New Hudson Tunnels Are Canceled. Again.

Amtrak’s Gateway project, spending $30 billion on new tunnels from New Jersey to Penn Station, just got its federal funding yanked. Previously the agreement was to split funding as 25% New York, 25% New Jersey, 50% federal; the states had committed to $5.5 billion, which with a federal match would build the bare tunnels but not some of the ancillary infrastructure (some useful, some not).

When Chris Christie canceled ARC in 2010, then estimated at $10-13 billion, I cheered. I linked to a YouTube video of the song Celebration in Aaron Renn‘s comments. ARC was a bad project, and at the beginning Gateway seemed better, in the sense that it connected the new tunnels to the existing station tracks and not to a deep cavern. But some elements (namely, Penn Station South) were questionable from the start, and the cost estimate was even then higher than that of ARC, which I attributed to both Amtrak’s incompetence and likely cost overruns on ARC independent of who managed it.

But I’m of two minds about to what extent good transit advocates should cheer Gateway’s impending demise. The argument for cheering is a straightforward cost-benefit calculation. The extra ridership coming from Gateway absent regional rail modernization is probably around 170,000 per weekday, a first-order estimate based on doubling current New Jersey Transit ridership into Penn Station. At $40,000 per weekday rider, this justifies $7 billion in construction costs, maybe a little more if Gateway makes it cheaper to do maintenance on the old tunnels. Gateway is $30 billion, so the cost is too high and the tunnel should not be built.

Moreover, it’s difficult to raise the benefits of Gateway using regional rail modernization. On the New Jersey side, population density thins fast, so the benefits of regional rail that do not rely on through-running (high frequency, fare integration, etc.) are limited. The main benefits require through-running, to improve access on Newark-Queens and other through-Manhattan origin-destination pairs. Gateway doesn’t include provisions for through-running – Penn Station South involves demolishing a Manhattan block to add terminal tracks. Even within the existing Penn Station footprint, constructing a new tunnel eastward to allow through-running becomes much harder if the New Jersey Transit tracks have heavy terminating traffic, which means Gateway would make future through-running tunnels more expensive.

But on the other hand, the bare tunnels are not a bad project in the sense of building along the wrong alignment or using the wrong techniques. They’re just extremely expensive: counting minor shoring up on the old tunnels, they cost $13 billion for 5 km of tunnel. Moreover, sequencing Gateway to start with the tunnels alone allows dropping Penn South, and might make it possible to add a new tunnel for through-running mid-project. So it’s really a question of how to reduce costs.

The underground tunneling portion of Second Avenue Subway is $150 million per km, and that of East Side Access is $200 million (link, PDF-p. 7). Both figures exclude systems, which add $110 million per km on Second Avenue Subway, and overheads, which add 37%. These are all high figures – in Paris tunneling is $90 million per km, systems $35 million, and overhead a premium of 18% – but added up they remain affordable. A station-free tunnel should cost $350 million per km, which has implications to the cost of connecting Penn Station with Grand Central. Gateway is instead around $2 billion per km.

Is Gateway expensive because it’s underwater? The answer is probably negative. Gateway is only one third underwater. If its underwater character alone justifies a factor of six cost premium over Second Avenue Subway, then other underwater tunnels should also exhibit very high costs by local standards. There aren’t a lot of examples of urban rail tunnels going under a body of water as wide as the Hudson, but there are enough to know that there is not such a large cost premium.

In the 1960s, one source, giving construction costs per track-foot, finds that the Transbay Tube cost 40% more than the bored segments of BART; including systems and overheads, which the source excludes, BART’s history gives a cost of $180 million, equivalent to $1.38 billion today, or $230 million per km. The Transbay Tube is an immersed tube and not a bored tunnel, and immersed tubes are overall cheaper, but a report by Transport Scotland says on p. 12 that immersed tubes actually cost more per linear meter and are only overall cheaper because they require shorter approaches, which suggests their overall cost advantage is small.

Today, Stockholm is extending the T-bana outward in three direction. A cost breakdown per line extension is available: excluding the depot and rolling stock, the suburban tunnel to Barkarby is $100 million per km, the outer-urban tunnel to Arenastaden in Solna is $138 million per km, and the part-inner urban, part-suburban tunnel to Nacka is $150 million per km. The tunnel to Nacka is a total of 11.5 km, of which about 1 is underwater, broken down into chunks using Skeppsholmen, with the longest continuous underwater segment about 650 meters long. A 9% underwater line with 9% cost premium over an underground line is not by itself proof of much, but it does indicate that the underwater premium is most likely low.

