Penn Station Expansion is Based on Fraud

New York is asking for $20 billion for reconstruction ($7 billion) and physical expansion ($13 billion) of Penn Station. The state is treating it as a foregone conclusion that it will happen and it will get other people’s money for it; the state oversight board just voted for it despite the uncertain funding. Facing criticism from technical advocates who have proposed alternatives that can use Penn Station’s existing infrastructure, lead agency Empire State Development (ESD) has pushed back. The document I’ve been looking at lately is not new – it’s a presentation from May 2021 – but the discussion I’ve seen of it is. The bad news is that the presentation makes fraudulent claims about the capabilities of railroads in defense of its intention to waste $20 billion, to the point that people should lose their jobs and until they do federal funding for New York projects should be stingier. The good news is that this means that there are no significant technical barriers to commuter rail modernization in New York – the obstacles cited in the presentation are completely trivial, and thus, if billions of dollars are available for rail capital expansion in New York, they can go to more useful priorities like IBX.

What’s the issue with Penn Station expansion?

Penn Station is a mess at both the concourse and track levels. The worst capacity bottleneck is the western approach across the river, the two-track North River Tunnels, which on the eve of corona ran about 20 overfull commuter trains and four intercity trains into New York at the peak hour; the canceled ARC project and the ongoing Gateway project both intend to address this by adding two more tracks to Penn Station.

Unfortunately, there is a widespread belief that Penn Station’s 21 existing tracks cannot accommodate all traffic from both east (with four existing East River Tunnel tracks) and west if new Hudson tunnels are built. This belief goes back at least to the original ARC plans from 20 years ago: all plans involved some further expansion, including Alt G (onward connection to Grand Central), Alt S (onward connection to Sunnyside via two new East River tunnel tracks), and Alt P (deep cavern under Penn Station with more tracks). Gateway has always assumed the same, calling for a near-surface variation of Alt P: instead of a deep cavern, the block south of Penn Station, so-called Block 780, is to be demolished and dug up for additional tracks.

The impetus for rebuilding Penn Station is a combination of a false belief that it is a capacity bottleneck (it isn’t, only the Hudson tunnels are) and a historical grudge over the demolition of the old Beaux-Arts station with a labyrinthine, low-ceiling structure that nobody likes. The result is that much of the discourse about the need to rebuild the station is looking for technical justification for an aesthetic decision; unfortunately, nobody I have talked to or read in New York seems especially interested in the wayfinding aspects of the poor design of the existing station, which are real and do act as a drag on casual travel.

I highlight the history of Penn Station and the lead agency – ESD rather than the MTA, Port Authority, or Amtrak – because it showcases how this is not really a transit project. It’s not even a bad transit project the way ARC Alt P was or the way Gateway with Block 780 demolition is. It’s an urban renewal project, run by people who judge train stations by which starchitect built them and how they look in renderings rather than by how useful they are for passengers. Expansion in this context is about creating the maximum footprint for renderings, and not about solving a transportation problem.

Why is it believed that Penn Station needs more tracks?

Penn Station tracks are used inefficiently. The ESD pushback even hints at why, it just treats bad practices as immutable. Trains have very long dwell times: per p. 22 of the presentation, the LIRR can get in and out in a quick 6 minutes, but New Jersey Transit averages 12 and Amtrak averages 22. The reasons given for Amtrak’s long dwell are “baggage” (there is no checked baggage on most trains), “commissary” (the cafe car is restocked there, hardly the best use of space), and “boarding from one escalator” (this is unnecessary and in fact seasoned travelers know to go to a different concourse and board there). A more reasonable dwell time at a station as busy as Penn Station on trains designed for fast access and egress is 1-2 minutes, which happens hundreds of times a day at Shin-Osaka; on the worse-designed Amtrak rolling stock, with its narrower doors, 5 minutes should suffice.

New Jersey Transit can likewise deboard fast, although it might need to throw away the bilevels and replace them with longer single-deck trains. This reduces on-board capacity somewhat, but this entire discussion assumes the Gateway tunnel has been built, otherwise even present operations do not exhaust the station’s capacity. Moreover, trains can be procured for comfortable standing; subway riders sometimes have to stand for 20-30 minutes and commuter rail riders should have similar levels of comfort – the problem today is standees on New Jersey Transit trains designed without any comfortable standing space.

But by far the biggest single efficiency improvement that can be done at Penn Station is through-running. If trains don’t have to turn back or even continue to a yard out of service, but instead run onward to suburbs on the other side of Manhattan, then the dwell time can be far less than 6 minutes and then there is much more space at the station than it would ever need. The station’s 21 tracks would be a large surplus; some could be removed to widen the platform, and the ESD presentation does look at one way to do this, which isn’t necessarily the optimal way (it considers paving over every other track to widen the platforms and permit trains to open doors on both sides rather than paving over every other track pair to widen the platforms much more but without the both-side doors). But then the presentation defrauds the public on the opportunity to do so.

Fraudulent claim #1: 8 minute dwells

On p. 44, the presentation compares the capacity with and without through-running, assuming half the tracks are paved over to widen the platforms. The explicit assumption is that through-running commuter rail requires trains to dwell 8 minutes at Penn Station to fully unload and load passengers. There are three options: the people who wrote this may have lied, or they may be incompetent, or they be both liars and incompetent.

