THE ARC TRANS-HUDSON TUNNEL vs. THE CORRECT ALTERNATIVE
SEVERAL REASONS TO STOP THE ARC TUNNEL PROJECT
1. CONNECTING WHAT SHOULDN'T BE
The ARC Tunnel Project seems to be based on someone's cruel sense of humor. You can be certain planners never had any intention of allowing access to Penn Station proper, otherwise the extreme grades would not have been considered. Penn Station does not posses sufficient track capacity to justify tunnel construction, so access was not given a high priority. With no particular or desirable goal in mind, the resulting plan, using instead of Penn Station, a station nearby, with a possible underground connection running through it to a deep-subterranean station under Grand Central, does not reflect so much the search for an effective transportation solution as it does a culture of "planning exigency". Contrary to claims of numerous authorities, the through-link to Grand Central will be of particularly limited use. As the sole means of more-or-less direct access for New Jersey Passengers going to Grand Central - where relief of Penn Station's capacity problems might otherwise be had on a very large scale - the through-link will function as a two-track line with, at best, a two-track terminal. This situation imposes significant capacity restrictions on the line, as does the nettlesome way-station under 34th Street.
If built, the through-link will itself impose restrictions on capacity of the planned NYPSE station (New York Penn Station Expansion) to be located twenty stories below 34th Street and one block north of Penn Station. Opening of the through-link will tie up the one set of tail tracks now anticipated for NYPSE in the event the through-link is built. (The "tail tracks" are to be extended east from the station, which will be accessed from the west by trains coming from New Jersey via the new ARC Tunnel.) Limited space dictates that these tail tracks will serve only two of the station's six tracks. This is unconventional versus 175 years of station planning. Trains proceeding on the tail tracks to Grand Central for revenue service or going on to Long Island City for storage, will need to negotiate the bottleneck at Grand Central first - where there is also limited space - proceeding on tail tracks to be built there, apparently for car storage. While a two-track rail line has considerable capacity, the existence of bottlenecks on the through-link will cannibalize the better part of it: Trains will need to be moved clear of platform tracks immediately after stopping to pick up and discharge passengers. Trains going out of service will need to be run by platforms at low speed. Trains returning to service will need to negotiate the process again in reverse.
As a practical matter, this setup was found to be so restrictive that it was deemed necessary to build a new storage yard at some distance in New Jersey that would be accessed by a circuitous maze of tracks and switches. And this alternative is still very much inferior to the present system at Penn Station, where, by way of the station's four East River tubes, NJ Transit trains are through-handled to Long Island City for storage. At this point it is unclear whether NJ Transit trains serving Grand Central will be stored in Long Island City in conjunction with the Long Island Railroad's East Side Access Project, or backtracked to New Jersey with trains serving the NYPSE station. One thing is certain: they can't be stored at Grand Central. Whereas the through-link might allow for storage of Grand Central bound Long Island Railroad trains somewhere in New Jersey - given addition of third rail or new rolling stock - there is no connection to the more conveniently located West Side Yards, suggesting the possibility of trying to store laid-over LIRR trains on the tail tracks at NYPSE.
While it would be nice to have an underground line on 34th Street for a crosstown subway, as currently planned the NYPSE station is simply too far underground to be used for any practical purpose. The sheer inconvenience of the NYPSE station - where passengers will be required to ride escalators extending the equivalent of one crosstown block just to get to the platform - should be sending up red flags. With the bottleneck at NYPSE, the through-link will involve delays for New Jersey bound passengers coming from Grand Central and visa-versa, complicating already close tolerances of anticipated scheduling at NYPSE, and rendering the through-link largely useless for the purpose of getting New Jersey passengers to Grand Central and back. All Grand Central trains will be required to stop at NYPSE, but limited capacity at the new Grand Central and NYPSE stations will necessitate infrequent scheduling of these train. Requiring one third of track capacity at NYPSE, the through-link will reduce NYPSE access for ARC Tunnel trains by at least a proportional amount. In this light the 2030 projections for ARC Tunnel train capacity are Quatsch.