Based on the suggestive evidence of BART and the T-bana, proposing that bare Hudson tunnels should cost about $2-2.5 billion is not preposterous. With an onward connection to Grand Central, the total cost should be $2.5-3 billion. Note that this cost figure does not assume that New York can build anything as cheaply as Stockholm, only that it can build Gateway for the same unit cost as Second Avenue Subway. The project management does not have to be good – it merely has to be as bad as that of Second Avenue Subway, rather than far worse, most likely due to the influence of Amtrak.

The best scenario coming out of canceling Gateway is to attempt a third tunnel project, this time under a government agency that is not poisoned by the existing problems of either Amtrak or Port Authority. The MTA could potentially do it; among the agencies building things in the New York area it seems by far the least incompetent.

If Gateway stays as is, just without federal funding, then the solution is for Amtrak to invest in its own project management capacity. The cost of the Green Line Extension in Boston was reduced from $3 billion to $2.3 billion, of which only $1.1 billion is actual construction and the rest is a combination of equipment and sunk cost on the botched start of the project; MBTA insiders attribute this to the hiring of a new, more experienced project manager. If Gateway can be built for even the same unit cost as Second Avenue Subway, then the existing state commitments are enough to build it to Grand Central and still have about half the budget left for additional tunnels.

54 comments

  1. Jhonny

    The thing to remember with this like with Stuttgart 21 is: eben if the project is on the face of it not an effective use of money, the total pool of money to invest in transit is not steady. The money not spent here won’t be spent on better bus service in Cleveland or light rail in Los Angeles as needed and sensible as they might be. This rather build something that is “too expensive” than have the money go down the drain.

    • Alon Levy

      At $160,000/rider, not spending the money is better than spending it, even independently of the fact that building the tunnels without the Grand Central connection makes it harder to build such a connection in the future.

      • Jhonny

        What good would instead spending the money on a new highway do?

        The project provides a net benefit for public transit. We should be outraged about stupid “replace 300 km of light rail with 20 km of metro” projects but this isn’t one of them.

        There might be an overall fixed or more or less fixed budget for “prestige projects” (like hsr or big tunnels) but it can also be spent on totally non-transit stuff (like highways or vaporware or a new concert building). Most politicians who want to cut ribbons don’t care which ribbon they cut as long as it has their name on it.

        So we should take even those transit projects that are “poor value for money” because otherwise the money is just gone.

        And as we can see in the evolution of cost, not building today means it’ll get more expensive tomorrow.

        • Rob

          The money is not gone. Maybe it’ll never be used for rail, or even for transportation, but it’ll be used for *something*. And if that something provides more benefit than this rail project, then it’s the government’s responsibility to use the money for that rather than rail.

          • Jhonny

            A lot of stuff government spends money on is less useful than rail.

            Highways or tax cuts for example

  2. Benjamin Turon

    My understanding, what is clearly being put forth in the press, is we need two new tunnels to insure that going forward we have two tunnels under the Hudson River into Penn Station instead one or none. Only once the two existing tunnels are rebuilt will there be an increase in capacity.

    Can it be don’t much more cheaply? No doubt, the series of articles on the MTA/NYC Subway in the NY Times were a devastating indictment and fortunately got wide coverage in the media. Penn South is dumb, tearing down a entire block (including a Catholic Church and Shrine, mmmm…. fun!) seems super expensive and unnecessary. The deep caverns of ARC seems to a much better idea in comparison!!! No demolition above ground. Running two new tunnels from LIRR East Side Access GCT station to a new deep cavern station at Penn Station, then under the river to NJ makes the most sense in my mind. Perhaps combine that with thru running of NJ-LIRR trains between Long Island and New Jersey.

    I don’t understand why Mr. Levy has more faith in the MTA than the PANYNJ, the MTA is the one responsible for the Second Ave Subway and East Side Access… and the NYC Subway! I guess it comes down to at least the MTA has built something! The Brooklyn-to-Staten Island Water Tunnel was built for $250m, its large enough for a narrow-guage railway, let’s have whoever designed and built that do Gateway! See Video… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIW9FCPnSUY

    For me its clear that we can’t depended on the Federal Government for funding, not while Trump is president. NY and NJ along with Amtrak should go alone, and that means bringing down the cost of the project. At the very least the two states should get started on digging, commit enough money to get two new tubes built, perhaps by the time they are finished a new Congress and President will pass and sign a bill to help fund the track, centenary, and signaling!

    Cuomo wants to run for president (yes… a big laugh), if so he could prove his mettle by reforming construction by MTA and getting the new tunnels into Penn Station underway. As far as I know they never figured out (publicly) how to pay for the new NYS Thruway Tappen Zee Bridge, they started construction without knowing were the money was coming from, today we have a new bridge, so why not just do the same for Gateway!

    • Alon Levy

      A couple things.

