JERSEY JUNCTION HUNDRED YEAR PLAN
...is the reason the new tunnel line must go
EXISTING TUNNEL AND TWO PROPOSED HUDSON CROSSINGS
HUDSON TUNNEL PROJECT
THE CORRECT ALTERNATIVE
Judging by the comments in the Scoping Summary Report - and particularly a letter signed by fourteen elected officials from New York - there is a lot of support for a combined passenger/freight tunnel to Manhattan. I have been attempting to promote such a tunnel, with a route about a mile shorter than the one that's currently planned, off and on for the past twenty-one years - but as it was in 1995, planners will hear none of it.
You will find described below what I believe to be the most effective and economical plan for quickly enabling a large-scale expansion of passenger and freight access to Manhattan.
First, four items concerning the current plan:
1.) There is some question whether the tunnel described in Hudson Tunnel Project documents can be properly connected to the tracks at Penn Station without at least partial suspension of trans-Hudson service there. Due to modifications already carried out west of the platforms to connect the West Side Yard, two station tracks having access to the northern pair of East River tubes cannot currently access the existing tunnel under the Hudson. According to the most definitive drawing available, addition of this through-running capability is not anticipated with regard to either the old or the new Hudson tunnels.
The same most-definitive drawing shows a connection from the new tunnel that would be impossible, involving three reverse curves in close succession to reach eight of the station tracks - not counting tracks 20 and 21 where no connection is planned. While the customary space-consuming standards are often cheated, this configuration would guarantee a high number of derailments. It is difficult for me to conceive a plan for connecting the planned tunnel to the Penn Station tracks that does not involve broad-based track closures, and I suspect that a "tunnel emergency" may be staged at some point to enable it, thus locking us permanently into this manifoldly substandard project.
The supposed necessity of having continuous full-blown trans-Hudson operations at Penn Station without resorting to some new station interface in Manhattan is the reason planners insist the new tunnel must have a grade somewhat steeper than that of the original line, while yet undertaking ground stabilization in the river bottom to enable it. In order to more easily get a satisfactory grade, and address the problems of track geometry west of the platforms, it would be necessary to implement at least partial closure of trans-Hudson service (possibly in several incremental stages) moving the vertical curve starting the tunnel grade to the east, to enable a longer slope.
This method of getting a gentler grade would be of crucial importance concerning my proposal, where, owing to the tunnel's wider, single-tube construction, the required deep profile under the river can only be achieved by having a longer approach. By locating the vertical curve commencing the grade at 9th Avenue it is possible to achieve a grade of less than 2% - which would not interfere with platform tracks, and conforms to planners' stated standard for grades in passenger tunnels. (though that alternative in the ARC Tunnel EIS with the giant cofferdam in the middle of the river had a grade of better than 4%.) If grading for a wide-diameter passenger/freight tunnel is undertaken in conjunction with platform modifications intended for Moynihan Station, still farther east, a still gentler grade may be achieved.
However the Gateway Box has already been fitted out for the currently planned grade, quite ceremoniously, but without benefit of an EIS for the tunnel.
2.) The failure to complete the ARC Tunnel Project was not caused by Christie playing the curmudgeonly miser. The project was threatened with a class action by over 300 displaced businesses in Midtown, largely - but certainly not totally - due the eleventh-hour-59-minutes announcement that removal of the "City Bank Tower" at 34th and 7th would be required. Suddenly the FONSI appeared. My belief is that both Weinstein of NJ Transit and the USDOT's LaHood were begging Christie to get them out of it any way possible.
Very likely two tunnel boring machines placed in service in 2009 are still under Jersey City consuming maintenance and manpower. As a result of the delayed tunnel process spanning twenty-one years and the sometimes sudden decisions and foregone design "exigencies" enjoined by agency fiat, planning costs alone have probably risen to several billion dollars - totally aside from construction on the as-yet-unused assets including two bespoke tunnel boring machines and their complex on-site assembly and maintenance. It would not be far-fetched to characterize the cumulative actions and decisions as racketeering.