2. NOTE: THE $8.7-BILLION DOES NOT INCLUDE SERVICE TO GRAND CENTRAL
Only certain lines in New Jersey will have so-called direct access to Grand Central using the through-link, and this only after construction of Water Tunnel No. 3 is completed sometime around 2020, then construction of the through-link. Lines expected to offer Grand Central service on opening of the through-link will be the Bergen, Main, Sports Complex and Pascack Valley lines. These will be siphoned into the Northeast Corridor over a ludicrous four-track inclined loop connection to be located near Lautenberg Station. (For more on the Rube Goldberg Connecting Loop and its consequences see: PLANNING "EXIGENCIES" below.)
Despite NJ Transit's claims, passengers on the Raritan Valley Line and a few others will find it quicker just to change trains at Newark and go direct to Penn Station - then by subway to the East Side - than to wait while being threaded through the circuitous maze of shunting and switching required in order to proceed by way of the "West Side Y and Loop". Other passengers will find it necessary to "de-train" at Penn Station, then walk upstairs and one block over to take the twelveminute mechanized plunge to NYPSE, before waiting for their connecting train. It would be quicker just to walk. Passengers on other lines will have to wait till the second phase of Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement allows direct access to the through-link by way of the Northeast Corridor, a somewhat cloudy future possibility. Not that the through-link will be capable of handling frequent service: A one-seat-ride to Grand Central will only be possible on a few lines, and this only infrequently.
The ARC Tunnel Plan fails to provide a direct trans-Hudson connection to Penn Station, and fails to provide a high capacity connection from New Jersey to Grand Central. In this way it fails in fulfilling its main mission as seen by both transit advocates and the public. The ARC Project's 2030 projections for train capacity are not entirely unbiased: given identical track configuration of the ARC Tunnel and the existing line, the six-track NYPSE station is said to allow 25 trains per hour at peak capacity while the 21-track Penn Station can only handle 23. (a difference of 3,000 passengers per hour.) The Penn Station Tunnel is considerably shorter, with gentler grades, and no curves.
3. PLANNING "EXIGENCIES"
The enormously complicated and extremely expensive plans for infrastructure expansion consisting of a future high-volume high-speed Portal Bridge(s) / high-volume low-speed West Side Y and Loop agglomeration, hailed enthusiastically as: "TRACKS A-BUILD'IN IN THE MEADOWLANDS!" or some such, are highly suspect in terms of both cost-effectiveness and safety. Inasmuch as the ARC Tunnel is dependent on these plans for fulfillment of its ridership projections, serious thought should be given as to proceeding further. The plan to place the ARC Tunnel connecting line, along with its massive station "caverns" twenty stories down, in apparently unstable ground, with numerous obstructive sub-surface structures, and severely limited capacity versus a normal two-track line, weighed in light of its benefits, could not possibly justify construction. But people in the know still insist the through-link is not a joke. The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers and many other authorities are completely delusional on this one: service to Grand Central must approach from the north.
Really, the next Hudson crossing should go direct to Grand Central, but plans for the through-link have already been completed on paper, despite the conflicts of underground structures at Grand Central and all along the route: This totally aside from the obvious consequence of forcing us to live with some folly of decadent-age planning machinations consciously underfoot for the next thousand
years. It's reminiscent of the time they almost succeeded in getting what is arguably the most beautiful public edifice ever built, demolished, to make way for... whatever ...a number of dull-as-dishwater ideas were put forth. And you won't find any mention of those heady days and shenanigans in the Wikipedia article on Grand Central.
