Jan 10, 2018 - Technology

The Northeast Corridor's looming infrastructure nightmare

A woman in front of the departures board at Penn Station

A woman watches the Penn Station departures board after an Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia in May 2015. Photo: Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images

Bloomberg looked at the looming infrastructure disaster beneath New York's Penn Station — which serves 430,000 people each weekday (more than the major New York airports combined — as the century-old trans-Hudson tunnels have faced continued neglect since they were half-flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

One potential problem: "If Amtrak and New Jersey Transit have to rely on a single Hudson tunnel, they could operate just six trains an hour, rather than the current 24."

Bloomberg highlights the potential impact, by the numbers:

  • "[T]he trans-Hudson bridges and tunnels available to cars already have punishing rush-hour delays. Imagine the backups, road rage, and pollution if tens of thousands of additional commuters had to use them. Common Good, a bipartisan government-reform organization, estimates that 50,000 more automobiles crossing the Hudson each day would sap productivity by $2.3 billion per year."
  • "The Northeast Corridor Commission, a panel created by Congress in 2008, projects that the U.S. economy would lose $100 million per day—$36.5 billion a year—if the entire train route from Boston to Washington ever shut down."

What they're saying: "There will come a time when the reliability of the tunnels starts to decay. The curve, once it starts, may be fairly sharp. We’ll just have to see. Nobody knows. This is a great science experiment," said Charles “Wick” Moorman, Amtrak co-CEO.

What's next: New York is building a new entrance hall slated for a 2020 opening for Amtrak and Long Island Railroad trains next door. Although that'll help lessen the time spent in Penn Station's subterranean confines, it won't do anything to fix the potential infrastructure nightmare. The Trump administration reneged on an Obama-era agreement between the federal government and New York authorities to split tunnel refurbishment costs, calling the issue "a local project where 9 out of 10 passengers are local transit riders."

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