      1. I think you’re the first person to call me Mr. Levy in a blog comment without being a troll.

      2. MTA Capital Construction is responsible for the SAS and ESA clusterfucks, but Port Authority was responsible for the ARC cavern and is responsible for some hilariously high PATH-EWR cost estimates. PATH also has twice the operating costs of NYCT (link), which are already nearly the highest in the world.

      3. There’s a compelling piece of evidence that the old tunnels are not at risk of collapse: they’re not being closed right now for safety. In fact, the official study recommending closing the old tunnels for a long period does not make a serious effort to cost the no-build alternative in which the old tunnels keep receiving maintenance on nights and weekends. The costs of maintaining the old tunnels have magically risen since that study, which is consistent with the theory that it’s all BS and Amtrak et al are using the old tunnels’ condition to scaremonger politicians into spending money on Gateway.

      4. Back when ARC was a thing, it was not possible to through-run from the cavern because of Water Tunnel 1. With Water Tunnel 3 near completion this may change. However, through-running to ESA isn’t too useful, since ESA leads to Long Island, as do the existing East River Tunnels. Through-running to the Grand Central lower level and hooking up to some Metro-North lines is more useful – you get more coverage this way.

      • adirondacker12800

        NJTransit was the lead agency for ARC. The Port Authority rummaged around under it’s couch cushions and came up with 3 billion. The ARC study said that connecting to the lower level of Grand Central would require taking some of the Lexington Avenue subway out of service. That’s not a viable option.

        • threestationsquare

          The ARC study assumed trains would be locomotive-hauled and so required fairly shallow grades; EMUs can handle higher grades and could probably thread their way to Grand Central without touching the 6.

          Also, the Lexington Ave subway was initially rerouted (from the original route Park-42nd-Broadway to today’s “H system”) in the space of a single day in 1916; rerouting it again with a weekend shutdown or less (impacting only the downtown local tracks) shoudl not be impossible, if it’s even necessary.

          • adirondacker12800

            WIth Dagny Taggart’s help and some Reardon metal. There weren’t and aren’t dual frequency EMUs. People went out with theodolites, confirmed measurements and decided it was too risky. And would cost too much.

          • threestationsquare

            The study doesn’t say it’s too risky or expensive, the reason they give for rejecting it is capacity, because they assume minimal through running with NJT and Metro North maintaining separate fiefs.

            There are certainly dual-frequency EMUs, how do you think anything crosses from Germany (16.7Hz) to the rest of Europe (50Hz or DC)? Mostly intercity (e.g. ICE 3M) but also regional where necessary (e.g. RABe 522).

            Locomotives are obsolete for passenger rail, planning major new infrastructure around them is ridiculous.

          • adirondacker12800

            I’ve read the study. more than once because some foamer will claim that Metro North hates everyone and if they just ran trains through like they say they should on IRUM, they concluded it was too risky and too expensive. After checking measurements with theodolites. And it doesn’t really matter because on Planet Earth they building Gateway.

          • Alon Levy

            The foamer in question is a senior consultant who ran the LIRR concourse rebuild project in the 1990s. He did not say that Alt G was infeasible; he said Alts G and S were difficult because of the need to duck under the IND and said it was slightly easier than Tottenham Court Road on Crossrail but in the same league. He did not as far as my notes say say anything about the conflict with the 6 train. He also admitted that the studies were based on loco-friendly 2% grades and things could get easier with EMU-only 4% grades, but specifically did not endorse any position (“it’s easy” or “it’s hard”) assuming 4% grades. The argument he made for why Alt G was rejected was capacity, coming from lack of through-running.

          • adirondacker12800

            And he can point it the specifics in the original documents that are archived online, which I’ve posted links to more than once. which you referred him to if he wasn’t aware of them. I read them and come away with too expensive and too risky.
            Even the cartoons that are easier to find online have multiple tracks at Grand Central. ARC was projected to be able to handle 26 an hour. Gateway, with very different geometry is expected to do 25. I assume through running to Metro North. Which has it out for everybody else which is why East Side Access is in a deep cavern. Even thought the tunnel it connects to was finished years before Metro North was organized, before there was a Conrail and planned before there was a Penn Central. They keep the time machine very very secret. And were able to convince the MTA, their parent agency, that the MTA shouldn’t be allowed to use Grand Central. And forget about cooperating with NJTransit, even though they do it every day. And even run trains through a dozen Sundays a year. Never gonna happen.

    • Michael James

      Benjamin Turon 2018/03/08 – 07:07

      The Brooklyn-to-Staten Island Water Tunnel was built for $250m, its large enough for a narrow-guage railway, let’s have whoever designed and built that do Gateway!

      Gulp! You know the tunnel that Musk is building under Hawthorn in LA? It a small-bore tunnel (to test his e-sled concepts) using a second-hand TBM that had previously been boring water/sewage tunnels in Oakland.

