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Amtrak's Robert Lacroix: "No Alternative to Gateway Program"


The ARC Tunnel project aimed at increasing rail capacity between New Jersey and New York was scrapped a year ago because of cost and other factors, but Amtrak's Gateway Program is poised to take its place - and then some. NAIOP New Jersey's June chapter meeting provided the setting for a detailed outline of the program by Robert LaCroix, Amtrak's corridor development chief.

"Gateway is a proposed series of strategic rail infrastructure improvements designed to improve current services and create new capacity, allowing the doubling of passenger trains running under the Hudson River," LaCroix told attendees of the event at Mayfair Farms in West Orange. "It will increase track, tunnel, bridge and station capacity and modernize the existing infrastructure."

As a prelude to defining the program, he outlined the context as the basis for the effort: Nearly 900 Northeast corridor route miles, 546 miles owned by Amtrak, with eight commuter and six freight operators in addition to Amtrak's own fleet adding up to 2,200 trains and 800,000 passenger trips a day and 260 million passenger trips a year up and down the corridor.

"Amtrak carries three times as many passengers on the Northeast corridor than all of the airlines combined," he said. The result for the New Jersey-New York connection, at the center of the corridor, is "a bottleneck. We are running out of capacity. We need to catch up, increase capacity and make improvements."

Gateway's genesis traces to 2010, when Amtrak published a masterplan adressing the problems and offering potential solutions. Estimated price tag: $52 million. Time frame: Completion by 2025 or 2030 when, without the effort, "we will be completely out of capacity."

The goal is a "sustainable transportation future," LaCroix said. "This is the powerhouse region of the U.S, if not the world, and transportation is its lifeblood."

Basic elements of the program include two new tunnels under the Hudson River, and new portal bridges, as "some of [the existing bridges] are more than 100 years old," he noted. Existing trackage would be renewed and expanded and would also support the new generation of high-speed rail.

The program would also boost station capacity, including the overcrowded Penn Station in New York. The latter would be expanded to the south to handle the new tunnels, and the project to convert the former Farley Post Office opposite Penn Station in Manhattan into the Moynihan Station would continue apace and in fact be expanded. And Amtrak is working with the Related Cos. to redevelop the West Side rail yards as part of the overall masterplan.

Finally, the Secaucus Junction - Frank R. Lautenberg Station would be expanded, and improvements would be made to the trackage between Newark and Secaucus. The existing Hudson River tunnels would be reconstructed, and the system in general would be made more impervious to the type of flooding and storm damage it incurred during and after superstorm Sandy.

The end result would be to eliminate the Newark-to-New York bottlenecks that often occur, and that have "a ripple effect up and down the Northeast corridor," LaCroix said. "Even a minor delay can cause a ripple effect."

Ironically, almost at the same time that the Amtrak chief was outlining the Gateway Program, a relatively minor LIRR derailment to the east side of Penn Station did cause just such a ripple effect up and down the Northeast corridor, providing a case in point of the need for the proposed improvements.

Ultimately, those improvements "will almost double the capacity," he said. "It will increase rail's market share, improve the commute for those who live in New Jersey and work in New York, and have a decided impact on business profits and property values in New Jersey.

Who's going to pay for this? Unlike the ill-fated ARC Tunnel project, axed in part because the State of New Jersey would have footed the entire bill, "it will be a combination of federal funds, and funding from the two impacted states and private developers," LaCroix said. "The result will be enough capacity for 100 years.

"Something has to happen in the Northeast corridor, and it will happen," he concluded. "There is no alternative."

"The Gateway Program has major implications for the entire region, and for commercial real estate," said Michael McGuinness, CEO of NAIOP New Jersey, the commercial real estate development association. "We fully support investment in our critical infrastructure systems, including transportation, water and energy. Today's program is just the kind of timely presentation that we will continue to provide our members."

06/20/2013 - 14:15



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