Sunday, October 10, 2010

THE/ARC of History

Though updates indicate that rumors of it's death may be premature, there was a flurry of reports (here, here, here, and here) on the move by the current governor of New Jersey to kill the new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, which currently has the moniker of Trans-Hudson Express, or THE (which is a stupid acronym to use).  Apparently the project is not very far along, as only one of the three tunnel sections has been started.  Work on the very deep expansion of Pennsylvania Station has not begun either.  And the minimal amount of work completed is the only upside to the cancellation.  It will eventually be built, because the need won't go away.  But when it is restarted, there will be the opportunity to do it better.

TTP makes a good argument in this post, which is still relevant despite being a couple of years old, that the tunnel would make more sense if it connected to Grand Central.  LIRR is already building a new, deep level station there, which is scheduled to open in 2016.  The THE project (see how the acronym doesn't work?) should connect to the ends of the tunnels of the East Side Access project, which extend south from the station to 37th St. to allow for storage of a limited number of empty trains.  Though most or all of that storage would be eliminated (I haven't seen a track diagram of the new construction), it would no longer be needed because trains could run through from Long Island to New Jersey.  (The TTP post has a link to past discussions of the benefits of run-through trains.)  The main downside of routing the Access to Region's Core (ARC) tunnel to GCT is that it would preclude a stop at PSNY due to the configuration of existing underground infrastructure, such as subways and a major water tunnel.  However, all four railroads (Amtrak, LIRR, MNR, and NJT would be able to split their services between the two stations, so there would probably be few people who couldn't make a connection at one station or another.  Oh, and the GCT alignment would cost more less (because it would eliminate the cavern under 34th St. called for by the current plan).  But, as I've pointed out before, the cost of major infrastructure projects is modest compared to what we spend on "defense."  And since this is likely to be the only conventional rail tunnel built into Manhattan for the next 50 years or more, it makes a whole lot of sense to do it right.

Update:  According to this diagram from NJ-ARP, it is possible to serve both PSNY to GCT with a new tunnel.  However, it appears to me that the proposed configuration would require some cut-and-cover work on 31st St. and Park Ave., unlike a deep tunnel directly to GCT.  I've also come across the annual report for 2009, which includes a good outline of the problems of the current proposal.  One of the most important is that Amtrak trains would NOT be able to use the new tunnels.  That is a mind-boggling limitation.

Mise à jour: I've had a small discussion on the topic here.  The NYT has a good article on the project from a few years back, and Herbert weighs in with a nice rant.

Une autre mise à jour:  One really has to wonder how these decisions get made.  Just about everybody recognized that the current deep dead-end station was a bad design before it was selected, but nonetheless it's the one that was picked.  I guess that connecting to GCT would have forced the commuter rail systems to work together, which they refuse to do.  Selecting a dead-end station allowed them to avoid that horrific scenario.

Une troisième mis à jour: Another comment of mine never appeared here, so I'm posting it below: 
Philg: another thing you need to consider is the size of the tunnels.  The loading gauge (overall width and height of the vehicle) plus dynamic considerations plus room for a catenary means that a tunnel for a conventional train is much larger than that of a subway.  See this post ( for a diagram.

<i>I can’t figure out why it should cost 14X more to build a much more limited system today.</i>

Well, some reasons might be: worker safety standards much higher, design safety standards are higher, the current up-front price tag includes equivalent capabilities that were added incrementally to the PATH tubes, the geological conditions are different, and the construction techniques are different.  I'll note that neither of us is an expert in large infrastructure projects so there are likely a whole host of considerations that we don't know about that nonetheless exist.

<i>If we are committing to incinerating $14 billion taxpayer dollars, why not use it to make it possible for more people to live in Manhattan and walk to work</i>

That's a false choice, of course, aside from governments having a poor history of providing private goods like housing.  Look, the need is there. The North River Tunnels are at capacity and they are major constraint on all commuter and intercity train travel to/from points south and east.  Even if NYC were to engage in some kind of massive building campaign, that doesn't mean New Jersey won't grow.  NJ is a separate semi-sovereign state; there's no way for NYC to limit its growth.  And Amtrak ridership on the NEC will keep going up because the population is increasing everywhere on the East Coast.  I'm not going to justify the current price because I don't know the basis for it, and because I think the current design is stupid.  But it would be wrong to say that the current plan is a complete waste.  It would still result in two new bores and a station that NJT will use, plus improvements in NJ.  When completed, the project will free up capacity for Amtrak and make rehabilitation of the existing tubes easier.

Christie is actually the one person who could bring some sense to this project - if he really wanted to (though possibly he's unaware of the poor decisions that led to the current design).

Click on my name for a bit more discussion.

Ah, I just found this article ( when I was searching for ridership numbers.  The multimedia attachment explains the construction techniques vs. the existing North River Tunnels (not the PATH tunnels).
Mise à jour numéro à quatre: An article in the L.A. Times says that Christie will make a decision (again) by Thursday.

Moar: Another news report, and a couple of blog posts.  Data from the API shows that NJ could raise its motor fuels taxes considerably without destroying civilization as we know it.

Are we there yet: Three more articles.  The last indicates - surprise, surprise - that Christie is a lying shit.

Are we there yet: Christie has found a way to keep his name in the news for another couple of days.

Are we there yet: Christie is still hogging the limelight thoughtfully considering the project's fate.

Are we there yet: The entirely predictable outcome will be announced tomorrow despite an incident that showed just how fragile the current tunnel infrastructure is.

Finally (2010-11-10):  The arrival was so anti-climatic I forgot to post about it.  Christie continues to be a liar, promising to fix New Jersey's roads without saying how the work will be paid for.  LaHood's op-ed was pretty good,  and he has followed up by asking for money back from NJ.  This article has some speculation about what might happen next under the Hudson.

Postscript: Atrios wonders if this concept is a good alternative to the canceled tunnel.  It is and it isn't.  The link would provide new capacity between Secaucus Junction and Midtown Manhattan, which would be useful to many commuters, but the tunnels could not be used by commuter or intercity trains.  The point of the ARC project was to provide more one-seat rides on NJT into Manhattan, and to free up capacity for Amtrak in the existing North River Tunnels.  The new concept would serve NYC interests better, especially if a new station was built at 10th Ave. and 41st St for the 7 Line.  I think the best alternative for a new crossing of the Hudson would be to drive a new tunnel from the partially constructed ARC portal in NJ directly to Grand Central.  It would be the cheapest, it wouldn't require any C&C work or condemnations in NYC, and it would provide a (more or less) redundant path through NYC for conventional rail trains.