      In fact I have myself proposed on Mr Levy’s blog, substituting trains under the Hudson with ThyssenKrupp’s fast(ish) travellators. This is the real-world e-sled (versus Musk’s vaporware) that is based on the technology ThyssenKrupp developed for the Siemens TransRapid maglev train. At these (low) costs it could continue to go to Central Station, and you could build as many tunnels/e-travellators as required. In fact you could begin to envision a separate network of these things serving the key hotspots of Manhattan …

      http://www.railjournal.com/index.php/metros/acccelerating-walkway-could-extend-rails-reach.html

  3. Hal Grossman

    Should you factor in the risk of the existing tunnels having to be closed for an extended time, and there being no NJ Transit or Amtrak trains between New York and New Jersey? What’s it worth to insure against this?

    • threestationsquare

      Both tubes having to be closed at the same time is unlikely, and a significant amount of service (almost half) could be run on a single track in an emergency. Even a total closure is nothing making the Lincoln Tunnel bus-only couldn’t handle. Neither of those should be “Plan A” but the risk you are talking about is highly speculative.

  4. AlexB

    After they finish the Harold Interlocking, would it be possible to send trains to the New Haven line and the LIRR if they extended Gateway to East Side Access? Definitely agree connecting to Metro North is a better idea though.

    The Gateway project is not one project, it’s many. A lot of it is useful, but if they were serious about repairing the existing tunnels, they could just tunnel one of the two proposed tracks and connect it to the south side of Penn and the existing NEC without building miles of track through Northern NJ, replacing bridges and building a new station in NYC. You don’t have to wait for $15 billion from the federal govt to do something useful now. How much much would one tunnel cost? $1.5-2 billion? It would give them enough flexibility to make repairs and they could obviously incorporate it into the final project.

  5. Joel N. Weber II

    I understand why NJT would like a third track connecting Penn Station to NJ and how that would be useful for enabling taking the existing tunnels out of service for rebuilding one at a time, but is the fourth track necessary if half the NJT trains use the existing East River tunnels to get to Sunnyside Yard?

  6. Jhonny

    A totally different issue; in Berlin in particular but also some other places there is currently an Ideological fought whether to expand “Straßenbahn” (new construction only gets federal money if it does not sit in mixed traffic with cars so it’s more light rail than streetcar) or U-Bahn. In Berlin the issue is in part one of East (which retained and expanded its Straßenbahn but only built 10 km of subway in 40 years) vs west (which shut down its Straßenbahn in 1967 but built subway like there was no tomorrow) in addition to the ideological fight. Berlin is also structurally bankrupt and can basically only afford a very limited amount of investment.

    Now some of the routes with the most debate are U8 to märkisches viertel (planned since at least the 1980s) or a tram extension from the east, U55 (will be linked to U5) from Hauptbahnhof to (the site of) Tegel Airport either when it closes or while it is still an airport, or Straßenbahn (current M 10) along a similar alignment via Turmstraße. U7 towards the new airport (and across the state line which will cause turf wars) in Schönefeld. And the question of whether to extend U2 and U7 in Spandau or create a tram network if need be one unconnected to the rest of Berlin.

    I’d like to hear your takes either in broad general terms or in detail on any given one project…

  7. James Sinclair

    “At $40,000 per weekday rider, this justifies $7 billion in construction costs”

    Isnt this math based on 1 year of ridership? But we can expect the tunnel to last an easy 100 years. So that’s $400 per rider per year.

    Or less than $2 a weekday.

    Am I off here?

        • threestationsquare

          The current interest rate for 30-year Treasury bonds is 3.16%. So if instead of spending $40k per rider on the tunnel you bought each rider $40k worth of treasuries, the treasuries would pay $1264 per year or about $5 per weekday. For a single (one-way) cross-hudson trip $5 sounds like a plausible ballpark for the total benefit of taking a train instead of a bus; $20 per trip (the projected Gateway cost) would definitely be too high. (Remember these numbers are on top of operating costs and the capital cost of all the existing infrastructure.)

  8. orulz

    How much of the cost can be attributed to work on either end rather than just the bare tunnel? Stuff like Portal Bridge, and track work on approach to Penn Station? Not saying this comes remotely close to justifying a $10 billion cost.

    • Alon Levy

      The bare tunnel doesn’t even include Portal Bridge (which I can’t tell if it’s funded already from other sources or if Amtrak folded it into Gateway). Portal Bridge is maybe $2 billion and should cost more like $200 million.