Substantial damage to Grand Central Station has already been carried out in preparation for the fifty-years-premature East Side Access Project. Track and underground configuration in the station are not legally protected, and the damage can only be remediated with some considerable difficulty at a future date. In order to build a private waiting room for Long Island Railroad passengers, planners have seen fit to permanently block access to the lower of two turn-around loops designed with the purpose of avoiding the very type of problems discussed at length above: track capacity and car storage. The idea of eliminating nine platform tracks - the number of curtailed tracks at GCT is not mentioned in environmental documents - and one turn-around loop in order to find space for a waiting room to serve the new LIRR station is retrogressive, yet the need for LIRR service at Grand Central is a good deal less urgent than New Jersey Transit's need for tunnel capacity and platform tracks in Manhattan. Grand Central was designed with considerable forethought and its - originally 67 - platform tracks have never been fully utilized.
While another line to Penn Station will eventually be necessary, there's certainly a less circuitous way of doing it, and converting the Main Post Office to a train station at enormous expense will do exactly nothing to provide relief of track capacity problems at Penn Station, rendering the plan for a trans-Hudson tunnel to serve it moot for the foreseeable future. This is not to say that the recently announced expansion of Penn Station passenger amenities to be located under the post office is not a good idea. It is. But the post office is a post office damn it and lest there be any confusion, crowding in passenger areas of Penn Station (which has nothing to do with track capacity) was intentionally allowed, or not remedied - actually enhanced in a couple of instances - for the purpose of promoting a number of awkward construction and never-to-be-realized planning projects, though not all the plans are related to crowding, or wholly useless. One of them has recently been realized, with pleasing results, though it may serve better as an emergency exit than as a remedy for crowding in Penn Station.
The Post Office make-over, however, has its own sinister purpose: It is intended, along with a succession of related moves dating back several decades, to render with certainty that mail, express freight and parcel post (read FedEx packages) are never carried by rail again: clearly an environmental issue: Note recent sale of the world's largest Post Office in Chicago.
In any case, track capacity at Penn Station sufficient to justify tunnel construction is simply not available, though the idea of a tunnel to Penn Station may have been used to promote the ARC Tunnel plans.
Given the current situation with politicians coming to groundbreakings and saying train tunnels will handle plenty of cars (that is automobiles) the best thing to do is to try and get them to call it off:
:: If the tunnel is going somewhere north of 32nd Street (32nd Street is the location of the present Penn Station tunnel.) why doesn't it start out somewhere north of 32nd Street in New Jersey, instead snaking its way from the Northeast Corridor opposite 32nd Street as far south as 21st Street before finally turning, underground, and proceeding north to 34th? ...crossing under the existing line in the process!? The route is circuitous and - obviously, if you look at a map - the new tracks should go on the north side of the existing Northeast Corridor if only to avoid the stupid tight curve at Bergen Hill, a ludicrous insult to the original line built at cost of life and limb.
:: Why do they wait till the Final EIS to make borings, relying in the Draft EIS on one 1906 Pennsylvania Railroad boring? ...then change the entire configuration on land and under water based on their new borings, ...making the line vastly more circuitous in the process? (The version usually shown on websites is more direct that the one in the Final EIS, though it is less direct than the one in the Draft EIS.)
:: Why Now? ...do they figure out a plan (West Side Y and Loop) obviating the already-built Lautenberg Station? God only knows. But putting this ludicrous 1.5-mile loop connection into service now will have catastrophic effects on both Lautenberg and Hoboken stations, diverting traffic to the deep-subterranean Penn Station Annex that might otherwise benefit from what will rightfully be the regional ferry terminal, just in time for completion of the most recent $30-million phase of ferry terminal remodeling. Trains that would otherwise have been stored at Hoboken for the day will now need to be backtracked from New York to a purpose-built yard in New Jersey with conflictual access problems before returning to New York again for outbound service at night. And besides, passengers can walk it in less time than it will take trains to traverse the steep grades and tight radiuses of the connecting loop (and then make the nevertheless required stop at Lautenberg Station anyway) without the dicey train scheduling on the Northeast Corridor.
Despite its hundred-year age, the Pennsylvania Tunnel and Terminal Railroad, with its North Bergen approach, is probably still the greatest piece of railroad engineering ever built: 13 minutes to Newark. The question why so few forward-thinking rail improvements have been made in intervening years - and why especially in the US - is painfully evident. The twisting alignment, tight radiuses and three percent grades of the ARC Tunnel Project, and its jerry-rigged provisions for a one-seat-ride - made AFTER the Lautenberg Station is already built - are an insult to American railroading, to Alexander Cassatt, and especially, to anyone who would let the perpetrators go through with its construction.