And as for "urgency" - Tunnel A of the PATH System represents a somewhat greater threat of catastophic failure than the Penn Station Tunnel. According to a 1992 study by a prestigious English engineering firm, the Path System's Tunnel A - made of brick for the first 1500 feet - is considerably more leaky and unstable than the North River tubes, and should have been closed and replaced by 2012 at the outside. How many times does the stock response appear in the Scoping Summary: "The proposed Project is a critical project required to meet the urgent need to repair the existing rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River."? Or words to that effect regarding Project Goals. No doubt an aggressive program with staged nighttime closures to repair the North River Tunnel's lining should have been implemented long ago.
3.) The Hudson Tunnel Project follows the circuitous alignment laid out in the earlier ARC Tunnel plan for most of its way in New Jersey. The ARC Tunnel was placed too close to the NEC - "inside the curve" at Bergen Hill - in a ludicrous configuration then turning south and again north under the Hudson with a lateral displacement running down to 21st Street and back up again to 34th - crossing under the existing line in the process - because planners needed to keep the construction away from the original line. So why not build it somewhere else? This is but one of the glaring, ironic and insulting deficiencies of the original ARC plan. (See my 2010 critique of the ARC plan: "The ARC Trans-Hudson Tunnel vs. The Correct Alternative")
4.) Planners have settled privately on a preferred alternative for the Hudson Tunnel Project without the benefit of a preliminary EIS delineating other alternatives. They admit in their responses to comments in the Scoping Summary that the only alternatives considered were ones that go by way of the already-built modifications to Route 1 & 9 in Hudson County and an unbuilt fan plant to the east, and make it clear they mean to have the upcoming probably-final EIS delimited to pretty much the one alignment. They intend to get it done fast, and say as much repeatedly in the Scoping Summary - but scoping for this project was started in 1995.
At that time, I proposed the Jersey Junction station and tunnel described here, in an 8-1/2 x 11" graphic representation traced from a Hagstom Map:
PENN STATION AND WEST SIDE LINES
PENN STATION LINE
The three thin, white lines leading across the Hudson represent other passenger rail projects not being advanced here, and are, from top to bottom: 1.) A 59th Street work-around for the East Side Access Project with a station at Columbus Circle, allowing for high volume interchangeability of equipment between Long Island City and points west by way of the 63rd Street Tunnel. Considerable unbuilt space in the area of 59th & 5th provides a fortuitous opening for a connecting line to Grand Central by way of 59th Street and Park Avenue. 2.) The logical expectation - given the goals of the original ARC Project: a 45th Street line, 6.5 miles long, serving GCT and the new "Olympic Village" in Queens, allowing for high volume interchangeability of equipment between Long Island City and points west. 3.) Jersey Junction-to-Penn Station and Penn Station North. (It's necessary to know, when planning the first tunnel, that a second one is likely to follow at some point.
The Penn Station Line would be an extension of the Morris & Essex Line. Continuing east on a tangent where the M&E Line turns south before crossing the Lower Hackensack Bridge, the extension would proceed over a new bridge and through a station with multi-direction grade-separated interchange, then enter a tunnel directly east of the station leading to Manhattan. In this way the two rail hubs in Manhattan would ultimately have a dedicated station in the Meadowlands providing full connectivity for each: Lautenberg Station, allowing transfer within the station, and Jersey Junction, providing express multi-directional connectivity, with local transit service and parking for Jersey City passengers.