  9. Tunnel Vision

    First of all a single new tunnel is needed between NJ and Penn Station. That would enable the existing tunnels to be taken out of service one at a time and the systems in them rehabilitated. The physical tunnels are in reasonable condition, nothing that a good rehabilitation could not cure but the systems are shot. However if you build a new single tunnel you run into NFPA130 compliance issues meaning that it makes more sense to build two tunnels as the support works would be the same whether its one or two tunnels. Shaft in Hoboken and a shaft on the Manhattan side as a minimum for ventilation and emergency egress etc. Probably the sigle most expensive piece of the project from a $/ft will be from wherever the shaft is in Manhattan to the portion constructed as part of the Hudson Yards Project. That will require deep open cut excavation, utility relocation’s etc. which in NY as was evidenced on 2nd Ave is prone to delays and spiraling costs and utility companies wanting free upgrades to their systems.

    As for tunneling under water there are lost of examples of main line rail and road projects built under water. Channel Tunnel, GreatBelt in Denmark, Thimble Shoal Tunnel, Istanbul Road Tunnel and many many other projects around the world, the tunnel does not care what goes into it nor does the technology change for constructing the tunnels. Given the extremely poor ground conditions under the Hudson which led to lots of deaths and problems when building the original tunnels due to using compressed air and open shields, a pressurized face TBM using pre-cast segmental linings will be required. There a lot of design issues that need to be resolved, not least the buoyancy of the completed tunnel between construction of the lining and installation of the trackbed etc. to provide some ballast against its natural inclination to float up to the river bed. This will likely be compounded for the Hudson tunnels as for the ARC project the tunnels were in the order of 35ft in diameter to accommodate the running track and a completely separate emergency evacuation corridor and ventilation duct. AS per NFPA 130 you need to provide emergency egress to fresh air every 2500ft. You can do this by constructing cross passages every 1000 ft or so, as they did on Channel Tunnel and GreatBelt and other projects to enable evacuation from one tunnel to another, which may or may not be connected to shafts that evacuate to surface, as was constructed on ESA in Queens. Or you can incorporate a separated corridor in the tunnel as per the ARC design and as has been developed in many road tunnel projects around the world. If you use Cross Passages your tunnel diameter reduces to around 25/26ft thereby reducing buoyancy issues BUT then you have to somehow construct cross passages in very poor ground conditions which will be immensely expensive and require ground freezing or similar techniques together with hand mining. Hence whey I would imagine the larger tunnel diameter will be used as the risks associated with cross passage construction are significant and therefore costly. Mining tunnels beneath open water brings its own risks. For example if you are mining beneath a city, if you have a major failure as per Alaskan Way, you can if necessary sink a shaft and fix your TBM. You cannot do this underwater, or you can but it becomes even more expensive. So a Contractor will elect to over design the TBM and use a robustly engineered piece of equipment to minimize the risks associated with main bearing failures so as to minimize the possibility of having to make repairs during construction. This adds cost. Then there is the need to change the cutting tools on the TBM. Traditionally this is done under compressed air from within the pressurized cutterhead chamber or you can use pre constructed safe havens using jet grout or similar (but this is difficult under water). Recent advances in TBM technology for the Istanbul Road Tunnels allowed the majority of tools to be changed from a free air location, thereby reducing costs and time, but still required some compressed air interventions. On that project these were undertaken at 6 bar pressures leading to saturation diving techniques being used (very expensive). Most jurisdictions limit daily compressed air interventions to 3 bar these days due to the damage it does to workers. So that’s another risk that will need to be priced .As a point of reference the Soft Ground Tunnels constructed in Queens for the ESA Project beneath Harold Interlocking, which was treated as if it was open water as no disruption to operational tracks was permitted, cost around $140m/km to construct excluding systems and track.

    Again as a point of reference the cost to excavate and line the TBM mined rock tunnels on ESA was in the order of $100m/km. This excludes track and systems. One thing I’ve noticed in your costs comparisons is that you are using total project outcome costs which often include a lot of work that is likely not needed for other projects.

    • The Economist

      Thank you for the detailed explanation. You saved me a lot of typing. A lot of people, including sometimes Mr. Levy, but especially the media do not have any understanding of the engineering. For example, many have proposed building only one tube thinking that this would cut the costs by half. Apart from being far from the truth, due to economies of scale, a single tube fails the egress requirements as you explain. The current design uses the second tube for egress in case of fire in the first one. Many have proposed using the old tubes as egress for the new tube. That is out of question. One cannot make connections from the new tube to the old ones without shutting both tubes for months. Additionally construction close to the existing tubes even without connection to them will prevent the use of the existing tubes. That is in fact the reason why the tunnel is proposed on the south side. If it were on the north side it would be too close to the Lincoln tunnel, so the Lincoln tunnel tubes would have been closed for the duration of construction. Note that this closeness limit is imposed only during construction. There is no problem with operating the tubes ones they are all build, but you cannot operate in the old ones while the new ones are under construction. Both the two existing rail tubes and the Lincoln tunnel tubes are close to each other, but they were dug up simultaneously, not sequentially, e.g. the three Lincoln tunnel tubes were drilled at about the same time even if they did not open exactly on the same day.