In reality, even very busy stations unload and load passengers in 30-60 seconds at rush hour. Limiting cases reaching up to 90-120 seconds exist but are rare; the RER A, which runs bilevels, is the only one I know of at 105.

On pp. 52-53, the presentation even shows a map of the central sections of the RER, with the central stations (Gare du Nord, Les Halles, and Auber/Saint-Lazare) circled. There is no text, but I presume that this is intended to mean that there are two CBD stations on each line rather than just one, which helps distribute the passenger load better; in contrast, New York would only have one Manhattan station on through-trains on the Northeast Corridor, which requires a longer dwell time. I’ve heard this criticism over the years from official and advocate sources, and I’m sympathetic.

What I’m not sympathetic to is the claim that the dwell time required at Penn Station is more than the dwell time required at multiple city center stations, all combined. On the single-deck RER B, the combined rush hour dwell time at Gare du Nord and Les Halles is around 2 minutes normally (and the next station over, Saint-Michel, has 40-60 second rush hour dwells and is not in the CBD unless you’re an academic or a tourist); in unusual circumstances it might go as high as 4 minutes. The RER A’s combined dwell is within the same range. In Munich, there are six stations on the S-Bahn trunk between Hauptbahnhof and Ostbahnhof – but at the intermediate stations (with both-sides door opening) the dwell times are 30 seconds each and sometimes the doors only stay open 20 seconds; Hauptbahnhof and Ostbahnhof have longer dwell times but are not busier, they just are used as control points for scheduling.

The RER A’s ridership in 2011 was 1.14 million trips per weekday (source, p. 22) and traffic was 30 peak trains per hour and 24 reverse-peak trains; at the time, dwell times at Les Halles and Auber were lower than today, and it took several more years of ridership growth for dwell times to rise to 105 seconds, reducing peak traffic to 27 and then 24 tph. The RER B’s ridership was 983,000 per workday in 2019, with 20 tph per direction. Munich is a smaller city, small enough New Yorkers may look down on it, but its single-line S-Bahn had 950,000 trips per workday in 2019, on 30 peak tph in each direction. In contrast, pre-corona weekday ridership was 290,000 on the LIRR, 260,000 on Metro-North, and around 270,000 on New Jersey Transit – and the LIRR has a four-track tunnel into Manhattan, driving up traffic to 37 tph in addition to New Jersey’s 21. It’s absurd that the assumption on dwell time at one station is that it must be twice the combined dwell times at all city center stations on commuter lines that are more than twice as busy per train as the two commuter railroads serving Penn Station.

Using a more reasonable figure of 2 minutes in dwell time per train, the capacity of through-running rises to a multiple of what ESD claims, and through-running is a strong alternative to current plans.

Fraudulent claim #2: no 2.5% grades allowed

On pp. 38-39, the presentation claims that tracks 1-4 of Penn Station, which are currently stub-end tracks, cannot support through-running. In describing present-day operations, it’s correct that through-running must use the tracks 5-16, with access to the southern East River Tunnel pair. But it’s a dangerously false assumption for future infrastructure construction, with implications for the future of Gateway.

The rub is that the ARC alternatives that would have continued past Penn Station – Alts P and G – both were to extend the tunnel east from tracks 1-4, beneath 31st Street (the existing East River Tunnels feed 32nd and 33rd). Early Gateway plans by Amtrak called for an Alt G-style extension to Grand Central, with intercity trains calling at both stations. There was always a question about how such a tunnel would weave between subway tunnels, and those were informally said to doom Alt G. The presentation unambiguously answers this question – but the answer it gives is the exact opposite of what its supporting material says.

The graphic on p. 39 shows that to clear the subway’s Sixth Avenue Line, the trains must descend a 2.45% grade. This accords with what I was told by Foster Nichols, currently a senior WSP consultant but previously the planner who expanded Penn Station’s lower concourse in the 1990s to add platform access points and improve LIRR circulation, thereby shortening LIRR dwell times. Nichols did not give the precise figure of 2.45%, but did say that in the 1900s the station had been built with a proviso for tracks under 31st, but then the subway under Sixth Avenue partly obstructed them, and extension would require using a grade greater than 2%.

The rub is that modern urban and suburban trains climb 4% grades with no difficulty. The subway’s steepest grade, climbing out of the Steinway Tunnel, is 4.5%, and 3-3.5% grades are routine. The tractive effort required can be translated to units of acceleration: up a 4% grade, fighting gravity corresponds to 0.4 m/s^2 acceleration, whereas modern trains do 1-1.3 m/s^2. But it’s actually easier than this – the gradient slopes down when heading out of the station, and this makes the grade desirable: in fact, the subway was built with stations at the top of 2.5-3% grades (for example, see figure 7 here) so that gravity would assist acceleration and deceleration.

The reason the railroaders don’t like grades steeper than 2% is that they like the possibility of using obsolete trains, pulled by electric locomotives with only enough tractive effort to accelerate at about 0.4 m/s^2. With such anemic power, steeper grades may cause the train to stall in the tunnel. The solution is to cease using such outdated technology. Instead, all trains should be self-propelled electric multiple units (EMUs), like the vast majority of LIRR and Metro-North rolling stock and every subway train in the world. Japan no longer uses electric locomotives at all on its day trains, and among the workhorse European S-Bahn systems, all use EMUs exclusively, with the exception of Zurich, which still has some locomotive-pulled trains but is transitioning to EMUs.

