Coalition Endorses Proposal for “Affordable ARC Now—Not Later”

The Lackawanna Coalition has passed a resolution in support of building “An Affordable ARC Project Now—Not Later”.  The organization calls on the state commissioner of transportation and the executive director of New Jersey Transit (NJT) to implement plans that would expand and modernize Northeast Corridor (NEC) capacity while drawing only on $6.4 billion in existing funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In keeping with the Coalition’s often-stated priority of “Moynihan/Penn Station First,” the project would add a new track between the Midtown Direct entrance to the NEC in Kearny, N.J. and New York Penn Station (NYP), with another to be built later if needed. This would greatly improve NEC capacity and reliability while allowing for East Side Access in the future.

The project would also increase New Jersey capital construction jobs by reclaiming $3.4 billion in federal New Start funds that US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood offered to Gov. Chris Christie this past October, prior to Christie’s final decision to terminate the ARC project.  It would also increase NJT’s say in matters concerning the NEC and NYP, by leveraging $6.4 billion investment of New Jersey-controlled funds.  The Coalition also calls for participation in the decision-making process by local, regional, and national advocates representing the riding public.

Rider Advocates Push for Moynihan/Penn Station First

The Regional Rail Working Group and its member organizations, the Lackawanna Coalition and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, continue to advocate for new tunnels to the existing Penn Station, with station enhancements under the Moynihan Station plan advanced by New York, with additional improvements for more capacity.  Representatives of the organizations made statements to that effect at the New Jersey Transit Board meeting on Wednesday, November 10th.
The advocacy organizations are pushing for the Mynihan/Penn Station First alternative, now that the former proposal, including a deep-cavern terminal, has been taken off the table.  “This is the right project, and this is the right time for it,” said Coalition Chair David Peter Alan.  The advocates’ proposed alternative would build new tracks that both NJT and Amtrak can use, and it allows eventual expansion to the East Side; features that the deep-cavern proposal lacked.

Lackawanna Coalition Statement on ARC Cancellation

Advocates for the Moynihan/Penn Station First alternative to the “deep-cavern” ARC project plan look forward to the opportunity to work with the Christie administration, NJ Transit, Amtrak, New York, and other regional players on development of an affordable, yet improved alternate plan for ARC, based on previous environmental and planning studies, that is advanced rapidly enough to make use of the $3 billion in federal New Start funds currently committed to ARC.
Moynihan/Penn Station First advocates include the Lackawanna Coalition, New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, Empire State Passengers Association, and the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility and their umbrella coordinating organization, the Regional Rail Working Group. The alternative also enjoys strong support from the Rail Users’ Network and the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
Riders on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines who go to New York have won a significant victory.  They no longer need to be concerned that they will be evicted from the existing Penn Station and forced into a dead-end deep-cavern terminal that would have been inconvenient and posed a safety threat in case of emergency.  The Lackawanna Coalition is particularly pleased the our Midtown Direct service will continue, rather than being turned into Midtown Indirect.

Gov Considering ARC Alternatives

Yesterday, Gov. Christie ordered that the ARC Project, with its deep-cavern terminal, be shut down.  Today, he met with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and softened his position, agreeing to submit the issue to a study group from US DOT and NJ Transit.
Still, the Governor held his ground on the cost issue.  He said: “The fact that the ARC project is not financially viable and is expected to dramatically exceed its current budget remains unchanged” in a statement reported in the Star-Ledger. 
Proponents of the project as NJT proposes it (with a deep-cavern terminal) reacted positively to the announcement, hoping that it signals an opportunity to find enough money to fund the entire project.
The Lackawanna Coalition and its allies continue to push for the Moynihan/Penn Station First alternative, hoping that the pressure will now be on decision-makers to build their preferred alternative.  Rail advocates maintain that directing new tunnels to an enhanced Penn Station will deliver the benefits associated with the project without the drawbacks of a deep-cavern terminal, and at an affordable cost.
The study group is due to report to Gov. Christie in two weeks.

