US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said on October 1 that officials of both the federal government and New Jersey were taking significant initial steps to move the long-delayed Hudson River rail tunnel project forward, according to reporting by Emma G. Fitzsimmons in the New York Times (Oct. 2). According to Secretary Foxx, Amtrak will oversee engineering work on the project, while NJ Transit will lead environmental studies. The Port Authority might be designated to oversee the project, and Foxx said his department will expedite the project by shortening permit intervals and enter into discussions about federal grants and other financing options. Mr. Foxx said he wanted to move quickly because of the deteriorating condition of the existing century-old tunnels. NJT spokeswoman Nancy Snyder confirmed NJT's role in the environmental impact phase, but said the role still must be confirmed by NJT's board of directors; the review could take two to three years. NJT has agreed to share its studies from the earlier Access to the Region's Core (ARC) tunnel project with Amtrak. Secretary Foxx said the environmental and engineering study work is essential to determine the true scope and cost of the project, a necessary preliminary to creating a funding plan. It is not totally clear from the reporting just what the scope of the project is currently assumed to be, but the Times article appears to assume that it will be Amtrak's Gateway proposal, which, as the Times reports, includes not only a two-tube rail tunnel under the Hudston but also an expanded Penn Station, a replacement for the Portal bridge over the Hackensack River west of the Hudson, and "other upgrades." Secretary Foxx said, however, that the project could be executed in phases, with the new tunnel being the first priority.
Read the complete Times story here.
As federal and state officials continued to feud over who should pay for new rail tunnels under the Hudson, an Amtrak official said that the ARC tunnel canceled by New Jersey Governor Christie in 2010 would not have solved emerging problems with the century-old tunnels under the river. Stephen Gardner, Amtrak VP of Northeast Corridor infrastructure investment, said that ARC would have provided limited benefits because it would not have gone to Penn Station, instead to a separate station under 34 Street in Manhattan a few blocks north of the existing station. "If ARC were built, we would still be in this situation," Gardner said, quoted by Larry Higgs in the Star-Ledger (Aug. 11). Advocacy groups, including the Lackawanna Coalition, have maintained that ARC was a waste of money because it did not integrate with Penn Station and the existing tunnels, and Gardner's statement agrees with their position.
Meanwhile, state and federal politicians continued to debate who should pay for new tunnels, with the governors of both New York and New Jersey saying that it should be paid for with federal, not state funds. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said "It's not my tunnel. Why don't you pay for it? It is an Amtrak tunnel that is used by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit." Amtrak has committed $300 million, a small fraction of the project's estimated $14 billion cost.
Higgs' online story also quoted Al Papp Jr., a director of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers and past Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, as saying that the federal government has to pay a larger share (of the tunnel cost) since the tunnel literally allows connection to every state (via) Amtrak service. Papp noted that the tunnels are similar to the Interstate highway system: originally built to move people across state lines, but today primarily used by commuters.
Gardner warned that recent delays in service through the tunnels might become the norm, even if the new tunnels are built; they might not be done for ten years. Amtrak's plan once the new tunnels are complete, roughly in 2025, is not to increase service but instead take the existing tunnels out of service for rehabilitation, which might take until 2030. In Senate testimony, Gardner exhibited a charred section of power cable removed from the Hudson tunnels; it was installed in the 1930s, and its failure during the week of July 20 was one of the causes of extensive delays.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that construction of at least one new tunnel under the Hudston needs to start immediately. The Coalition has advocated that a single track tunnel could be built first at lower cost, and allow the existing tunnels to be taken our of service for maintenance one at a time. But at least one, and preferably two, tunnels should be started at once.
With ongoing publicity about the precarious condition of the tunnels that carry thousands of commuters and casual riders under the Hudson River into Manhattan every day, pundits and riders alike have been wondering what would happen if one of the two tracks had to be taken out of service for an extended period for repairs. Amtrak, which owns the tunnels, has warned that three-fourths of the trans-Hudson capacity would evaporate if only one tunnel were available: trains would have to be run in fleets, six at a time each hour in either direction. This is what happens today on weekends, when schedules allow for one track out of service for maintenance. In a weekday rush hour, most of the usual riders would be unable to reach Manhattan.
So, does NJ Transit have a plan to deal with a tunnel closure? According to reporting by Elise Young for Bloomberg News (Aug. 6, and printed in the Star-Ledger on Aug. 7), NJT has a solution for one-third of the 165,000 NJT riders who use the tunnels on weekdays: they would likely stay home. Of the remaining 110,000, NJT figures that 60,000 could ride ferries, and the rest, or about 50,000, could be accommodated by a "robust bus program," even though NJT's existing bus service into Manhattan is already at capacity, constrained by limits at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
Meanwhile, politicians continue to ruminate and plan meetings about how to build additional tunnels, and who would pay for them.
Read the full story here.
We have some exciting presentations lined up for our next two meetings.
There are other constituencies that care about better transit, in addition to advocates who represent riders directly. Our next two guests come from the Labor and the Environmental movements.
