The most urgent aspect of the Gateway program is being separated out for expedited delivery, officials from New Jersey Transit and the Federal Railroad Administration announced in May. Dubbed the Hudson Tunnel Project, the effort carves out the construction of two new rail tunnels and tracks between Secaucus Junction and New York’s Penn Station, as well as shutting down and rehabilitating the existing rail tunnels that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy. This will address the threat of an unplanned shutdown of the existing tunnels and provide increased reliability for our riders.

Breaking Up Gateway into More Manageable Pieces

Although the Gateway program’s most famous element was its new tunnels, they comprised a small piece of a much larger undertaking. Gateway’s primary aim is to significantly increase train capacity, which involves beefing up the rail infrastructure between Newark and the Tunnels—not to mention the New York side—considerably. In fact, approximately 68% of Gateway’s $23.9-billion budget estimated cost was for these non-tunnel components. That kind of money may never materialize, even taking into account Governors Christie and Cuomo’s paper promise to pay for $10 billion toward the project if the federal government covers the rest.

Of these non-tunnel pieces, the most controversial is on the New York side: an annex that substantially expands New York Penn Station, called Penn South. More than a block of real estate, including the historic St. John the Baptist church and the Affinia Manhattan hotel, will have to be acquired and demolished to build it. Penn South would also be located a block farther away from subways and most offices than the existing Penn Station.

Given its complexity, the uncertainty of funding, and probability of legal fights over Penn South, there was a very real chance that the project would slip its aggressive schedule. Having the new tunnels potentially tied up in this was a major risk, given the deteriorating state of the existing tunnels. The Lackawanna Coalition has advocated for separating the tunnels from the rest of the project, and we’re pleased that NJ Transit and the FRA have reached the same conclusion.

No New Capacity

The Coalition does express concern that both parties are claiming the new project will not add additional train capacity due to the limitations of the existing Penn Station, meaning we would have to wait for the rest of the Gateway project to run a single additional train during rush hours. We know that more capacity is important, and we have submitted several suggestions on how to provide some additional capacity at modest cost based on engineering work done in the early stages of NJ Transit’s cancelled Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) tunnel project.

This is a still a significant step in the right direction, and if our recommendations are implemented, it will be a much stronger project still.