Amtrak CEO Boardman Warns Hudson Rail Tunnels Have 20 Years Max Of Remaining Service

Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman is warning that one or both of the Hudson River rail tunnels will need to be shut down within the next 20 years.  Boardman also noted that it would take seven to nine years to build and deliver new rail tunnels and that Amtrak’s plan for new tunnels is still unfunded. CEO Boardman made these remarks at the Regional Plan Association’s conference on April 25th in New York City.  

Readers will recall that Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) was a passenger rail infrastructure project that would have significantly expand transportation access between Midtown Manhattan and New Jersey. The centerpiece of ARC was a new two-track rail tunnel under the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York Penn Station. ARC would have added much needed capacity for the 160,000 passengers who travel through the existing tunnels each weekday and allowed for temporary closure of the existing tunnels for major rehabilitation projects. NJ Transit, New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were the primary proponents of ARC.  In October of 2010, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie decided to terminate ARC, citing a concern that New Jersey was bearing too much of the project risk.

After the demise of ARC, Amtrak and elected officials moved quickly to develop a new plan for Hudson River rail tunnels called the Gateway Project .  Amtrak’s plan calls for completion of construction by 2030, but CEO Boardman acknowledged that the consensus view of a panel at the Regional Plan Association conference was that the new tunnel would take 25 years if you’re lucky.  The present lack of funding means the new tunnel could take until 2040 or later. 

Complicating matters, repairs to the existing tunnels to repair damage caused by Super Storm Sandy flooding will cost at least a half a billion dollars and will require temporary closures.  Presently, the two tunnels handle 24 trains per hour, but closure of one tunnel for major rehabilitation would cut capacity by more than half because a single tunnel would need to handle trains in both directions.

Prospects for funding for a new tunnel are unclear to put it charitably.  Amtrak is receiving $45 million in federal funding over three years for planning and preconstruction work, but a construction funding solution is one of the many open questions for House and Senate Transportation appropriators.

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