Transportation Expert: Raritan Valley Line Likely Winner With New Tunnel
Raritan Valley Rail Coalition briefed on Gateway Project.
A new proposal that could bring Midtown Direct to New Jersey Transit's Raritan Valley Line was the main topic of discussion at a rail policy meeting in Westfield Monday morning.
The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition heard a presentation regarding the proposed Trans-Hudson Gateway Project, a new third train tunnel under the Hudson River, from Martin Robins, the director emeritus of the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers. Robins outlined the proposal, which Amtrak and U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez proposed Feb. 7, to replace the ARC tunnel project, canceled last year by Gov. Chris Christie.
Robins emphasized that while he did not speak for Amtrak, he would do his best to explain the project in as much detail as he could, calling the project, “an extremely important development for the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition.”
Currently, Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line has two tracks connecting New York Penn Station to New Jersey. Penn Station services over 550,000 commuters per weekday with 1248 weekday trains, including those for Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad. Commuter travel demand is expected to double within 20 years.
“The Northeast Corridor is a very valuable part of our nation’s infrastructure, particularly our region’s infrastructure,” Robins said. “What we ought to do is get a great deal more out of it than we have.”
The Gateway Project would largely follow in the footprint of the killed ARC project, but on a smaller scale. Under the new plan, a new high-level four-track bridge would be built to maximize efficiency between Newark and New York. The existing two-track Portal Bridge, considered a “chokepoint," in the current transit system, with the bridge being opened for baot traffic and experiencing increased mechanical difficulty in recent years. The new bridges would proceed to the new third tunne.
The tunnel would leave passengers in a new hub just south of Penn Station, which will be connected to the existing station. The ARC tunnel had planned to have trains arrive at new tracks between Penn Station and the Herald Square subway station. Robins said the project would add 13 additional NJ Transit trains hourly, compared to 24 that were projected under the ARC tunnel.
“This project is not as helpful to New Jersey as ARC by any means, but it is still very helpful,” Robins said. “While ARC was a spectacularly helpful project, this is a very, very helpful project, and is certain worth Raritan Valley Line’s strong support.”
The ARC project was cancelled by Christie in the fall, with the governor citing projected cost overruns in the multibillion project. The decision was greeted with opposition from Union County leaders, who said the Midtown Direct service would be a benefit to communities in the county.
A significant aspect of the ARC project that was not included in Gateway was the connection the Secaucus loop to Penn Station. Trains on the Pascack Valley and Bergen County lines will not be able to enter the Northeast Corridor Line for a one-seat ride into Manhattan. Such a connection would cost an additional $500 million. The project would be built in such a way to allow a possible connection in the future,
Robins said while the Bergen County lines would not receive the additional train service, Raritan Valley lines would see a benefit. Of the 13 additional trains, the Raritan Valley Line is a prime candidate to get direct access into New York. .
The estimated completion date for the Gateway Project is 2020 at a cost of $13 billion. Raritan Valley Rail Coalition leaders, including former Westfield Mayor Tom Jardim, said the plan will be discussed at the group's next meeting on May 2 in Somerville.