hudson greenway) you can match their travel times on a bike without trying too hard.

      Good connections between the LIRR, Metro North and NJT, and direct access to downtown would dramatically speed travel along a handful of corridors in each borough. If this isn’t the RER principle applied to NYC, I don’t know what is.

  7. Adirondacker12800

    Most cities, up until very recently, weren’t big enough to need them.
    New Jersey is a narrow strip of Palisades sticking up above the water and then miles of swamp. With another ridge of Palisades like hills a few miles after the swamp stops. It’s going to look different than the dry flat places east of Manhattan.

  8. Tim

    I agree with some of your points but I will point that the walking distance between the two closest RER stations I can think of Auber and Chatelet is roughly the same as from Penn to Grand Central or that of going straight across Manhattan on 42nd street end to end. So I am not sure there is much basis for an East West RER line. I will also point the Times Square shuttle is faster than the 7 for going from GCT to TS.

    Where I do think NYC Transit in order of importance over and above that of Gateway and East Side Access could be improved are as follows:

    1. NJ Transit Access to East Side(IRT Lex Line) and 6th Avenue Lines

    2. Metro North especially Harlem Line Access to West Side(7th and 8th Ave Lines)

    3. LIRR access to 6th Avenue Subway

    4. NJ Transit Access to LI City, Brooklyn, and Jamaica/JFK Airtrain

    5. Amtrak Intercity Access to East Side(IRT Lex Line)

    #1 probably has the biggest transportation value but it overwhelming benefits New Jersey and as such I suspect it will tough get even a nickel from NYC or NYS to do it. Technically though one benefit of the new WTC hub is linking the 4/5 with PATH.

    #2 is already being discussed in terms of Metro North to Penn but not for the Harlem Line. However, there are connections from the Harlem line to the B,C, and D lines in the Bronx and GCT has both Shuttle and 7 line connections to the West Side.

    #3 is simply a question of getting the closed off passageway between Penn and Herald Square reopened something that would also benefit NJ Transit.

    #4 could technically by accomplished in part by some type of through running

    • Adirondacker12800

      It benefits New York to the tune of 5 billion dollars a year that people who make a lot of money work in New York and then go home to another state and use services there.

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t understand what the distance comparison means in this context. Why does it mean New York doesn’t need better east-west connectivity?

      • Adirondacker12800

        If the RER station on the East side is in Long Island City and the RER station on the West Side is in Hoboken it means you need really long snorkel to walk to World Trade Center or even Times Square?
        Where you gonna put all this fantabulous east -west connectivity?

        • Alon Levy

          But Penn-GCT is around 2 km, which is fine for 2 CBD stations on one line (Chatelet and Auber, Tokyo and Shimbashi, etc.). It’s not really walking distance. The average distance between successive Crossrail stations between Paddington and Whitechapel is maybe 1.5-1.6 km.

          • Adirondacker12800

            There’s one and half ways to get between the two the shuttle or the Flushing Line to Times Square. I’d pick the southbound 7th Ave platforms and the next train in. There are other choices to get to Penn Station. If you move to Fairfield County to avoid taxes there are going to be some compromises in your life. Until Metro North starts running trains from your suburb to Penn Station.

            I know all these subway lines and all the suburban lines are realllllly reallllly hard to keep track of but they can’t all have cross platform transfers.

            …. can they?

            https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f2/Complexe_souterrain_Ch%C3%A2telet.svg

          • Alon Levy

            Okay, but this is a three-seat ride with a lot of walking between platforms (or I guess a 2-seat ride if the E gets you to where you want to go).

            At Les Halles, the RER A and B have a cross-platform transfer. The wrong-way transfer and the transfer to the RER D require going up steps, crossing the mezzanine, and going down steps; the platforms are ridiculously wide, but they still have too few escalators for rush hour crunch. I did the wrong-way transfer for a while (I live at Nation, and commuted to IHES near the southern end of the RER B until it became clear I wasn’t staying in academia), and it’s not terrible. The Metro-to-RER transfer there should legally be classified as torture and I specifically looked for apartments that don’t require me to make that transfer.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Nobody put a gun to their head and forced them to live in Westchester or Connecticut and work on the West Side or Wall Street. If you are at an IRT station in the Bronx or Brooklyn just wait for the next train. Most of the time it’s East Side then West Side. Do that on the RER.
            Someday people along the Hudson Line and New Haven line will just take a train that is going to Penn Station. Or make a cross platform transfer out in the suburbs. The speculation is that they will be able to do that about a year after the Long Islanders start to do it. If you are on the Upper East Side you can walk an extra block and half and take the Q. Or change to the N, R or W at 59th. Or to the E or the M at 51/53 and Lex. Or if you are going farther downtown use the L on 14th. The L used to suck because it ran so infrequently. Not anymore. Sucks to get to the East Side from the West Side but all the trains can’t go everywhere. A train from Penn Station to Grand Central doesn’t help much. Life sucks if you live along the Harlem Line. Life will suck if you live along the Port Washington Branch when suburban trains go to Wall Street.
            Q across 125th would. L across 86th and whatever the express parallel to the L would be. Four track the Jamaica Ave line …. We run out of single letters and numerals.
            21 or 24 Metro North trains an hour going to Wall Street… they don’t have to stop at Grand Central. Change in Woodlawn or Yankee Stadium if you aren’t already on a train going to Wall Street. Pair it up with Staten Island trains and the North Jersey Coast south of Perth Amboy. Change in South Amboy for Penn Station. Or South Matawan or West Hazlet out in the extravaganza of interhange between local and express on the Garden State Parkway with ramps to the enormous parking garages. It will reliever pressure on Metropark. And the Raritan River Bridges. But then if you do that you probably want Downtown, West Side and East Side. Down First Avenue and under 38th might work. By the time the escalatora make it up to street level two stations would serve Grand Central and 34th and Lex, Times Square and Penn Station.

