RPA looks beyond Gateway in ambitious rail proposal

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

The idea for the George Washington Bridge to stretch from the Palisades to upper Manhattan did not originate with some politician. It was contained in the first strategic regional plan authored in 1929 by the Regional Plan Association, which has been coming up with big ideas like that for 95 years. This week, the RPA is out with its fourth regional plan, chock full of more, ambitious, some might say ‘pie in the sky’ ideas.

“Well, for planners, there’s no such thing as too optimistic, we’re an optimistic bunch,” chuckled Rich Barone, the RPA’s vice president for transportation. “We’re an optimistic bunch.”

The centerpiece of the plan is the Trans-Regional Express rail network, or T-REX if you like acronyms.

“It’s really taking the three commuter railroads that we have today — NJ Transit, Metro-North and Long Island Railroad, which count for over 2,000 miles of track and 390 stations — and integrating them, putting them together as one seamless system,” explained Barone.

And, if you believe that kind of thing is possible, the rest of this 20 to 30 year, three-phase plan might seem downright feasible.

Phase one would build on the existing Gateway Tunnel plan and expands it to Long Island, through a southward expansion of New York Penn Station. The RPA notes that Gateway, which it likes, is also going to be at capacity by 2040, which isn’t a lot of time in mass transit years.

Phase two proposes a new trans Hudson commuter rail tunnel from Union City to 57th street in Manhattan. Phase two also includes a proposal to restore passenger train lines in Bergen and Passaic Counties.

Phase three includes Barone’s aforementioned harmonic convergence of NJ Transit, LIRR and Metro-North. He says the benefits for New Jersey would be significant.

“New Jersey would probably benefit the most because one of the problems in New Jersey is that its commuter railroad has unfortunately suffered over the last decade from serious under investment. So, when you compare it to the other two railroads, it’s the furthest behind,” he said. “One of the greatest examples from New Jersey is Paterson, where today it can take you about 70 minutes to get to Grand Central or someplace on the West Side. We’re talking about under 30 with T-REX.”

It would be a brave new transit world where new tunnels and added service, even off-peak, are normal, and thousands of new residents live near transit hubs with shiny stations, taking clean, efficient trains along common sense routes. Too optimistic? Perhaps, but this is the season of hope, after all and most commuters would tell you, we deserve it.