The new line would save four fifths of a mile versus the existing one and about a mile versus the current Hudson Tunnel plan. The tunnel envisioned here would be of the two-track single-tube variety, allowing nighttime double-stack freight to use a center track straddling the other two. In Manhattan, freight would be processed at an intermodal transfer facility located along a new "West Side Line" described below. The single tube arrangement is gaining some currency in other parts of the world - and having direct freight access to Manhattan, and eventually on to Brooklyn, Staten Island and Bayonne, would solve a lot of problems, making the single-tube dual-purpose investment well worth the cost, though the connection in Manhattan is not simple. (see below)
Passengers as well as freight would benefit from the tunnel and West Side Line combination, most immediately as a Penn Station alternate in partially-built form, having two four-track stations, at 14th and 23rd Streets - thereby avoiding the necessity of keeping the existing tunnels working full time through years of construction and, for a time, of acquiring a large swath of Midtown Manhattan with potential for contentious property issues.
Large platforms (green) serve as the main public spaces of the station, with cable staid tents providing areas of shelter concentric with the curves in the pointy areas of the platforms. Constructed clear-glass and obscuring partitions would define central areas of platform space having passenger amenities and so on. The track configuration has several fly-overs, fly-unders and same-grade connecting tracks with the aim of providing seamless connections while avoiding directional conflicts. At the point where the Bergen Arches fly-over enters the NEC there are four levels of tracks. Jersey Junction would obviate the awkward "West Side Wye and Loop" agglomeration planned in Secaucus, with it's circuitous steep grades and dicey low-speed/high-speed timing issues resulting in travel times probably longer than just walking within the station to make the transfer. And (much discussed in terms of how to do it) the Wye-and-Loop does not give access to the West Shore Line, but Jersey Junction does.
The Jersey Junction configuration provides the most seamless connection possible to all commuter rail lines existing or contemplated in New Jersey, plus access to Jersey City and Lower Manhattan by way of the Bergen Arches, and the Hoboken Ferry Terminal and Lackawanna Station with its extensive storage and station trackage. Thus it must be considered the essential "given" in contemplating any future-oriented scheme for commuter rail in the New York-New Jersey Region - though it would not be necessary to build the whole station/interchange concurrently as a single grand project: a lot of it already exists.
In 1995, as my action to turn the planned 9-mile Newark-Elizabeth Rail Link (NERL) into a 1-mile, 45%-at-grade extension of the Newark City Subway, without grade crossings (finally realized as the "grade-running" NERL First Operable Segment [sic.]) was entering its 3rd year, I attended one of the first scoping meetings for the ARC Project in New Jersey, and presented at least one copy of my 8-1/2 x 11 tracing from a Hagstrom map, showing the god's-eye-shaped Jersey Junction, with a line to Penn Station and another line branching from the Bergen Hill curve to Grand Central. It was suggested (and fully expected by many, I believe) that an NJ Transit line to Grand Central would be built first.
Neither of the alignments was mentioned in any scoping document that I know of. In any case it is not necessary to remove the entire coal-fired Hudson Generating Plant in order to arrange a right-of-way through the property, although there are those who might consider that a good idea. But a plan to make PSE&G whole while introducing modernized generating facilities in a slightly altered configuration is hardly unimaginable. Several alternate versions are contemplated or exist for addressing the issue of the power plant. One, involving a crummy jog in the NEC configuration, is possible - to avoid the tall parts of the furnaces. Or, a more direct route that would yet pass over the lower part of the plant might be considered, as shown. The new line should by all rights take precedence.
There's you're Gateway! (above, where the six tracks of the NEC pass under the Main Line.)
click to enlarge
click to enlarge
PENN STATION SOUTH
Thank goodness Amtrak saw the danger in time and moved to protect access to their Penn Station property, because otherwise it probably wouldn't have gotten done. Nevertheless, "the Box" (as the the Feds' project allowing access to Penn Station in the event the existing tunnel goes down is called) can give rise to some misconceptions. In the AS PLANNED illustration, designers have come up with an elegant solution, albeit to a problem that doesn't exist. The circuitous "run-through" to Penn South entails about half a billion dollars in special track work that is completely unnecessary. Except in the case of the required repair work on the old tunnel and station, the new tunnel would, as a matter of course, be used exclusively by traffic from the new station, save in certain instances (if my tunnel alignment is used) of high-speed Amtrak service from Penn proper or Moynihan - or in emergency - making the "run-through" highly impractical.