It costs money to replace locomotive-hauled trains with EMUs. But it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Gateway won’t be completed tomorrow; any replacement of locomotives with EMUs on the normal replacement cycle saves capital costs rather than increasing them, and the same is true of changing future orders to accommodate peak service expansion for Gateway. Prematurely retiring locomotives does cost money, but New Jersey Transit only has 100 electric locomotives and 29 of them are 20 years old at this point; the total cost of such an early retirement program would be, to first order, about $1 billion. $1 billion is money, but it has independent transportation benefits including faster acceleration and higher reliability, whereas the $13 billion for Penn Station expansion have no transportation benefits whatsoever. Switzerland may be a laggard in replacing the S-Bahn’s locomotives with EMUs, but it’s a leader in the planning maxim electronics before concrete, and when the choice is between building a through-running tunnel for EMUs and building a massive underground station to store electric locomotives, the correct choice is to go with the EMUs.

How do they get away with this?

ESD is defrauding the public. The people who signed their names to the presentation should most likely not work for the state or any of its contractors; the state needs honest, competent people with experience building effective mass transit projects.

Those people walk around with their senior manager titles and decades of experience building infrastructure at outrageous cost and think they are experts. And why wouldn’t they? They do not respect any knowledge generated outside the New York (occasionally rest-of-US) bubble. They think of Spain as a place to vacation, not as a place that built 150 kilometers of subway 20 years ago for the same approximate cost as Second Avenue Subway phases 1 and 2. They think of smaller cities like Milan as beneath their dignity to learn about.

And what’s more, they’ve internalized a culture of revealing as little as possible. That closed attitude has always been there; it’s by accident that they committed two glaring acts of fraud to paper with this presentation. Usually they speak in generalities: the number of people who use the expression “apples-to-apples” and provide no further detail is staggering. They’ve learned to be opaque – to say little and do little. Most likely, they’re under political pressure to make the Penn Station reconstruction and expansion look good in order to generate what the governor thinks are good headlines, and they’ve internalized the idea that they should make up numbers to justify a political project (and in both the Transit Costs Project and previous reporting I’d talked to people in consulting who said they were under such formal or informal pressure for other US projects).

The way forward

With too much political support for wasting $20 billion at the state level, the federal government should step in and put an end to this. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) has $66 billion for mainline rail; none of this money should go to Penn Station expansion, and the only way any money should go to renovation is if it’s part of a program for concrete improvement in passenger rail function. If New York wishes to completely remodel the platform level, and not just pave over every other track or every other track pair, then federal support should be forthcoming, albeit not for $7 billion or even half that. But it’s not a federal infrastructure priority to restore some kind of social memory of the old Penn Station. Form follows function; beautiful, airy train stations that people like to travel through have been built under this maxim, for example Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

To support good rail construction, it’s obligatory that experts be put in charge – and there aren’t any among the usual suspects in New York (or elsewhere in the US). Americans respect Germany more than they do Spain but still less than they should either; unless they have worked in Europe for years, their experience at Berlin Hbf and other modern stations is purely as tourists. The most celebrated New York public transportation appointment in recent memory, Andy Byford, is an expert (on operations) hired from abroad; as I implored the state last year, it should hire people like him to head major efforts like this and back them up when they suggest counterintuitive things.

Mainline rail is especially backward in New York – in contrast, the subway planners that I’ve had the fortune to interact with over the years are insightful and aware of good practices. Managers don’t need much political pressure to say absurd things about gradients and dwell times, in effect saying things are impossible that happen thousands of times a day on this side of the Pond. The political pressure turns people who like pure status quo into people who like pure status quo but with $20 billion in extra funding for a shinier train hall. But both the political appointees and the obstructive senior managers need to go, and managers below them need to understand that do-nothing behavior doesn’t get them rewarded and (as they accumulate seniority) promoted but replaced. And this needs to start with a federal line in the sand: BIL money goes to useful improvements to speed, reliability, capacity, convenience, and clarity – but not to a $20 billion Penn Station reconstruction and expansion that do nothing to address any of these concerns.


  1. Benjamin Turon

    Great blog post, but its caustic language makes it difficult to use as an argument against the current plans by the state government. Sure you can say all these people should be fired or runed out of office, but it isn’t going to happen. I guess that’s why the blog post calls on the Feds to do something instead, but I doubt there is saner heads there. By main thought is that $20 billion could get you high-speed rail New York City to Buffalo, and that would do a lot more for New York State then pouring billions into Penn South, which could cost a lot more than $13 billion they way things sadly get done in NY. Agree that the state should hire and listen to foreign expertise. I wonder what Arup’s preliminary design options contract for the environmental review will bring up?

    Arup-led team wins $73m preliminary design contract for expanded Penn Station

    • adirondacker12800

      You do understand that it will be filed with archive of other plans for Penn Station. Right next to the archive all the plans for Albany to Buffalo. Albany to New York, And Albany to Montreal. There are probably even a few short ones on Albany to Boston. I don’t think the ones blurted out for things like Boston to New York via Albany or Watertown to Scranton got beyond some legislator blurting something out.

    • Matthew Hutton

      The difficultly is that the Americans are worse at trains than a combination of European badness. If they were as reliable and fast as the German trains, as frequent as the French trains and as expensive as the British trains that would be a vast improvement.