On Monday, August 24th, Raymond W. Greaves will tell us about his vision for A New Role for Labor. Greaves is State Chair of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents bus drivers and other employees at NJT, and is Labor's delegate to the NJT Board. He opposed the upcoming fare increases and service cuts.
Our presenter on Monday, September 28th will be Doug O'Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey. He is interested in working with rider advocates which, of course, includes us. We invite you to hear his ideas and present him with some ideas of your own.
Our meetings take place on the fourth Monday of each month at 7:00, at Millburn Town Hall, 375 Millburn Avenue. Our location is within walking distance of the Millburn Train Station. We hope you will join us.
DAVID PETER ALAN
At its regular meeting on July 27th, the Lackawanna Coalition called for secure, stable and sufficient funding for operations at NJ Transit, as well as for community transportation in New Jersey. In doing so, we have recognized the need for appropriate funding for transit operations, to avoid future fare increases and service cuts, as NJ Transit approved earlier this month. In addition, we recognize the importance of community transportation in connecting with scheduled transit, which provides additional mobility for the people who need it the most.
We are aware of the current initiatives concerning highway legislation in Congress and renewing the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) in New Jersey. We recognize that these are primarily highway-oriented pieces of legislation, with some benefits for the capital side of transit. We are also aware that transit operations must be funded separately, and that the lack of sufficient funding for transit operations leads to increases in fares and cuts in transit service. These lead, in turn, to increased highway use and to less mobility for people who depend on transit. We call for sufficient, stable and secure funding for transit operations to insure that all New Jerseyans will have as much mobility as possible, and at affordable fares.
We also recognize the community transit in New Jersey is mostly operated by counties, whose ability to fund services is constrained. Grants from the Casino Revenue Fund, which paid for many such services, have fallen to less than half of the level of 2008. We understand the potential for community transit to provide connections with our trains and other scheduled transit and take customers the "last mile" to their destinations. We also understand that many seniors, persons with disabilities and other persons who depend on public transportation need these services. Accordingly, we call for sufficient, stable and secure funding for community transportation, as well.
We believe that we are the first rider-advocacy organization to call for sufficient funding for community transportation in New Jersey, along with sufficient funding for operations at New Jersey Transit.
DAVID PETER ALAN
Chair, Lackawanna Coalition
During the week of July 18 multiple problems beset Amtrak's Northeast Corridor (NEC), affecting Amtrak and NJ Transit service into Manhattan and all along the Corridor. Increased media coverage of the plight of commuters rapidly led to involvement of politicians and calls for more investment in the NEC infrastructure, and even to calls for progress on new tunnels under the Hudson River, long stalled after NJ Governor Christie canceled the "ARC" plan for new tunnels in 2010. Only days after NJ Transit's governing board approved a fare increase to take effect in a few months, a series of breakdowns in the service threatened to spark open warfare between commuters and NJT in an already fraught relationship. As reported by Benjamin Mueller in the New York Times (July 23), advocates pointed to the midsummer service disruptions as the inevitable fruit of long-delayed attention to basic infrastructure, warning that the current problems could be only the beginning of regular disruptions. Although the current problems did not seem directly related to the aging trans-Hudson tunnels, the tunnels quickly became a focus of the debate. Federal Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx called the lack of action to repair the tunnels "almost criminal;" NJT, pointing the finger at Amtrak, which owns the NEC, called the disruptions "unacceptable." Individual commuters reported delays of as much as three hours on what should be a half-hour ride as trains backed up, mostly due to problems in the electrical power system. The next target was Gov. Christie, as transportation advocates were quick to point out Christie's 2010 decision to cancel plans for new tunnels; they called the decision politically motivated and a way to finance highway projects without raising New Jersey's motor fuels taxes, virtually the lowest in the nation.
It even became an issue in the runup to the 2016 Presidential election; on July 24 Gov. Christie promised to pursue new tunnels -- once he's president. Critics quickly asked what he plans to do for transportation while still governor of New Jersey, and said he'd done little so far. This was reported in the New York Times by Rick Rojas. Christie emphasized the need for fairness in funding any new tunnel, saying "Listen, if we are all in this even Steven, if we are all going to put in an equal share, then let’s go build these tunnels under the Hudson River." Christie said, as President, he'd call a meeting of all interested parties.
On July 28 Gov. Christie said he planned to meet with both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Secretary Foxx to discuss the construction of new Hudson River rail tunnels, according to reporting by Matt Arco and Paul Milo in the Star-Ledger (July 29).
On July 29, responding to the letter from Secretary Foxx requesting a meeting with the two governors, the two governors emphasized that billions in federal money would be needed for the project; this was reported by Emma G. Fitzsimmons in the Times.
