TRANSPORTATION

Post ARC: What’s the Future of Commuter Rail in NJ?

By Young Soo Yang

Flickr/Rrrodrigo.

Last year, when Gov. Christie halted the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Tunnel project, 20 years of policy planning was stopped dead in its tracks and billions of federal funds were lost. So what are the prospects for another trans-Hudson rail tunnel project?

At the Newark Regional Business Partnership transportation symposium which was held earlier this month, state Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson defended Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel Project, stating “the tunnel project was sucking the life out of the rest of the system and the state.”

Since the cancellation of the ARC Tunnel, two proposals have emerged as the leading successors to providing future trans-Hudson rail: Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel project and the extension of New York City’s No. 7 Subway train to Secaucus.

No matter how different the plans, the Gateway project and the proposed expansion of the No. 7 train may be competing projects, financially speaking. According to Martin Robins, Director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, it’s hard to fathom how both projects could be funded. In an interview with NJToday’s Mike Schneider, Robins expressed concern that there had been a lack of process and transparency in moving forward with either idea.

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The construction of the ARC Tunnel would have provided a new nonstop service into New York for commuters in the Bergen County suburbs and along the Raritan Valley Line that serves the Union and Somerset County suburbs.

The Gateway Tunnel
Derided by Christie as the “tunnel to Macy’s basement,” the ARC Tunnel would have terminated under West 34th Street near the retail landmark. The “Gateway” tunnel – proposed by Amtrak – would largely follow the same path as the canceled ARC tunnel from Secaucus to New York City, but connect to new tracks in an expanded New York Penn Station. Congress recently allocated $15 million to study the proposal.

Extension of No. 7 to Secaucus
In November 2010, New York City announced plans to study the extension of the No. 7 subway line from the west side of Manhattan to Secaucus. It’s a study that Robins says has been clouded in secrecy.

Long-Term Solution
Currently, the only available passenger-train route from New Jersey into Manhattan is through the Amtrak-owned Hudson River Tunnels. One single-track tunnel is reserved for trains heading into Manhattan and the other, for trains heading out. Those 100-year-old tunnels will not be enough to meet the demand for additional capacity projected for the next twenty years, says Robins. With the passenger-rail system already operating at capacity, Robins says the future of commuter rail in New Jersey will to come to a complete stop unless an additional tunnel is built.