    • Onux

      Spending $20B on HSR from Bos-Wash would do a lot more for New York State than HSR from NYC to Buffalo, to say nothing of the benefits to the tens of millions living along the NEC who are not in NY.

  2. adirondacker12800

    they can go to more useful priorities like IBX.
    The priority for the right of way is freight. Being able to get from East New York to Jackson Heights isn’t much use if whatever you are going to Jackson Heights for isn’t there because the truck bringing it is stuck in George Washington bridge gridlock. In Pennsylvania.

    • Alon Levy

      The line has 2-4 freight trains a day south of the Lower Montauk junction – and north of the junction there’s room for two passenger-only tracks.

      • adirondacker12800

        There’s only two a day because to get to Jersey City you have to go to Albany.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s not a crayon because the alternative is to double deck the Long Island Expressway and add a third level to George Washington and Verrazano Narrows bridges.

          • Nilo

            Long Island East of Queens Growth is a snail’s pace. Hardly justification to add another bridge to the GWB or double deck the LIE.

          • adirondacker12800

            It would serve Brooklyn, Queens and New England. They all drive their private automobiles places.

          • Nilo

            The LIE does none of those things and New England is free to route stuff over the Tappan Zee

          • adirondacker12800

            The LIE goes through Queens to get from Nassau to Manhattan. They let trucks on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway use the LIE. Connecticut doesn’t want more trucks on the Connecticut Turnpike, double decking that isn’t a viable option.

    • Benjamin Turon

      I thought Amazon drones were going to solve these problems? Or Hyperloop?

  3. xh

    Premature retirement of obsolete rolling-stocks isn’t even necessary for grades up to 2.5% – they can simply attach a helper locomotive to the end of their trains, and get sufficient traction. Given that NJT’s pure-electric have larger axle loads than what freight locomotives in China would have, while their hybrid locomotives are even heavier, adhesion won’t be a problem either.

    Grade constraint is nothing but their bullshit excuse, and we all know that is.

    • adirondacker12800

      Or just send them to tracks 5 through 20. Though it’s very unusual for pantograph equipped trains to venture north of 14 or so.

    • wiesmann

      Helper locomotive is basically what is used on the Zürich S-Bahn as a replacement for EMUs: the trains have two Re 420 electric locomotives, one at each end. These are 4.7 MW electric locomotives from the late 60s that used to serve on mainline traffic.

      • Mirco

        They run two locomotives per 6 car train. For acceleration, that gives 2 * 255kn / (2 * 84 t + 6*70 t) = 0.87 m/s^2 acceleration, so should still climb a decent grade. (The tractive effort and weight are from Wikipedia, the mass of the fully loaded wagons from the SZU.)

  4. Oreg

    Just like Stuttgart 21 in Germany. Billions of public-transport funds lavished on a complex project that frees a lot of real estate in the city but does little to improve public transport. On the contrary, the construction has significantly harmed transit reliability and comfort over the expected 1½ decades of construction.

    So this happens in other places, too. Maybe for other reasons.

    • Eric2

      Why exactly is Stuttgart 21 bad? At first glance through-running is a good thing, and with 8 through tracks the capacity should be high, and the real estate profits should be enough to fund much if not all of the project.

      • Alon Levy

        In descending order of seriousness:

        1. The construction costs exploded.
        2. S21 is mainline rail through-running, which works better if you run regular frequency through a busy trunk and worse if you only use the station twice an hour on a pulse like Switzerland, and the technical advocates like Switzerland.
        3. Construction has impacts to trees and the state’s Green Party is unusually NIMBY (and Kretschmann is kinda anti-immigration).

        • Onux

          “ 1. The construction costs exploded.”

          This is of course bad, but Oreg said Suttgart21 didn’t improve transport. Is there an actual absence of benefit for the program, as opposed to a poor CBR due to budget overrun?

          “ 2. S21 is mainline rail through-running”

          But Stuttgart already has a tunnel and through running for its S-Bahn (on some lines, due to geographic mismatch) so it’s not as if mainline is being chosen over S-Bahn. Also, in the context of the previous post on German HSR (or lack thereof) isn’t mainline through running for intermediate cities like Stuttgart (and Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Hannover) an advantage? Isn’t 1 min dwell for an ICE better than a 3-5 min? Plus all of the speed improvements from the Filder tunnel and the new line to Wendlingen.

          • Onux

            True, but the failure of Germany to build the system doesn’t mean the pieces of what would be the system are a failure. Even without a nationwide HSR, Stuttgart 21 should still have a beneficial impact on ICE travel through the city.
            I know the project is controversial, I just don’t see the merit in statements that the project makes any transportation worse (as opposed to arguments that it’s too expensive, should have saved the old Hbf, etc.)

          • Eric2

            I looked online (always better to google before asking if possible of course) and I saw all sorts of claims about whether Stuttgart21 increased or decreased the trains per hour the station could handle. None of them were backed by any concrete sources or logic so I didn’t know who to believe, but at least some people think the project makes things worse.

          • Onux

            @Eric2, I’m aware people on both sides are making claims about the technical aspect of S21 (more or less trains, faster or slower) which was why I was hoping Alon or other knowledgeables might offer some concrete facts or logic.