Coalition Statement on Killing of ARC

We agree with Gov. Christie and his administration that the ARC project as proposed was too expensive, and it was flawed.  It did not allow connectivity at Penn Station, and it could not be extended to the East Side.  The organizations representing New Jesey’s rail riders raised these issues, and we were heard and believed.
New Jersey must save money, but putting it toward more highways is not the answer.  The answer is to upgrade Penn Station and build new tunnels to go there, under the Moynihan/Penn Station First alternative.  That would save money, give riders a better station in Manhattan, and allow expansion to the East Side in the future.
We know that Commissioner Simpson is aware of the transit needs of the entire region, and we hope he can help New Jersey become part of the means for meeting those needs.
Chair, Lackawanna Coalition

Coalition Member Presents Coalition Position on NJN-TV

Joseph M. Clift, chair of the Technical Committee of the Lackawanna Coalition, appeared on New Jersey Network on Sunday, September 26th, to present the position of the rider advocacy alliance concerning the ARC Project.
Clift presented the Moynihan/Penn Station First alternative and its benefits to New Jersey’s rail riders, and concluded by inviting Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) to take the walking tour of the Penn Station area that Clift and Coalition Political Committee Chair James T. Raleigh give to demonstrate the feasibility of theMoynihan/Penn Station First alternative to the deep-cavern terminal favored by New Jersey Transit.
Senator Michael Doherty (R-Warren) also spoke against the project as currently proposed by NJT, saying the there are insufficient funds available for New Jersey to afford its share of the project, if it includes the proposed deep-cavern terminal.  Zoe Baldwin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign spoke in favor of the project as currently proposed, along with Wisniewski.
Their views were presented on On the Record, a public affairs program broadcast on Sunday mornings.  It can be found in the Archives on the station’s web site,

LIRR To Be Nearly Shut Down for Two Weekends

NJ Transit customers have a quick and valuable connection in New York at Penn Station, both to Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR).  However, it won’t be so easy on two weekends in October and November: the LIRR has announced the final phase of repairs to the signaling system at their busy Jamaica transfer point that caught fire in August, knocking out most service.  On these two weekends, October 23–24 and November 6–7, the railroad will be nearly shut down to replace the antiquated system that caught fire.  Michael M. Grynbaum, writing in The New York Times on September 28, reports that the railroad is instructing customers to “use LIRR for essential business travel only”.  (The line’s Web site suggests that travel be undertaken only by first responders who have no other choice.)  Only 3 trains per hour will operate between New York Penn Station and Jamaica; no service at all to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.  Service on the Hempstead, Far Rockaway, and Port Jefferson lines will consist of diesel trains on 2-hour headways—and sorry, no bicycles will be allowed on the trains.  According to the line’s Web site, many passengers will have to use the subway to reach Jamaica from Manhattan and some customers will have only bus service between Jamaica and Mineola.  Ronkonkoma Branch trains will be rerouted via the Babylon Branch to Babylon and then to Farmingdale.  Special timetables will be available.  The Port Washington Branch, which does not pass through Jamaica, will not be affected; the railroad suggests those interested in “recreational travel” confine their trips to that branch.
Note that NJ Transit’s plan for a new “ARC” tunnel under the Hudson would bring many NJT customers, including all from the Morris & Essex and Montclair/Boonton lines, not into Penn Station but into a new “deep cavern” station under 34th Street.  This would make connecting to Amtrak and the LIRR much more difficult, and is one of the reasons that the Lackawanna Coalition advocates that the new tunnel lead instead to Penn Station as originally planned: “Penn Station First”.

Amtrak Unveils 30-year High-Speed Rail Vision

At a news conference on Tuesday, September 24, Amtrak’s President, Joseph Boardman, unveiled the railroad’s vision for high-speed rail in the Boston-Washington Northeast Corridor.  The plan envisions full service by 2040, but says some service could begin as early as 2015.  The visionary plan would cut travel time between New York and Washington to 96 minutes from 162 minutes, and to 84 minutes from New York to Boston.  The cost is estimated at $117 billion, an amount which is far more than Amtrak’s current budget; the construction project would create 44,000 jobs each year for 25 years and also create 120,000 permanent jobs.  The project would bring to the U.S. technology already in service in many European and Asian countries.  Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said, “No one should take a plane trip shorter than 500 miles.”