With the premature East Side Access Project now scheduled for completion in 2013, planners have apparently endeavored to make certain that subway capacity is insufficient to build a direct line from New Jersey to Grand Central, though capacity of Grand Central proper is not the problem. The Second Avenue Subway is too far away, doesn't go anywhere due to truncation of its route, and has been reduced to two tracks: nearly useless in terms of providing local capacity for commuters at Grand Central. Really, the next north-south subway line should have been on Madison. Oh Well. (In this respect ((only)) the ARC Tunnel is no more ridiculous that the Second Avenue Subway.) However, in the event a trans-Hudson tunnel to Grand Central Station is built, there are a number of alternatives available to increase local capacity, among them expedited passenger handling and express routing of busses. And of course the salubrious-minded may choose to avail themselves of one of the better pedestrian experiences offered by Manhattan, to reach the high-capacity Sixth Avenue Subway, or the Second Avenue line.
THE CORRECT ALTERNATIVE
[Now that the East Side Access Project seems more likely of realization, the Grand Central line described below could instead run accross 59th Street with a station at Columbus circle, connecting to the East Side Access Line, and a line to GCT from the west, under Central Park - allowing high volume interchangeability of equipment between Long Island City and points east, and other storage facilities in New Jersey. - B. H. 2016]
By accident or coincidence - surely not intentionally! - the Lautenberg Station's architecture imitates the great arched windows of Grand Central Station. Why a direct route between the two has not been carefully considered is a mystery. In order to understand how plans for a trans-Hudson tunnel to Grand Central might look, it is necessary to have an idea of what an optimum future plan - say a 100 Year Rail Plan - might be. Then you work backward from the optimum plan. We can expect to have three major rail hubs inManhattan: Penn Station, Grand Central, and the Financial District. There is only one place where all potential North Jersey commuter lines, currently used or unused, converge in such a way that they could be connected smoothly to a tunnel into Manhattan, and it is located right south of the hairpin switch-back turn on the Secaucus Junction Turnpike Access Road. (Secaucus Junction is same as Lautenberg Station. The Turnpike Access Road is hard to miss.)
The present Morris & Essex Line (also located south of the hairpin Access Road) expanded to four tracks, would become the second Penn Station access route. Continuing east on a tangent where it currently turns south before crossing the Lower Hackensack Bridge, it would proceed over a new bridge and through a new station with four-way, grade-separated interchange having the working name "Jersey Junction". In this way the two rail hubs in Manhattan would each have a station providing full connectivity in the Meadowlands: Lautenberg Station, allowing transfer within the station, and "Jersey Junction" providing a four-way high-speed interchange, and local service for Jersey City passengers. With addition of platform barriers on the upper level, Lautenberg Station would provide connectivity for Grand Central passengers. A one-seat-ride for lines extending to the north would be provided by the four-way interchange at "Jersey Junction".
The new Penn Station access route would proceed east through "Jersey Junction" and then by way of a broadly S-shaped alignment under Bergen Hill and the Hudson, and into Penn Station. It is the most direct route possible from Newark to Penn Station and would afford the option of an additional station in Newark to the south by way of the CSAO Line. (Conrail Shared Asset Operation) A section of the CSAO Line would likely someday need to be buried along with the New Jersey Turnpike in order to allow expansion of Newark Airport and relocation of the main seaport shipping facility to Bayonne Military Ocean Terminal in New York harbor, the finest natural harbor in the world. (Use of Port Newark instated apparently for purposes of diverting traffic to the St. Laurence.)