            Note that even if the new underground station can handle fewer total trains than the old Hbf, it will serve intercity trains only, with the S-Bahn continuing to use the old tracks/Hbf platforms (the new station crosses the Hbf location perpendicularly, taking up the space of the historic head house, but not replacing track, platforms). I find it hard to believe the combined new station plus S-Bahn at the old will handle fewer trains than the old alone.

          • Onux

            Ah, thank you for the clarification. I am incorrect on higher capacity in that regard. However, does the S-Bahn use the same approaches as mainline tracks, or is it fully segregated?

            Even if fully segregated, can a 16 track terminal station handle the same or more trains as an 8 track through station? Given the figures cited elsewhere in this thread (1-2 min dwell for through service, 5 min as a good dwell for reversing from a terminal) it would seem the answer is definitely no, even before examining constraints from crossing movements in the throat.

          • Matthew Hutton

            To me it looks like Stuttgart 21 will reduce journey times by something like 10-15 minutes as the tracks to the south are being built to 250km/h for 25km and the approaches generally are probably quicker.

            The question is whether it’s worth the money for that level of improvement. But we won’t know that until the redevelopment is complete.

            In terms of capacity possibly it’s about the same. But a capacity of up to 60 intercity trains per hour seems pretty good to be honest.

          • David S.

            Other criticism of Stuttgart 21 are:
            – Replacing the current infrastructure instead of adding to it, thus having a large cost increase for (probably) little capacity increase
            – Having no great approach from the West. The previous plan was to route them over the airport, but that’s kinda on-hold. Right now the consensus amongst the political actors seems to be that for now regional and inter-city trains stop in Vaihingen and passengers transfer to the S-Bahn to get to the main station, a non-great solution. There is a plan for a new tunnel (to be approved & constructed, will likely take at least until 10 years after the station is opened) at high cost for not-so-great demand (this is a huge issue right now with a lot of contention and legal complications).
            – Together with the previous point, reducing alternatives for S-Bahn routing in case of issues (currently the main tunnel is closed and all traffic is routed via the alternate route (Panoramabahn) and the current main station, both of which will probably not exist anymore, at least in their current form)
            – Having steeper grades on the platforms than usual, fire safety concerns, water-ingress concern, Trees, Animals, Historical Buildings. Probably not “real” issues in the long term.
            – Putting a lot of other projects in the region on-hold for 20 years, including a new approach from the north with another double track, expanding the Stadtbahn and S-Bahn network & increasing their core capacity
            – Letting the current main station decay quite a bit, while making transfers much worse (getting from the S-Bahn, Busses & Stadtbahn to the other trains takes 14 min of walking)

            Due to cost cutting measures quite a few bottlenecks were added in the initial design phase, some of which some have been fixed (Große Wendlinger Kurve, terminus station at the airport), but this probably didn’t help public perception.

            A lot of criticisms were due to NIMBYism, but you can see the somewhat half-baked nature from the number of seriously proposed (& sometimes now built) projects popping up left and right, many not initially planned:
            – new platforms at Vaihingen
            – double tracking Wendlinger-Kurve
            – completely re-planning the western approach (after changing it quite a bit beforehand)
            – already preparing the building of fallback options (P-Option) for the necessary closing of the Feuerbach approach for a new high-speed approach
            – the planned “Ergänzungsstation” by the ministry (but not supported by the city & region) adding 6 additional new platforms underneath the current (old) main station
            – Buying 130 new double-decker EMUs to best use the limited platforms space of S21 for regional trains when using a platformfor 2 trains at the same time, but increasing dwell times.

            and lastly a huge project to outfit the whole region & especially the train station with ETCS to increase capacity.

            But my personal prediction is that public opinion will quickly embrace S21 when it opens (as long as it doesn’t become another BER), due to the speed increase, great looks & shorter transfer distances compared to now.

      • Oreg

        In this case the NIMBYs actually support the construction because they don’t want trains in their backyard and S21 moves those out of sight.

        The real-estate profits come much later than the construction cost and it is not clear they will be invested in rail. In the meantime, these funds are not available for building more useful, much-needed rail infrastructure all over the country.

        S21 cuts the number of tracks in half (from 16 down to 8) which is bad for the Deutschlandtakt, bad for reliability and resiliency in case of delayed trains, of which DB has a lot.

        The dwell time at large stations is determined by disembarking and embarking passengers, mostly masking the time it takes to reverse the train. The main bottleneck of a terminus is the station throat with intersecting trains and a slower approach. An updated throat could have improved the situation significantly for a fraction of the cost.

        Far from improving speeds, the Fildertunnel makes an unnecessary detour to an airport of only regional significance, increasing travel time. The new line to Wendlingen is independent of S21 and uncontroversial.

        And so on …

        In any case, the people have spoken (dominated by NIMBYs and car-focused suburbanites) and approved S21 in a referendum more than a decade ago. In a democracy, the people get what they deserve. 😉

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  6. Phake Nick

    > per p. 22 of the presentation, the LIRR can get in and out in a quick 6 minutes, but New Jersey Transit averages 12 and Amtrak averages 22.
    Speak of dwell time, how long it usually take for a train to reverse direction toward another branch? The Hong Kong high speed rail service which operated for a short while before the pandemic, have a ~20 minutes dwell time at the intermediate Shenzhen North station, for every trains heading to Teochew and Fujian direction, because they need to reverse driving direction there.

    • John D.

      I’m thinking of JR Kyushu’s limited express Sonic, which reverses direction at Kokura when switching between the Kagoshima and Nippo Main Lines. The scheduled dwell time is 2 to 3 minutes, depending on the departure.