      Now let me go to the economies of scale. As you point out, vertical ventilation shafts will be needed on both sides of the river. Building a slightly larger shaft able to handle ventilation for two tubes does not cost twice as much as a shaft for one tube. The increase in cost is probably only about 25%. Inversely, going from ventilation shaft for two tunnels to a shaft for one tunnel only saves 20%. Same thing applies to the ventilation plant equipment and so on.

      Another big problem is that people and the media continues to dream of connecting Penn Station to Grand Central. From engineering perspective it is too late for that. Maybe it was cost effective in the 1950s. It is not now. For example, the ESA tunnels are too small for NJT equipment, especially the bilevels. They are so small that even Metro-North equipment does not fit die to the pantographs. Indeed even LIRRs diesel trains cannot fit in there. Then, some say let’s connect to the Metro-North part of the terminal. Upper level? Forget it you will need to demolish Grand Central to accomplish that as you will need to pass through the waiting area. Lower level? Sure, that is “easier”, but you still need to demolish the dining concourse and thread very carefully around the 4/5/6 subway and the 7. Possible? Yes. Expensive? You bet! $30 billion for Gateway will be chump change in relationship to the money needed to underpin Grand Central, the subways and the other buildings in the area.

      While I agree with Mr. Levy that the costs of construction in the city are too high and should be brought down, there is very little that can be done via changes of the scope of the tunnel only portion. On Penn South Mr. Levy has a very good point, but the tunnel only cannot really be slimmed down much over what it already is. The costs should be lower, but that is to be accomplished through reduction in unit costs not scope reduction.

      Let me give some examples where project scope of the overall Gateway can be cut. One place where scope of Gateway needs to be narrowed is Secaucus. Secaucus already has 4 tracks. Why they want to build another 2 bypass tracks and the in process demolish and rebuild part of the station is beyond me. Using the outside tracks for the stops at Secaucus and the inner tracks for the expresses will be plenty. A similar thing is the Postal Platform under the Post Office, (I mean the future LIRR/Amtrak concourse). It is a single platform with two sides, so here they can get 2 extra platform tracks at Penn (only after the new tubes are built, the Postal Platform is not accessible from the existing tubes). Why spend billions to demolish a full city block and build Penn South which gives you 7 extra tracks, when you can spend a few hundred millions, refurbish the Postal Platform and get 2 extra tracks for passenger use at fraction of the cost?

      • Robert Hale

        The scope of the Hudson Tunnel Project is not the problem; the capital process is the problem.

      • Benjamin She

        Speaking as someone from a city where they were able to thread through three different subway tunnels, reconfigure entire stations, and underpin multiple skyscrapers in order to build a mainline rail connection through downtown (Philadelphia), at essentially a cost of $1 billion, I always laugh at the notion that Penn-GCT is impossible to accomplish..

      • Alon Levy

        The connection to the Grand Central lower level is only as hard as you say because the plans assumed a locomotive-friendly 2% grade. Even with that grade, going east of Penn Station should not be a problem – tracks 1-4 were designed for a future fifth and sixth tunnel under the East River. Threading around the 7 train is not a problem either, since the 7 is much deeper. The 4/5/6 are a bigger issue – the public ARC documents said one of the four tracks would need moving. However, a) that could potentially be resolved by using EMU-only 4% grades, and b) the argument given by the MIS in favor of eliminating Alt G from consideration was not construction complication, but rather the supposed lower capacity, in realty coming from poor coordination with Metro-North (no through-running).

        • The Economist

          I agree that using EMUs will allow for steeper grades and somewhat less complex construction. The problem is that the necessary construction is still very complex and expensive. It does not matter why the MIS eliminated Alt-G (I agree that the reason cited is fishy). The cost of Alt-G has never been estimated in a way similar to the costs of ARC, Gateway and such. Estimates from various interested groups (RPA, for example) don’t count as they lack the deep engineering expertise needed to understand the complexity of the project. I am pretty sure Alt-G will hit $75 billion once estimated to the same detail as Gateway (because it kind of includes Gateway other then Penn South).

