One-seat ride edges closer with announcement

Photo by Brian Trusdell
Commuters on NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley, Gladstone, Morristown and Northeast Corridor lines received a bit of good news with the funding announcement for the Gateway rail tunnels under the Hudson.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — For years, the desires of the Raritan Valley Line commuters for a one-seat ride into Manhattan have rested with the prospect of two additional tracks under the Hudson River, a goal that inched a step closer Wednesday, Dec. 13.
Last week came the joint announcement by Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that $5.5 billion has been committed toward the $12.7 billion Gateway project.

The multifaceted infrastructure plan, when complete, will double the passenger rail capacity between the states and limit or eliminate the need for Raritan Valley commuters to change trains in Newark to get into or out of New York Penn Station.
The announcement noted that NJ Transit has committed to $1.9 billion, while the state of New York will fund $1.75 billion, and another $1.9 billion will come from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Board of Commissioners, according to Christie and Cuomo press release on Dec. 13.

“Together these commitments totaling $5.55 billion fully fund 100 percent ‎of the local share for the most urgent, time sensitive elements of the project: the construction of a new tunnel and the Hudson Yards Concrete Casing, which total $11.1 billion of the $12.7 billion construction cost,” the press release from Christie and Cuomo said.

The segment of the Northeast Corridor line carries more than 200,000 daily Amtrak and NJ Transit riders on approximately 450 trains, according to the Gateway project website.

If completed, the enhanced capacity would allow for more trains — both NJ Transit and Amtrak — to transverse the Hudson, reducing rail congestion and eliminating the need for transfers. “The completion of the Gateway tunnel will enhance the quality of commuting for Cranford residents and be an economic shot in the arm for our local economy,” Cranford Mayor Tom Hannen told LocalSource in a Dec. 14 email.
“Hopefully it will mitigate the detrimental effect of the tax bill working its way through Congress.”

State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, who represents the 21st Legislative District, also praised the announcement in a Dec. 14 press release.
“Today’s announcement is great news for New Jersey commuters and the tri-state economy,” Kean said. “It’s recognition that new trans-Hudson rail tunnels are long overdue and beneficial in equal measure to both New York and New Jersey.”
Gateway project spokesman Craig Schulz told LocalSource in a phone interview on Dec. 15 that the many phases of the project include both rehabilitation and new construction.

According to the Gateway website, the plan includes the construction of a new tunnel under the Hudson River, refurbishing the existing tunnel, completing a concrete casing on the West Side of Manhattan — essentially a box where the new tunnel would enter New York Penn Station — and the replacement of the Portal Bridge in Kearney over the Hackensack River.

While a major component to Gateway is the building of two new tracks under the Hudson to double the number to four, preservation of the existing “North River” tunnels is a large aspect of the project.

The North River tunnels opened in 1910, making the paired parallel tracks 107 years old.
Schulz told LocalSource that the aged infrastructure was weakened when inundated with sea water during Superstorm Sandy.
“The salt and chloride has been eating away at the concrete inside the tunnel and there is an urgency to replace the tunnel,” Schulz said. “There was a comprehensive analysis after the storm that found there is no structural integrity intact and the reliability counts to this day on the concrete, which needs to be rebuilt from the inside out, essentially gutted.”

Other major phases of the Gateway Project entail construction of two new Portal Bridge spans; ground was broken for the first one in October.
The Portal Bridge is a swing span structure just west of the Secaucus rail junction linking New Jersey and New York City on the Northeast Corridor. The bridge needs replacement as it sometimes fails to lock after it swings 90 degrees to allow ships to pass.

“The failure to lock, probably, would constantly create delays in transit, causing a ripple effect,” Schulz said.
The replacement spans will sit 50 feet above the river, allowing ship traffic to pass underneath and eliminating the need for openings and any delays.

Later phases include preservation of the Bergen Loop, also known as the Secaucus Loop.
The loop would connect trains on the Bergen, Main, Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines to the Northeast Corridor line, eliminating the need for passengers on those spurs to transfer at Secaucus to reach New York Penn Station.