The AS PLANNED design suggests attempting to wye trains from Sunnyside through Penn Station Proper then backwards to Penn Station South. It is somewhat puzzling that the 30th Street right-of-way giving access to Penn South appears planned only to be developed at some later date when a "LOWER LEVEL" proposed for high-speed service is planned.(?) This, in turn, is seen as justification for backing the station across Seventh Avenue into conflict with a historical structure of some considerable architectural significance - again ...apparently with the aim of building yet another tube (or two?) to Sunnyside. It is highly unlikely there will be another tube to Sunnyside this century, and the structure in question could not possibly be replaced with anything comparable any time soon. There are not many streets in the world that have 30-story buildings as far as the eye can see! And besides, a new station on the 7th Avenue Subway, giving end-of-platform access to Penn South along the length of its station there, would be extremely desirable.
The lines representing tracks in the AS PLANNED illustration of Penn Station South are deceptively thick, giving the impression there is only room for seven tracks. I get twelve - with five 25-foot platforms and two narrower ones. The advantages of extending the tangent platform tracks west for a total length of 2050' are manifold. This way the station can accommodate 24 twelve-car trains - 48 with elevators, having possible high rail or cleaning facilities underneath. The elevators would need to be versatile as regards having two lengths of trains, and a separate mechanism to manage positioning of wires would be required initially. The additional properties in the way consist of a few nondescript 1990's apartment houses only one of which is more than six stories tall. Given continued appreciation the parcel at Block 754 could work to great advantage for transit. Except for the apartments and row houses the rest is urban blight for which commercial and academic owners would offer little resistance provided a program is put in place to make them whole without broadcasting it first. The situation between 7th and 8th is much worse. (though I have a few suggestions for that too.)
Serving the dense development now rising at Hudson Yards with a small additional above-ground facility is certainly in order, if only to dilute the crowding farther east. Easy access along the length of the station would create its own necessity. People will relieve the dense centralized crowding at Penn Station if given the opportunity, creating a new, more desirable version of the 33rd Street Passage at mezzanine level.
Modifications to the 32nd St. East River tunnel approach and a number of overlapping switches at Interlocking JO would enable access to all tracks from the east, increasing capacity of the station within the existing footprint. This would necessitate provisions for additional versatility in Long Island City as well, calling current plans (Amtrak Bypass Tunnels) into question. The vertical curve in the 32rd St. tunnel approach would be moved west off the proposed switches shown. By separating traffic for the new Hudson tunnel from the rest of the station a four-track Amtrak station with two 20' platforms and two wide side platforms would be afforded. The station would be 1650 feet long. With this configuration the elevation of the Amtrak leads could be 50' lower than the rest of the station by the time they reach Tenth Avenue, if need be, solving the grade issues with low cover under the Hudson in current plans, and allowing connection to a single-bore high-speed tunnel with freight access for Manhattan having a route that is one mile shorter, as proposed here, pending some resolution as to vertical alignment of "the box". This would also allow a track configuration to the west of the station that is possible, rather than the still-impossible alignments now propounded in illustrations at the DEIS stage. Modification of the station wall at 31st Street to achieve a proper grade might actually be simplified by moving it over twenty feet. In that case the two long platforms of the Amtrak station could be 30' wide.