            Program for Action apparently gave up and assumed moving sidewalks or somethin’ under crosstown streets.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Program_for_Action

            They over estimated the total population and underestimated the working population. But then they weren’t accounting for the effects of birth control that worked.

            …. some futurists are predicting accelerating automation will eliminate half of all jobs. 20 hour work week solves that problem doesn’t it? And spreads out the rush hour. Assuming people get super flexible hours.

    • johndmuller

      The occasionally proposed connection between the Lex Ave. Local and the PATH at WTC would address some of the NJ (particularly the Hoboken-Jersey City area) to the East Side cravings (the loading gauge, etc, are said to be compatible), but the recent rebuild of the PATH/WTC underground did not, as far as I know, take this plan not account. Other underground impediments may also impede this idea, not to mention whether anyone is interested in merging PATH into the IRT; perhaps after NJ cedes Hudson County to NYS.

      The 6th Ave PATH line was also proposed to go to GCT and supposedly has a theoretical ROW to do so (presumably between the Shuttle and the 7 line. Don’t know if anyone really wants this or how the solid geometry would work out with the imagined Grand Central to Penn Station connector. The shuttle has a 4 track ROW and could be connected in a way to make a loop of sorts – NJ to GCT and/or Times Square [The Shuttle probably can’t handle such long trains though].

      • Joey

        How would extending PATH to GCT work? My understanding is that the 33rd St/Herald Square station dead ends into the station mezzanine – extending it would mean severing it (though I’m seeing conflicting descriptions of what tracks are at what level).

        • Adirondacker12800

          It might have worked in 1919 but then they went and built the Broadway BMT, the Flushing IRT and 6th Ave IND.

        • orulz

          I’m pretty sure the IND 6th Avenue local tracks are entirely below PATH by 30th street. Therefore, WEST is the only direction PATH can turn near Penn Station short of digging up the entire 6th/Broadway IND/BMT complex and *hoping* to thread it through where the mezzanine is today.

          What line do we know of that dead ends somewhere west of Penn Station? Hmm, let me think. Ah yes, the 7. The very same 7 that many people, including politicians and professional planners, have often proposed extending to New Jersey. The very same 7 that has a pretty similar loading gauge to the PATH.

          Therefore, I would say, turn the PATH west on 30th or 31st street and then north on 11th Avenue, to connect it to the 7. Is it the most direct way from Penn Station to GCT, or from Hudson Yards to NJ, certainly not. In fact, it almost triples the distance from Penn to GCT. However, that’s at least partly compensated for by making it a one seat ride: it would certainly be faster than any existing Penn-GCT route, which involve either a long walk or two transfers. And a simple bored tunnel along 30th from 6th to 11th avenue is a heckuvalot cheaper than digging up sixth avenue from 32nd to 42nd to thread the PATH through there.

          • Joey

            It might work, but a curve on real tracks takes up a bit of space, so a curve aiming for 30th St would have to start considerably before 30th St. The 6th Ave Local tracks might be in the way at that point or might not … I don’t have a profile map to go on.

            At any rate, it’s a pretty circuitous route to GCT. You’re basically backtracking all the way out to 11th Ave.

          • Joey

            Along most of 6th Ave yes. Close to the 33rd St starion station the subway tracks are below the PATH tracks. Which is why the feasibility of PATH curving off of 6th depends on exactly where the curve begins.

          • Adirondacker12800

            29th or 30th Street. Stuffing 11 car Flushing line trains into 8 car PATH stations is going to be interesting. Probably foul the interlocking in Hoboken too. That will do wonders for rush hour service to the World Trade Center.

          • Joey

            Yeah, I think there are plenty of reasons not to want to connect 6th Ave PATH and the 7. But there are other ways to extend PATH to GCT and all of them involve it leaving 6th Ave at some point.

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