    • Alon Levy

      In Germany, intercity trains do that at Leipzig, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and other mid-line terminal stations in 3-5 minutes. I believe the same is done at Zurich Hbf.

      • Matthew Hutton

        UK cross country trains turn round at Reading in 10 minutes.

        It looks like the Manchester-Bristol trains turn round in Birmingham in 6 minutes.

      • adirondacker12800

        40 trains an hour to five islands/10 platforms is 15 minutes between the time it leaves the tunnel to the time it’s entering the tunnel. In whichever combination of tunnel you want to imagine. There are claims on that NJTransit turns over trains going to Sunnyside, to Amtrak in four minutes Train to the Game was scheduled for ten minutes.

      • Connor Crowley

        Breda NL operaties like thuis doe Amsterdam -> Brussels trains.

        It is also a timed transfer with trains from the Hague. I think 5 minutes.

    • xh

      “The Hong Kong high speed rail service which operated for a short while before the pandemic, have a ~20 minutes dwell time at the intermediate Shenzhen North station”

      The Chinese national rail operator works simultaneously with 21st century technology and late 19th century to 20th century operation rules and practices. High speed trains there have >15-20 (for 8-car and 16-car EMUs, respectively) minutes of turn-back time, because and only because the antiquated operation rules require them to do so. Ironically, in borderline cases not clearly defined by these rules, they can reverse a train in less than 10 minutes: The diesel push-pull “suburban” service S2 in Beijing operates over a legacy line from Beijing to Zhangjiakou containing a zig-zag in the half, so that trains reverse directions either at Qinglongqiao or Qinglongqiao west. Either way, the turn-back is scheduled under 10 minutes.

    • xh

      These antiquated practices are so problematic that may even completely offset technology advancements. One example is that no legacy line in China is scheduled under a 7-minute headway. Usually a three-block, four-aspect system is used on these lines. Each block has a typical length of ~ 1200m. So even the operation is governed by wayside signalling and under an average speed low as 80km/h, the theoretical headway would be 1200*4/80*3.6/60 = 3.6 (mins). However, most of these lines also have UM71/TVM300-type cab signalling but modified to the distance-to-go princple, further reducing the theoretical headway. There’s simply no technology hindrance to have more frequent services, they just don’t run so.

      And since last summer, cancelled almost all EMU services over legacy lines, by claiming that it’s not safe to have EMUs meeting the freights, regardless of the fact that such services existed over a decade with no major safety incidents.

      • Matthew Hutton

        To be fair a lot of our timetabling is based on what was done in the 1920s. We are all no better really.

      • Alon Levy

        I’m surprised – doesn’t China use CTCS, which is supposed to have the same functionality as ETCS? Or is it just on the PDLs?

        • xh

          Their strategy is to deploy CTCS to every newly built or upgraded HSR/PDL/intercity/regional lines, whatever called (level 2 for 250km/h, plus ATO for intercity/regional lines).

          For legacy lines, currently an interoperable on-board solution called LKJ is used, which is mainly based on cab signalling. LKJ stores track geometry/topology data in its on-board database (rather than have it in track-mounted balises or in radio block centers), and calculates movement authority for trains based on received cab signals (mostly UM71/TVM-300 type, but still a few USSR pulsed-coded cab signal installations remain) from the track – which basically tells the number of blocks free ahead. It’s not completely safe, as it requires manual entry/upgrade of vital information as track geometry / temporary speed restrictions, and is supposed to be replaced by CTCS level 1. But after years of discussion, there’s yet been a viable CTCS level 1 solution.

          The strategy works well to some extent. As CTCS does not need to ensure backward compatibility with the legacy, it only inclues a very small, essential subset of ETCS, thus easy for deployment. Although the on-board LKJ solution isn’t as safe, it offers comparable performance as CTCS (both based on distance-to-go princple) but assures compatibility and still provides some protection, allowing section-by-section signal modernization of legacy lines.

  7. david vartanoff

    About IBx which I have known as TriboroRX since the plan was published. Reclaiming from the mud what was once in many segmentsa 4 track mailine w/catenary (PRR built) to link all of the radial subway lines in Bklyn and Qns has only the defect of less corruption potential because NYMTA already owns the land. extending the service at least far enough into the Bronx to link up with the proposed local service between Penn and New Rochelle opens hugely more convenient set of travel patterns. As long as the catenary is restrung, then M-N/CDoT cars can be used. (I used to see New Haven freight motors on this route when using the Sea Beach subway line. Given the loss of the Poughkeepsie Bridge, and the lame refusal to put rail on the Prince Andrew Tappan Zee, we shoiuld see car floats from NJ again.

  8. adirondacker12800

    New York is asking for $20 billion for reconstruction
    Keep it simpler. A few blocks away they are building tall skyscrapers for the same kind of prices. It’s not going to have a park with climate controlled tree roots around a $200 million art piece either.
    They’ve been proposing things almost 40 years, needed more capacity for 25 and it’s unlikely anything you see today is what will eventually get built in the 2040s.

    • Matthew Hutton

      Would a passenger service of a passenger train every 12 minutes or so add value on a route that makes sense for freight? Well if you want the freight line do that as well.