          Let’s go back to the EMUs. You cannot have catenary in GCT. The clearance is not enough in the existing station. So those EMUs will need to use third rail between GCT and Penn. Metro-North’s current EMUs do that. We are good on it. How do you get them to New Jersey though? The reason why these EMUs cannot get into Penn today is the 25Hz frequency. Flipping all Amtrak’s power infrastructure from 25Hz to 60Hz is $3+ billion project. Note that you need to flip at least as far as Trenton, not just Penn Station or you cannot get to Trenton with those EMUs. Metro-North considered making the EMUs capable of running on 25Hz and found that to not be an attractive option due to the extra transformer weight. NJT is toying with multilevel EMUs capable of running both on 25Hz and 60Hz, but there things are still on the design table. One can insist that EMUs capable of handling third rail and both AC frequencies are possible, but can you bet $75 billion on non-existent technology? What happens when you spend the money on the tunnels and the connection between GCT and Penn, but the EMUs fail to appear? How will a politician justify the expensive tunnel to the voters then? It was only about 10 years ago that we got an engine capable on running on diesel and wire (NJT’s ALP45s). While people think that Siemens can make a better one, Siemens has not built anything yet (and yes the ALP45s are far from great and their fuel economy sucks). Why does anyone think that an attempt to build EMUs capable of running on third rail and both AC frequencies will be any more successful or take less time is beyond me. Betting that those EMUs will exist when the tunnels are ready is clearly far from smart. I would not put my money on it and I cannot blame anyone else for not putting their money on it either. So flipping the infrastructure seems to be the better bet. Why that is not given more consideration I do not know. Maybe my estimate of $3+ billion is too low? Maybe nobody wants to fund it because it is spending $3+ billion to just stay about where everything is.

          In any case, why are we debating Alt-G which will definitely cost much more than the tunnels anyway? If the Feds don’t want to pay for the tunnels why would they want to pay for Alt-G?

          • Joey

            The Economist: It would cost a lot less than $75b to convert all the remaining non-60Hz electrification to 60Hz. Never mind that the tunnel wouldn’t cost $75b to begin with

          • Alon Levy

            What I don’t get is why it’s supposed to cost billions to convert 12 kV 25 Hz to 25 kV 60 Hz. Amtrak converted diesel to 25 kV 60 Hz for about $600 million between New Haven and Boston in the 1990s. There’s space even in the North River and East River Tunnels for the few cm of extra clearance required for the higher voltage, and the power supply is there, Amtrak would just need to add substations.

          • adirondacker12800

            600 million in 2000 would be 881 million in 2018. Using a generic inflation calculator. To keep the arithmetic simple there were 333 track miles between New Haven and Boston and there are 1,000 between New York and DC. It would be done around a much busier railroad so to keep the arithmetic simple again, 900 billion for the same amount of track miles. 2.7 billion. Without taking SEPTA and the rest of the Harrisburg line along for the ride. Most of it would be for work that needs to be done anyway because the existing needs to be replaced.

        • adirondacker12800

          Most of the three billion would be replacing the wiring and the supports out along the track than needs to be replaced anyway. Machines are never 100 percent efficient, converting 25Hz to 60Hz wastes electricity. The machines to do that have to be purchased. They need maintenance. Then there is the hauling around heavier 25Hz transformers instead of 60Hz transformers. I’m sure it’s mostly software these days but there’s the complexity of dual frequency equipment. ….and the existing equipment teeters on the edge of reaching it’s capacity during rush hour…. It should have been converted years ago.

      • Tunnel Vision

        Connecting Penn to GCT, either MNR levels or the ESA levels is a non starter. For one, City Water Tunnel #1 is in the way. AS you point out the cost of underpinning GCT would be exorbitant (that’s one of the reasons ESA was moved from the lower level of GCT to the deep caverns, no one wanted to deal with property easements as you underpinned along Park Ave) and getting through the cluster of subway tunnels somewhat tricky and not forgetting the Park Ave Road tunnel. Have you ever wondered why the only shafts at the South end of the Tail tracks on ESA were three raise bored 12ft diameter ventilation shafts. Between the Lex Line and the park Ave Rd Tunnel there simply is no space to sink a decent size shaft. I was involved in a study looking to connect the two stations and if memory serves correctly only the upper level tunnels in the ESA GCT can actually be connected assuming City Water Tunnel #1 can be dealt with. Probably just as well as there is a TBM buried beneath Park Ave in the lower tunnel…ESA was not designed for bi-levels as you indicate but that was because the 63 Rd St tunnel will not accommodate them. Hell its tight for the M-7’s even shaving the invert and using DF track.

        • Alon Levy

          Water Tunnel #1 is a problem for a deep-level connection, but it was not stated to be a reason to drop Alt G, which would’ve been a shallower connection. And remember that all the studies for ARC assume locomotive-friendly 2% grades.

          • adirondacker12800

            They dropped Alt+G, no matter how hard you clap, because it was too risky or too expensive, depending on how you read it.

          • Joey

            Did adirondacker get a special non-public version of the EIS? Because the public version definitely said capacity, not constructibility.

          • adirondacker12800

            Itg’s online. I’m sure you can provide links and specific pages and paragraphs.