WEST SIDE LINE
The trans-Hudson tunnel contemplated here would be connected to a West Side Line running beneath the West Street-Hudson River Greenway. (West Side Highway) A partially-realized version of this line running south from 30th Street may be seen as a temporary alternative to the full-blown Penn Station South described above, or a less complicated replacement for the official Gateway Plan. As cut-and-cover operations go this one would be comparatively simple: being the West Side's main artery the boulevard is begging for a four-track line. With trans-Hudson service at Penn Station providing access through one tube of the North River Tunnel, and multiple bussing alternatives staged in the space near the intersection of 23rd and 11th at Chelsea Piers, a temporary solution would be afforded. With a four-track/four-platform station here, and multiple tail tracks realized as the nascent continuation south, a further station at 14th Street could be made to supplement the station at Chelsea Piers, with a connection, possibly underground, to the L-line subway. While a completed West Side Line running south from 30th Street to the Financial District would provide many advantages, having eight station tracks within a relatively short distance of Penn Station would provide the needed passenger interface to easily manage a staged renovation of the North River Tunnel.
Branching from the Empire Line under Riverside Park, the West Side Line would have nine passenger stations located between 65th Street and the Financial District: Trump Place, Ocean Terminal, Javits Center, 23rd Street, 14th Street, Christopher Street, Canal Street (perhaps emerging for air here) then a possible high volume ferry terminal, and the Financial District. In addition, the requisite Multimodal Goods (and Recycling) Transfer Facility would need to be located somewhere diplomatically along the Hudson River Waterfront south of 30th Street. Thus at last would the 275-mile round trip to Selkirk be avoided, with potential for a first rate multimodal facility. (and a gifted architect could completely disguise the thing - blocking visibility of any track or train if that's what's needed - with added park and amphitheater amenities above, reached by way of three iconic, landscaped pedestrian bridges over the highway as shown - to very pleasing effect.) Extending the L-line subway about 1500' west would result in a serviceable underground connection to several north-south lines. By building an underground passage instead of a new terminal for the L-line on the Far West Side, the area under the passage could be held in reserve for later extension of the line, since the current two-track terminal at 8th Avenue is not suitable for much lateral expansion.
The advantages of the Trans-Hudson/West Side Line configuration are, again, manifold. In the absence of future service between Jersey Junction and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, or extension from the West Side Line via Brooklyn to Staten Island and Bayonne, an end-point-terminus opposite the World Financial Center combined with the above enumerated stations south of 30th Street would do much to take the strain off Penn Station and the existing north-south transit facilities - with custom tailored trips offering up to six options on the Manhattan side. West Street, opposite and south of the World Financial Center, offers a rare opening for addition of substantial terminal trackage with a strictly limited price in terms of displacements. The end-point-terminus and nascent second-rank Manhattan hub at this location would lend itself well to several supra-regional schemes, including express service to Albany if only they had a train station. But commuter service, both in New Jersey and along the Hudson - including its growing intractable ramifications in Midtown - would stand to benefit greatly in terms of direct access, travel times, convenience and capacity.
In order to make the necessary trans-Hudson/West Side Line partially-subaqueous connection, a lead from the West Side Line might be excavated in a northwesterly direction up to the bulkhead, with the remaining curved section sunk in place and connected ex post facto to the trans-river tube and bulkhead arrangements. Or visa-versa - that is, sink the junction first and tunnel toward it from either side. The junction (and the connecting r = 500' curve) would have a diameter slightly larger than that of the trans-Hudson tunnel, suitable for enabling a mechanical coupling to the bored sections entering it, to seal the river water out, after which the water in the junction could be evacuated. Compensation for the grade difference between the tunnel-30th Street line as against the less-below-grade West Side Line would require a vertically displaced configuration running for some distance from the point of crossing, and access to the transfer facility would also require trackage with vertical displacement versus the main line for some distance. (The second trans-Hudson tunnel shown in the picture at 33rd Street could be built later to enable high volume interchange of equipment between Long Island City and points west by way of the East River Tunnels, pending future upgrades to the various electric propulsion systems now in use. Something like this was no doubt contemplated in the original drawings of the Pennsylvania Tunnel and Terminal Railroad - with it's six subaqueous tunnels each better than two miles long - with the stub end tracks next to 33rd Street being labeled "Tunnel".)