      • adirondacker12800

        Irrelevant in Manhattan because there haven’t been freight trains in Manhattan for decades. Hauling the garbage and sewage sludge out by rail might make sense but that would be a few trains a day.

  9. claytosf

    There’s one person I interact with on Facebook in New Jersey who at least acts like he knows what he’s talking about. He constantly pooh-poohs arguments against Penn Station expansion like the ones you suggest. Anyway, he constantly brings up an objection that there’s not enough clearance east of Penn Station for uniform fleets. I believe he is referring to ceiling heights in the East River tunnels for Penn Station and ESA tunnels not being high enough for pantographs—only third rails are possible. Is this true to your knowledge?

    • Alon Levy

      The East River Tunnels have pantographs all the time – Amtrak runs through these tunnels and NJT uses them for yard moves.

      The East Side Access tunnel is the one with the restricted clearance, but it’s US-restricted, not Europe-restricted; trains with pans can fit it if they’re in third rail mode.

      • adirondacker12800

        It would be okay to have two different fleets. Like Metro North has. It’s a good thing to have multiple generations of cars when the fleets are that big. They don’t all need to be replaced all at once.

  10. Nathanael Nerode

    I’d just like to remind people that the *official reason*, taken *directly from the planning documents* for “Access to the Region’s Core”, for rejecting Alternative G was “we would have to pay for underground rights under very expensive real estate”. (For the curve from east to north.)

    Yes, that is literally the only reason given officially. We know that the route is entirely practical and has no technical obstacles, and they said so in the ARC study. We know that even with the assumptions made in the ARC study — long dwell times, no new equipment, old electric locomotives — enough trains could handle the grade (they’d mostly be Metro-North EMUs, maybe some Amtrak Empire Service trains which are short), with the others going to Long Island.

    We know from the ARC study that it would *lower operating costs* while increasing revenue. We know that it would cost *less* than any Penn Station expansion. We know that there’s room in Grand Central (which has umpty-bazillion tracks).

    It was rejected for only one published reason, and that reason is a matter of official record: “”we would have to pay for underground rights under very expensive real estate”.

    This is a deeply stupid reason for not building it. They never bothered to price out the underground rights, even.

    • adirondacker12800

      The subway is in the way of going to the existing platforms in Grand Central

        • adirondacker12800

          I want to see your detail three dimensional drawings. the less detailed ones about East Side Access have subway in the way

        • adirondacker12800

          What are the million people a day who use the Lexington Ave. lines and the few hundred thousand who use the Flushing line supposed to do while they move it?

          • Matthew Hutton

            Look clearly if a mainline exists which has a grade of 3.5% for miles in the south west then they could get a freight train up it in the steam days albeit perhaps with an extra locomotive or two.

            And if they could manage that without too too much bother I expect a steam express passenger train could manage without any extra assistance.

            Given all that a much more powerful modern electric train can I’m sure manage 2.5% for 1000 ft without any difficulty.

          • adirondacker12800

            Decided what you are going to argue. Do they have to move the subways or not? And what source are you citing? Threads on or aren’t reliable.

          • Matthew Hutton

            When they built the Victoria line in London in the 1960s they swapped a bunch of platforms round so it has cross platform interchanges with a bunch of lines.

            They also moved the southbound bank branch northern line platform earlier this year.

            So lines can be moved.

          • adirondacker12800

            So you can obsessively run trains to the lower level of Grand Central to platforms that are too short for them.

          • UrbanUnPlanner

            Since I can’t reply to your post asking for a source re: that 3.5% grade in the SW, I’m replying here with a link to a (slightly old) Raton Subdivision timetable (I have checked the grade data in that timetable against current information, which I do have access to):

            Click to access SOUTHWEST-03-021407.pdf

            (Reposting this so that adirondacker gets pinged, since they were the one requesting the information.)

    • bruce hain

      It was, strangely, the MTA that abandoned two 60′-wide “utility easements” at 31st and 33rd west of the station in 2015. (the orig. Penn Sta. drawing even says “Tunnel” at 33rd) They were in the tax map for 105 years, marked ‘Penna. RR’ or something. It’s clear (concerning which this article shows re Tracks 1-4 getting under the 6th Ave. Subway) the original planners foresaw tunnels: EB at 31st; WB at 31st; and WB at 33rd. It’s the only practical place to put them. It also means that the Gov. Clinton Hotel at 31st + 7th IS NOT in the way. No comment on exactly what the “box” – with it’s circuitous alignment and steep grade requirement, with massive ground stabilization project in the bottom of the river – actually is.

  11. UrbanUnPlanner

    Their argument about grades is as stupid as it gets, and that’s even *before* you get into the EMU vs loco-hauled debate. Consider this: the 2.45% grade they’re arguing is operationally infeasible would be around 1000′ long, or not even a quarter mile. In the meantime, Amtrak runs a 9+ car set that’s been effectively top and tailed (the actual consist puts the two locos at the same end, but the tractive effort is about the same either way) with diesels for power up nearly 9 *miles* of 2.5% *followed* by another 5+ miles of *3.5%* ruling grade, *every single day*, and that’s with a near standing start from the station stop at Trinidad as they are speed limited to 30mph shortly after coming out of it (there’s a big left curve at Jansen aka the bottom of the hill, if nothing else). If 2 P42s can haul the *Southwest Chief* over the *steepest grade on the US mainline rail network* without the benefit of a meaningful head start, then what excuse do the NYC planners have for rejecting a short(!) stretch of 2.45% on an electrified rail line where trains would be approaching the grade at a 60 mph line speed?