  10. Robert Hale

    I wouldn’t say that Gateway is cancelled. The environmental clearances aren’t even in hand; those are needed before any federal funding application can be formalized. Though it wouldn’t directly solve the cost problem, NJ and NY could issue their own bonds instead of taking out a federal loan. The story isn’t over; it has barely even begun.

  11. Islanderh93

    So here’s my idea:
    1.We’re going to build just one tunnel, called “Tube-C”, that’s going to carry one track. It’s going to take the Northeast Corridor from out on the marshes of New Jersey, into the existing Penn Station. It’ll be self-sufficient as in the support systems work for just this tunnel alone. As a smaller project, it should cost less money, and be within the abilities of the Port Authority or some other bi-state agency to devise funding for. Perhaps it ought to operate as its own terminal railway, charging tolls to the appropriate overseeing agency of whomever operates trains through it? ie: every NJT train through it owes X towards the tunnel company.
    2. Tube-C is to be constructed in a way that doesn’t prevent a fourth tube from being built. Or a fifth tube. Or even more than that! Its Western Portal must allow a second track to be set up in the future (when that gets to happen). The Eastern Tunnel Box will have accommodations to divert the routing into a future Penn Terminal Extension, but will first be used to serve the existing Penn. Upon completion of Tube-C, the Tunnel Boring Machine will get stored in part of this tunnel box, so that it can be employed in future parallel tubes.
    3*. If possible, it’d be nice to have Tube-C accommodate a larger loading gauge to allow for double-deck equipment (like Superliners) to operate though it in the future, by utilizing a physically larger tunnel. In theory such additional space could even allow for proper ventilation to allow for diesel-electrics of Tier-3 and better to utilize it. This may allow the tunnel to support its own emergency evacuation route and/or service entry within the same pipe, which I’d imagine is going to be over 17 feet in diameter anyway. As part of the terminal-railway concept, this could allow for some through-running freights to pass at night when capacity is less used, to help pay for the tube’s construction.
    4. When Tube-C is finished, the two existing tubes get taken out of service on an alternating basis so that they can get their necessary repairs. In this scenario, there’s always 2-tracks on-duty to handle the existing capacities in/out of Penn.
    If one existing tunnel fails sooner, a second TBM can be used to rush completion of an otherwise one-way bore. We’d still be closer to having a working tunnel under this plan, than waiting for the money to show up for 2 new tubes.
    5. Upon completion of this work, there’s now 3 tubes handling traffic, which will offer redundancies not currently enjoyed today. At that time, adding more station capacity with new terminals becomes less a hypothetical, as they can be partially-served upon their completion due to the existence of this third track.
    6. When the Feds decide to fund a fourth tube, they can do that at any time as that tube is going to have its own support systems. If started after C, it can even use the same TBM, and it’ll have it’s start and finish points ready for the new tunnel when it arrives.
    Alternatively, if that fourth tube never gets built, we’ve still got a working system at the conclusion of this plan.
    7. As Tube-C has its own independent ventilation and power systems, and acts functionally separate from all other tunnels, it’s isolated from politics of system upgrades, ownership, and funding of the other tunnels. This self-sufficiency also means it resists problems like flooding, terrorist-attacks, fires and electrical-supply-troubles of the other tunnels. As such, it ought to have some sort of closing-door on its ends so it can hold out flood waters, or modify draft if a fire occurs.

    So wouldn’t this be a cheaper, easier to accomplish project that placates the most opposition and stands the best chance of actually getting done? I’d say one new tube is better than none!

    • Alon Levy

      No, it would not be cheaper and it would not work.

      1. As Tunnel Vision notes, there are emergency escape regulations that make a single-track bore dicey.
      2. A single-track bore costs more than half as much as a twin-track bore.
      3. A large-diameter bore costs more than a small-diameter bore, and on top of that a) Superliners wouldn’t fit in the rest of the NEC, b) diesels can’t climb grades in tunnels without poisoning everyone, and c) diesels shouldn’t run on the NEC, esp. with low-capacity Superliners.
      4. A single-track bore would need to hit certain station tracks, south of the ones with the easiest connections to the East River tunnels. The interlocking is already constrained because of Hudson Yards construction, which means the new tunnels are not a perfect substitute for the old ones, esp. for through-traffic.
      5. Trying to isolate the tunnel from Port Authority by inventing a new agency just means creating a new Port Authority with even less institutional experience managing large projects than the existing one. Don’t do it. See also XKCD #927.
      6. Three-track railroads do not belong on modern bidirectional operations.

  12. marvin gruza

    Maybe the right mix is a single railroad track combine with two subway tracks for the #7?
    This would allow for a much smaller bus terminal and the related cost savings.

  13. Pingback: Part 2, Boston & Beyond: How Uncle Sam Can Help Metros Tunnel Like Never Before – What Stations Teach

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