By this time a staged plan to enlarge Penn Station so as to accommodate a new four-track line would necessarily be in place, and would probably encompass four blocks on a north-south axis, as well as elevators to allow self-contained storage and car shop facilities. (hopefully before someone decides to build "caverns" under Penn Station as well.) Such a plan is hardly ambitious when compared to the human effort expended to build the original Penn Station or Grand Central.
Branching from that running at an approximate right angle to the new Penn Station access route south of "Jersey Junction" trackage mostly extant in New Jersey would serve a tunnel to the Financial District. The Financial District Line would provide direct service to Calatrava's winged station as well as points east, including Kennedy Airport as per Governor Pataki's Atlantic Avenue Line plan. As the preeminent ferry connection, Hoboken Terminal would not be wasted, regardless of the expected demise of Tunnel A, who's shifting 130-old brick structure compares not at all favorably with the relatively modern Penn Station North River tubes in terms of imminent danger.
There is no reason why a single-tube double-track tunnel could not be used for a new Hudson crossing to Grand Central. A number of such tunnels is now in use. In this way, tracks for passenger service would be arranged on either side of the tube, one in each direction, while a central, partially overlapping right-of-way could be used for double-stack freight. The customary argument given when opposing the double-track single-tube configuration in the United States is that it is unacceptable for security reasons, though the specific security reasons are never divulged. The other customary argument concerning such tunnels is that freight and passenger services cannot share the same right-of-way. This is baloney. The problem of physical instability with such a tunnel in heavy subaqueous use has been addressed, in one instance through the method conceived for the present Penn Station tunnels, which are made of iron: twenty-seven-inch-wide piles with up to 175' planned depth, extending from the bottom of each tube at 15' intervals. The larger profile of a single tube would have greater inherent stability. The single tube configuration is not discussed in ARC
Also practically omitted, is discussion of using the new Hudson crossing for freight. A dual-purpose Hudson crossing would be the most effective means of quickly and relatively cheaply getting a large number of trucks off congested river crossings, and this would appear to be a critical point given the blatant inefficiency of the way we've been handling freight into Manhattan for the past fifty years - since goods stopped going by lighter barge. The idea of using the ARC Tunnel for freight is dismissed at the Draft EIS stage of its environmental documentation, with one sentence indicating that union rules "do not currently provide for night-time work of loading and unloading freight in New York," hinting that the highly ambitious, low-utilization Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel - which would not provide service to Manhattan - will soon be built. There is little question whether a legal requirement exists concerning environmental documentation for a new crossing: The EIS must include an option allowing the line to be used for freight and to allow connection to somewhere in Manhattan where freight can be transferred and stored. But it doesn't. Current planning should also include possible connection of freight services to Brooklyn and Long Island as an alternative to the Cross Harbor Freight plan. The plan described here does.
PROCEEDING WEST TO EAST
Somewhere near Lautenberg Station, configuration of the northeast Corridor would resolve to two double-track parallel lines with, optimally, equal distances between the four tracks. Just west of Bergen Hill, at the point where the spiral of the existing (south) NEC line begins, a gentler spiral of the new line would commence, leading to a broad curve that would resolve to tangent just west of the new tunnel portal. Crossing the NYS&W tracks about 500' north of the existing NEC line, the new line would encounter Bergen Hill at an acute angle. The tangent segment would continue, nearly due east, under Bergen Hill and the Hudson, to a curve by the shore of Manhattan having (with the spiral segments eliminated for purposes of clarity) a radius perpendicular to Manhattan's street grid at the western shoreline, allowing breach of the island in line with the street grid, probably at 62nd Street, and underground connection to the West Side Empire Line.
Connection to the Empire Line, and/or a new 12th Avenue line under the Henry Hudson Parkway, if desired, for freight or (with higher capacity and speed) passenger service, would be effected by one or (for higher capacity) two caissons on either side of the single trans-Hudson tube, allowing one or two connecting tubes (with possible branches) for traffic going to or coming from points south. The two connecting tracks would straddle the Empire Line, or the new line to the west, with the optional eastern leg (westbound) passing under the Empire Line and over the new one. Provision to allow this subterranean/subaqueous connection would necessarily be fully incorporated into the trans-Hudson tunnel plan to the degree desired before construction, and might best be carried out by sinking the section with caissons in place. Single tracks straddling the north-south line would rise to meet it, hopefully near 57th Street.
