Passengers on LIRR, NJ Transit and Amtrak Face Fewer, More Crowded Rides as Tunnels Undergo Major Repairs
By Andrew Tangel on October 1, 2014
Passengers on the Long Island Rail Road, NJ Transit and Amtrak face fewer and more crowded trains in coming years as tunnels beneath the Hudson and East rivers undergo major repairs.
Amtrak officials said riders are in for even worse headaches if new Hudson River tunnels aren't built and further deterioration forces a shutdown of one of the two currently beneath the river.
The warnings came Wednesday as the railroad released an outside engineering firm's report outlining damage to the underwater tubes caused by superstorm Sandy two years ago.
Amtrak has been chipping away at repairs, shutting down tunnels over weekends. And while officials said the tunnels remain safe, saltwater that flooded the tunnels continues to damage their concrete lining, embedded steel, track and electrical systems at a crucial link along the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston.
"Left unattended, these tunnels will be less reliable and they will provide less service over time," said Stephen Gardner, an Amtrak official who oversees infrastructure and investment development.
The Amtrak report estimates tunnel repair costs at $689 million, which officials said they expected to be covered by insurance.
Officials highlighted what they and transportation experts said was the need to add tunnels underneath the Hudson. But they didn't offer a firm timeline for Sandy repair work, saying only that the first East River tunnel might see work start in more than a year.
Timing for work on the Hudson tunnels was less clear. Mr. Gardner said Amtrak would soon begin preliminary engineering and environmental permitting for new tunnels as part of its stalled Gateway project.
Even if the railroad had secured funding for building new tunnels, which it hasn't, Mr. Gardner said they wouldn't be open until perhaps the "middle of the next decade."
Transportation experts have long called for adding Hudson tunnels as New York City-area commuter ridership grows and is expected to further strain the region's rail infrastructure in coming decades.
Without new Hudson tunnels and one of two current ones shut down, that "nightmare scenario" would lead to overcrowded and delayed trains between New York and New Jersey as commuter-rail capacity between the states drops 75%, said Dan Schned, senior transportation planner for the Regional Plan Association.
Many commuters would be forced onto roads and bridges and into the PATH train system between the states, he added.
"It would really be a catastrophe for the regional economy," Mr. Schned said.