“How can we not afford it?”  In contrast, while Amtrak was announcing its plans to bring high-speed rail to the U.S. over the next 30 years, China announced an extension of its recently-built line to Tibet, on a much faster timetable.  The extension will connect the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, with the region’s second-largest city, Xigaze, according to state media (reported by Andrew Jacobs in The New York Times, Sept. 28).  The 150-mile long line will cost about $2 billion and take 4 years to complete.  Officials plan 2 more extensions, including a proposed route to the Nepal border.

The Lackawanna Coalition supports Moynihan/Penn Station First ARC alternative, which would allow the continuation of service on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines into the existing Penn Station, where Amtrak trains go, and where the high-speed service will presumably call as well.

Sept./Oct. Report from the Chair

From our September/October 2010 Railgram newsletter 
Every major decision New Jersey Transit makes affects transit riders everywhere in New Jersey.  That will be our topic of discussion as the New Jersey Transit Board and the Lackawanna Coalition “take our shows on the road” to Atlantic City on Sept. 10.
There are a number of projects under discussion that would expand NJT’s rail network, so it can serve riders better.  One is in South Jersey: a transfer station between the Atlantic City Rail Line (which goes to Philadelphia) and the River Line, a light rail line between Trenton and Camden.  Funding has been approved for the new station, but a colleague of ours in South Jersey reports that construction has not yet gotten under way.  Also, NJT reportedly will not kick in its share of funds on new light rail service between Camden and Glassboro,
which is being funded largely by the Delaware River Port Authority.
New projects around the state are not going forward.  The extension of light rail in Bayonne to Eighth Street, one stop from the current terminal at Twenty-Second Street, is not progressing, either.  The Lackawanna Cutoff Project to restore service to the Pocono Region and Scranton, which the Lackawanna Coalition strongly supports, still appears to be 6 years off, just as it has been for the past 10 years.  Extension of the Raritan Valley Line to Phillipsburg, West Trenton, and Flemington are stalled at the talking stage.  So is rail service to inland Ocean County.  So is the Northern Branch Light Rail extension in northern Bergen County.  There are other projects, too.
The reason is simple. The proposed deep-cavern terminal far below 34th Street in Manhattan is sucking up all available capital funding, including the purchase of rail cars and locomotives that NJT management claims will be necessary to operate into the proposed deep cavern.  This is not a temporary situation; it would be well into the decade of the 2020s before NJT has the money to build anything else of any consequence that would improve transportation for New Jersey’s transit riders, especially on rail.
That is why it is so critical that NJT change direction and work with New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak to build an enhanced Moynihan/Penn Station First.  Between New Jersey, New York and Amtrak, there is enough money available to build a station that would have enough train capacity that a second terminal (NJT deep-cavern proposal) and a third one (Amtrak “780” proposal) would be needed.  NJT rail riders would benefit from easy connections with other lines, and expansion to the East Side of Midtown Manhattan is feasible in the foreseeable future. New Jersey would also save $3 billion by scrapping the deep-cavern terminal plan.
We are aware that New Jersey does not have money for its share of the cost of the proposed deep cavern.  This means that New Jersey certainly does not have enough money to build anything else.  If you use transit anywhere in New Jersey, you will not see any capital improvements for many years if the proposed deep-cavern terminal is built.  We urge you to make your voice heard now.  Join us in calling for an enhanced Moynihan/Penn Station First, so NJT will have money to build projects we all need and your transit can be improved in the future.

Rail Advocates Propose “Penn Station First” Plan

An alliance of passenger rail advocates in the region has proposed and endorsed a plan to connect any proposed new rail tunnels and the tracks they contain to the existing Penn Station, rather than building the deep-cavern terminal proposed by New Jersey Transit.  The plan, known as the “Penn Station First” plan, also calls for construction of new track to the Grand Central Terminal area on Manhattan’s East Side and for eventual through-running between New Jersey and Long Island or Westchester and Connecticut.  According to the proposal, through-running would use train sets more efficiently than the current in-and-out operation, saving money and allowing more service.  The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP), the Empire State Passengers Association (ESPA,) and the Regional Rail Working Group (RRWG) have joined the Lackawanna Coalition in proposing the Penn Station First Plan.