According to reporting on WNYC (Oct. 9), New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is considering a completely new line of rail service, using the Hell Gate Bridge to allow trains to run from Connecticut and Westchester through the Bronx and into Queens, Manhattan, and possibly Brooklyn. MTA reportedly has asked residents of the East Bronx how they would react to the possibility of 4 new stations on the line. Reaction has been generally positive, although residents question what the fares would be. One estimate is that fares other than to Manhattan would be no more than $5 (half for seniors/disabled), which would be the lowest on the MTA commuter rail system. The report suggested that trains might also stop in Queens and Brooklyn. The Hell Gate Line, owned by Amtrak, passes through northwestern Queens enroute to Penn Station in Manhattan, and hosts only Amtrak trains bound for New England, usually no more than 1 per hour in each direction; there would seem to be substantial unused capacity. No details were mentioned about Brooklyn service; the logical route would be via the Long Island Rail Road’s Bay Ridge branch, underutilized for decades but with a direct connection to the Hell Gate Bridge. The Bay Ridge line, once a heavy freight route, currently sees only occasional freight trains from the New York & Atlantic freight carrier and various connecting systems. The new line would give MTA rail commuters access for the first time to a terminal on the west side of Manhattan in addition to current service to Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan’s east side. The new line would reportedly be funded out of MTA’s own capital budget.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that underused rail corridors must be exploited to fully serve the population of the Tri-State region. In addition, all commuters to Manhattan deserve access to terminals on both sides of Midtown; MTA is to be commended for planning to expand the options available to its riders. Although New Jersey planners have paid lip service to the idea of east-side access for NJ commuters, this always seems to vanish as new projects are planned.
“We CAN Connect New England by Rail” was the theme of a conference held in New Haven on April 29, and members of the Lackawanna Coalition helped with the effort. This writer moderated a panel on “Connecting New England with South of New York”. Technical Director Joseph M. Clift described our proposal for building a new track through the Meadowlands and a new tunnel into Penn Station, both at a reasonable cost. Today, there are only two tracks into New York’s Penn Station from New Jersey, and one is taken out of service every weekend. Our plan would guarantee that at least two tracks are always available, under normal operation or a foreseeable emergency situation.
Political Director James T. Raleigh explained the importance of proper strategy when campaigning for a project. He stressed that going to legislative hearings and similar events is the key to gaining the credibility that is needed for effective advocacy. This is the strategy that helped to defeat the proposal for a deep-cavern terminal far below Manhattan streets.
Richard J. Arena, who divides his time between Boston and New Jersey, stressed the importance of connectivity between the regions. New Jersey was well-represented among the attendees, which included 10 members of the Lackawanna Coalition, coming from 5 states. The conference was cosponsored by the Rail Users’ Network (RUN), the Connecticut Sierra Club, and the National Corridors Initiative (NCI).
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.
Late Thursday, November 11, Amtrak officials said that any talks with NJ Transit on a joint new tunnel under the Hudson are dead, according to the Bergen Record, reported by Karen Rouse. “We are no longer interested in this project,” said Vernae Graham, spokeswoman for Amtrak. “There were exploratory talks going on with NJ Transit,” Graham said. “The talks have stopped. . . . That was commuter rail, and we are interested in intercity rail projects.”
The Amtrak announcement comes a day after NJ Gov. Christie told The Record that Amtrak was interested in possibly purchasing from NJ Transit engineering work that had already been done; Amtrak would then use the work to begin planning their high-speed rail tunnel. NJ Transit spokesman Paul Wyckoff said only that, “We’re all interested in exploring affordable alternatives to the trans-Hudson challenge,” according to The Record.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that a new tunnel is necessary, both for commuters and for intercity rail service; but that it needs to be a coordinated solution that addresses both NJ Transit and Amtrak’s needs, and therefore needs to serve Penn Station and be usable by both railroads. We encourage NJT and Amtrak to work together on an affordable solution that truly furthers regional rail service.