The advantages of having a connection to a West Side or Empire Line to the south at this location are manifold, and development could proceed in scalable increments. In this way both the ARC Tunnel and Cross Harbor Freight plans would be obviated: with eight new passenger stations into the bargain.
The Manhattan Cruise Terminal located on the waterfront between 48th and 52nd streets would be well served by a monorail-style loop providing underground walk-across connection at a new Empire Line station, or by a station directly on 12th Avenue. Such a monorail-style system, employing lightweight tubular rail based on roller coaster technology, would be of a type that is being successfully promoted now for a number of transit applications, and that is well suited to the loop configuration required here. The technology allows both single and double track to be held aloft by a single row of supports, and could be made to provide high frequency stops at each of the Cruise Terminal's three piers as well as the Pier 94 venue, with capability of handling heavy volumes. Tubular rail allows unprecedented extremes of grade and curvature, and can be installed with relative ease, or altered in the event the terminal is expanded or modernized. The system would employ advanced propulsion and breaking mechanism (In this respect roller coaster has trumped rail by light years.) and platform barriers at passenger interfaces.
South of 34th Street, Penn Station would need to be connected to a new line running south along the waterfront and providing a connection from Penn Station for southbound passenger service. The new Hudson tunnel at 62nd Street would provide enough relief from Penn Station's track capacity problems to allow service to the waterfront line as well as fruition of Metro North's West Side Access plans. The area west of Penn Station would pose potential difficulties in getting service from Penn Station funneled into a southbound right-of-way beneath the West Side Highway, though configuration of structures in the area to date seems to have miraculously aligned to enable it. The massive real estate development planned for the West Side Yards is the only potential obstruction, and any conflict there could be easily mitigated through cooperative efforts with no loss of development potential - and addition of passenger rail access - provided it is addressed soon enough. The Javits Center could certainly benefit from direct access to a regional rail train station, and a below-grade waterfront line, even one of four tracks, would not preclude scalable improvements to the West Side Highway, or massive real estate development.
A new station on the waterfront line near 23rd Street would provide passenger access to recent commercial development on piers and in the area. Farther south the line would be connected to an intermodal containerized transfer and storage facility located on the waterfront and extending southward from the vicinity of 16th Street, with provision for rail, truck and marine presence. The facility could be pleasantly disguised versus heretofore piecemeal planning of such installations, and would be a boon in terms of time and labor saved, in addition to getting trucks off the river crossings. Thus Manhattan would achieve direct freight rail access for the first time, without the 280-mile "Selkirk Leap". (Selkirk is a town near Albany.)
With the option of continuing farther south, the waterfront line could be made to tie in with the Financial District Line from New Jersey delineated above: provided Calatrava's new station is intended by transit planners to include any improvements other than the station itself. The ability to transfer between the PATH System, the waterfront line, and the aforementioned Financial District -
Atlantic Avenue (airport) line, on foot within the station, would be of huge benefit.
Continuing south, the waterfront line would call at Governors Island, providing a more appropriate link to spur development there than would a subway line, and enabling construction of public amenities through the island's own means; then Red Hook, for service to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and development there; and finally Bush Terminal, where the line would tie in with existing rail infrastructure, affording ample space for a passenger station and essential large-scale pleni-modal freight operations, as well as enabling freight service to points east and Long Island.
CONTINUING EAST UNDER SIXTY-SECOND STREET
The Broadway I.R.T. and the Central Park West IND subway lines would be negotiated from below. Stage 2 of Water Tunnel No. 3 would be encountered in Central Park. Stage 2 is said to have a depth of 540' below the surface at this location, far below the route of the Grand Central line. The new line would continue east, curving south to align with Park Avenue, and rising to meet the four existing Metro North tracks just below street grade.
Bruce W. Hain October 7, 2010
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