  12. Mary Dailey

    Two comments: 1) This is unreadable to anyone but a complete transit nerd. Perhaps you could try to use framing and terminology that a more general audience could follow? 2) The tone and accusations of “fraud” are a disservice to the public servants who are doing this work. Unless you have some evidence of actual wrong doing, such as someone being paid by a 3rd party to misrepresent facts about the track/station system then you need to adjust your rhetoric. What you describe here if accurate appears to be more about sloppiness and generalizations than anything remotely approaching “fraud”.

    • Alon Levy

      People who think modern trains can’t climb 2.45% grades are either lying to the public or so bad at their jobs it’s indistinguishable from lying to the public. Same’s true of people who think commuter rail dwell times average 8 minutes. Either way, they should not be working for the public sector.

  13. bruce hain

    Spot on. But Wait! THEEEER’S MORE… Really I agree on the basic premiss – it’s a BIG waste with no practical benefit – and there’s A LOT of space down there that could be had without doing all that structural rearranging under 33rd. A smart architect could make a stunning treatment for that low-ceiling part. One big fraud (and I only looked at 10 pages of it) is to say Interlocking A is is a big bottleneck. You know they would NEVER be able to design anything with the versatility, speed and throughput in both directions of Interlocking A in a million years. And without them saying so – far from showing us a diagram or something – they want to downgrade it according to their worse-is-better formula. This is typical of their nonsense. And it’s possible to get an idea of what they want to do at Penn by looking at what they want to do at Jamaica (so much so they’ve weedled funding for it into the current 5-year plan) vague though it is. AND what exists – WITH THE DOWNGRADE of the electrification, which, on some of the greatly varied WB options E. of the Jamaica station heretofore – and as with the west side there particularly – has been removed. No Third Rail. This is just one of their ploys, used to justify rebuilding the whole thing in downgraded form. See also the rickety ranks of double slip switches W. of the platform on the WB leg. Some of it’s impassable. And the big propaganda kink on the flyover – OMG! It’s been there 7 years that I know of. They have the stationmaster involved with this business and he’s lying about it. They’re saying this antediluvian design is causing conflicts. Well the part they’re complaining about to get this first money-dump was opened in 1931. That’s what they’re using as an excuse for this upgrade that’s a downgrade. I will try and get them just to do state of good repair with wooden ties for the time being. (It’s a long ways from good repair, believe me.) They want also a project to add about 40 feet to ea. platform, though they’re long enough to reach all the doors of a 12-car M7 train as is – and operators in my experience say they have no trouble stopping accurately so as to allow it – but they say they’re too short. (They’re all 1000′. there 18′ bet. the end of car and edge of 1st door) In short they want to make a big mess that costs a lot of money, with no appreciable benefit.

    If I had my way you know Penn would be left as is, with an Amtrak four-track through-station passing on a level directly below Tracks 1-4 and extending at that level out part-way across 31st St, thus allowing a proper elevation for a proper trans-Hudson tunnel with no acquisition south of the station for the moment. (I don’t believe the grade problem with the 6th Ave Subway is all that bad for extending 1-through-4. Track is 40′ below the curb at Penn generally. This reminds me of them busting through the 42nd St. Station lower level with the 7 Extension – and just yesterday I noticed the crap-filled place where the track used to comes up north of 34th out the window. Look at their vomitoriums at Harold – It’s 3% if it’s an inch!) The rest of the new tunnel capacity could be managed best by extending a West Side Line south from the new tunnel, with 4-tracks at 23rd and 4-tracks at 14th, and as far down as you want to go – but first plan out the tunnel connections at the southern terminus under West Street (there would be two) – the kind of thing they continually fail to do before they start building stuff. (See the new Bus Terminal now with $-billion star architect funded and no idea about a fourth tube. And here’s my video on the subject It’s deliberate. So this stuff that started with the corpulent professor obsessed with his Super E-trains in the ’60s – their MK-Ultra patsy – has moved through the Tunnel to Nowhere, and now we’re arriving at these two station boondoggles. It makes me want to sue, but there’s no right of private action. I’ll probably try it anyway, then try and go on from there. (Although this Penn drawing is where it starts to fall apart due to lack of drawing on my part, this should give some idea about the trans-Hudson/Penn boondoggle:

  14. Mr. Transit

    While you make a cogent, if strident argument for more through running from the technical side, you totally ignore the political and operational reasons why it has not advanced for over 45 years. Three states would need to be on-board (Governors and State Legislatures) and figure out how to operate and pay for through running (even if there are operating savings) and union employees would have to qualify on more lines and agree to be governed by different rules.

    Also, why do we need to build a Taj Maha for the LIRR at a cost of several billion dollars after we spent 3 to 5 billion for Moynihan and likely close to $20 billion for LIRR East Side Access (aka Grand Central Madison)?

  15. Pingback: Penn Station Expansion is Based on Fraud | MIDTOWN SOUTH COMMUNITY COUNCIL
  16. Pingback: I Gave a Talk About Through-Running | Pedestrian Observations
    • Alon Levy

      I don’t remember. I want to say around half the train exchanged at Gare du Nord but I don’t remember, and I don’t remember anything about the share at Les Halles (which at any rate would involve a lot of two-way A-B transferring).

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