Purveyors of opinion were more direct. Paul Mulshine's columnn in the Star-Ledger (July 30) proposed that things would have gone differently had a foreceful negotiator represented New Jersey in tunnel project negotiations; Mulshine suggested that Donald Trump would've done a bangup job at this. New York gets all the benefits of a new tunnel, and never wanted to pay for it, Mulshine opined; now they may have to. By the time Gov. Christie cancelled the ARC tunnel in 2010, Mulshine said, "New Yorkers had stripped ARC of everything that was good for New Jersey Transit and Amtrak riders. They kept only the parts that benefitted them." Saying that New Jersey stood ready at one time to finance a rail connection between Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Terminal, New York City's two rail terminals, Mulshine said a negotiator like Trump would've pushed it through, saying ""What the heck? We're offering to finally build the connection between Penn and Grand Central that you clowns haven't been able to build in a hundred years. And you say no? Wait till that hits the papers."
Read the July 23 New York Times article by Benjamin Mueller here.
Read the July 24 Times article by Rick Rojas here.
Read the July 29 Star-Ledger article by Arco and Milo here.
Read the July 30 Times article by Emma Fitzsimmons here.
Read Paul Mulshine's July 30 column here.
NJ Transit locomotive engineers hope they won't have to strike as early as July 16, but they have preserved their right to do so, should their contract stalemate with the railroad continue. They voted unanimously on Wednesday, July 8, to authorize a strike. According to reporting by Paul Milo in the Star-Ledger (July 9), the engineers' union has been without a contract for four years; other NJT unions, including police and bus workers, have been in talks for even longer. Negotiations with 17 NJT unions broke down in June when the National Mediation Board ended the mediation process. The strike could take place as early as July 16, but according to David Decker, chairman of the General Committee of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, "Let me be clear on this: The unions are not looking to strike. This is just an action to comply with the bylaws should all other avenues break down."
Read the complete story here.
New Jersey Transit recently held a number of hearings around the State on its proposal to increase fares and cut services. The Lackawanna Coalition opposed these proposals for several reasons. Only transit riders are singled out for an increase, for the eighth time since user fees on motor fuels reached their current level in 1988. Our elected leaders, the Governor and the Legislature, should fund NJ Transit appropriately and encourage people to use transit, rather than continually raising transit fares but not user fees for motorists and truckers.
We also object to the proposed service cuts. It is bad transportation policy to eliminate the last runs on rail lines, as proposed for the Boonton Line and Pascack Valley Line, because it forces transit riders to leave New York City unduly early to catch the "new" last train. We also object to the proposed cuts to #872 bus service in Morris County, and instead we call for restructuring of Morris County local bus service.
Rather than higher fares and less service, transit riders should have more and better service, including more Morris & Essex Line trains stopping at Secaucus Station. We believe that the riding public deserves more and better transit; not being required to spend more money for less.
Coalition members appeared and made statements at four hearings: in Secaucus, Newark, Hackensack and Morristown. We appreciate the efforts of all Coalition members and others who made their voices heard. We note new voices of elected leaders and of the union that represents NJ Transit's bus drivers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, raised in opposition to the fare increase and service cuts, and in support of more funding for NJ Transit.
We hope this represents the start of new alliances between advocates for the riders and other concerned persons, which will eventually result in between transit and, therefore, better mobility for everyone in New Jersey.
DAVID PETER ALAN
Chair, Lackawanna Coalition
Should there be ordinary commuters on the NJ Transit Board of Directors? Two nonvoting seats would be assigned to rider representatives under a proposal approved on May 11 by the New Jersey Senate Transportation Committee and reported by Larry Higgs for nj.com and published in the Star-Ledger (May 12). Although the two public members wouldn't be able to vote, they could make motions that the voting members could vote on. Under the terms of the bill, the state's eight active Transportation Management Association or other commuter groups would recommend candidates, who would be appointed by the Governor. Some objected to the nonvoting status; Michael Phelan, co-founder of the New Jersey Commuter Action Coalition, said the seats should have voting powers, and that commuter representatives should be assigned the next two vacant voting Board seats.
Read the complete story here.
On May 7, a top official of the Obama administration urged New York, New Jersey, the Port Authority, and other regional bodies to pull together on plans to build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River. As reported by Patrick McGeehan in the New York Times (May 8), the Peter M. Rogoff, under secretary in the federal Department of Trnsportation, said that new tunnels are ranked as the most important planned piece of rail infrastructure in the country. Washington apparently considers Amtrak's proposed Gateway project as the proposal that's on the table; the White House wants it done, and soon. If one tunnel has to be shut down for maintenance the maximum trains per hour would plummet to six from the present capacity of 24 (with two tunnels in service), which officials gathered to discuss the situation characterized as a "nightmare" for the regional economy. Amtrak, which owns the tunnels, has said that rebuilding them after damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 is urgently needed. Nobody disputed the need for new tunnels, but there are few apparent sources for funding it. For its part, the Port Authority has already pledged to replace the aging bus terminal it operates in midtown Manhattan; and Port Authority vice chairman Scott Rechler said he believed that building a new bus terminal in New Jersey, not in Manhattan, could help justify the cost of new rail tunnels: bus riders would transfer to rail for the last leg of their journey. But there is presently no money in Port Authority budgets for either rail tunnels or a new bus terminal. Selling the land under the existing bus terminal, as well as nearby parcels, might help finance the project.
Read the complete story here.