39° Good Morning
39° Good Morning

Avoid bleak future for NYC-Jersey rail service

People board an Amtrak train at Penn Station

People board an Amtrak train at Penn Station in New York City. (Feb. 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Amtrak and New Jersey Transit are roaring toward the future without a solid plan for shoring up the crucial but crumbling tunnel that links their lines with Manhattan.

At stake are timely trips for the hundreds of thousands who use the Hudson River tunnel to commute between New Jersey and Penn Station daily -- along with thousands who ride Amtrak between Boston and Washington.

Here's the problem: The two-track, 104-year-old Hudson River tunnel owned by Amtrak was an aging bottleneck long before Sandy struck two years ago. Trains on a direct route between New Jersey and Penn -- America's busiest rail station -- often had to wait for an open track.

But Sandy sealed the tunnel's fate -- pouring 13 million gallons of seawater into the tubes and causing massive damage. Without a huge renovation, it won't last beyond 20 years. And now -- thanks to epic mismanagement on the Jersey side of the river -- there are no good choices.

Option 1.In the best of all worlds,Amtrak would find a way to build a second twin-tube tunnel in time to free up the old one for a stem-to-stern overhaul. The new tunnel would double rail capacity into Penn when the rehab is done. Amtrak has promised to take this route. But design and construction take eons. Amtrak doesn't have time. And it takes money. Amtrak doesn't have enough of that.

Option 2.Amtrak could forget plans for a new tunnel and just overhaul the old one ASAP. The work would take just two years. Unfortunately, it would come at a terrible price. The rehab would slash tunnel capacity by a gigantic 75 percent -- and that would mean commuter hell.

NJ Transit and Amtrak together provide 400,000 rides a day through the tunnel -- at a rate of 24 trains an hour. And that's not fast enough. So what happens when the rehab slows the rate to six trains an hour? The holdup could hurt the economies of New York and New Jersey.

Maybe New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie thought he had cleverly solved a fiscal problem in 2010 when he foolishly defunded a long-planned Hudson rail tunnel. He didn't.

Instead he created the dangerous crisis that the two states and Amtrak face today. Thanks so much, governor.

News photos & videos