The No. 7 line, pictured ominously in some drawings as being extended in a transverse alignment along 30th Street rather than 31st as originally planned, would be put to best use if extended yet again - with a station at 31st and Ninth for Penn Station service - then continuing right back to Grand Central. Thus, a high-capacity Midtown bi-directional quasi-loop service connecting the three big transit hubs would be realized - pending some resolution regarding space restrictions versus walking distance at the bus terminal. This would depend on making the grade so as to run above the East Side Access Project tail tracks on Park Avenue, and under the East Side IRT subway at points. The turnouts to the Lexington Avenue Line express tracks would be moved back about 300 feet to just behind the low point under Murry Hill, with the No. 7 using the abandoned express tracks of the original 1904 connection to 42nd Street, which are sixty feet apart, for it's terminal station at Grand Central - steps from the Times Square Shuttle. In addition to that under Eleventh Avenue, another set of tail tracks for the No. 7, running south on Park Avenue would afford some additional flexibility for the two-track stub-end station at Grand Central with one fifty-foot-wide platform, possibly 625 feet long. The astonishing fact that no alternative with a fourth tube for the Lincoln Tunnel has yet been mooted in conjunction with the current PABT Rebuild frenzy augers well for a satisfactory resolution regarding the space restrictions at the bus terminal.
FUTURE HARBOR BUILDOUT
The Jersey City tunnel and West Side Line would converge under West Street in Lower Manhattan, where ample space is available for stations and storage. The Jersey City tunnel would proceed on a lower level south, passing under the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel entrance and plaza, then threading between that tunnel and the IRT Joralemon Street Line. The West side Line would continue south, entering on the harbor at the Coast Guard station.
Assuming Bush Terminal isn't under 50' of water by that time (Mean high tide has risen about a foot over the past 120 years at the Battery Park Coast Guard Station.) a tunnel with the same section and track configuration described above would connect the Financial District to Governor's Island and thence to Red Hook, where the line would surface at a station to the south and be carried on a dedicated right-of-way and movable span over the Gowanus Inlet. At this point, and in Red Hook as well, grading schemes could be developed to allow freight service at and immediately below grade, and possibly above, in order to avoid contact with traffic and pedestrians not on restricted private property. Between the two buildings of the Brooklyn Army Terminal with Cass Gilbert's arch bridges is one place where a passenger station would be ideal, though exigencies of current usage and priorities might rule this out. The adjacent yard and facilities are not particularly compatible with the transverse line as drawn, and a lower but still gentle grade would be required in the yard at its crossing. Connection is possible from either direction on the proposed line but only from the east on the Bay Ridge Branch. The Narrows Tunnel as shown is at a location considerably narrower than that of the one planned in the 1920's though the approach on both ends would require considerable tunneling as well.
Passenger Stations South of the Financial District: Governor's Island, Red Hook, Bush Terminal, Army Terminal, Owl's Head, and possibly a few more. The branch to the Staten Island Railroad's line on the shore opposite the anchorage channel would skip Clifton and Stapleton, with Tomkinsville being the first stop, due to the new line's tunnel configuration further south needed to make the grade.
In contemplating any rail improvements in the Financial District, Calatrava's station located not five hundred feet from the just-opened Fulton Street Transportation Center begs the question: Have planners gotten the foremost railroad architect of his generation to build a train station in the wrong place? Owing to the absurd buggering of bridge and blasting of the Kill van Kull tidal channel, a tunnel would be required to reach Bayonne from Staten Island, rather than a bridge.
The "Circumferential" configuration would obviate the absurd Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel, providing a diverse versatility of rail options unavailable otherwise, and making a good start on bringing the state of passability by rail in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Bayonne - and between them and other points - to something approaching marginally acceptable standards - not only for commuters, but for transport and defense purposes that affect us all.
The Cross Harbor Tunnel on the other hand, seems intentionally designed for its especially lengthy subaqueous configuration, running between two widely separated points in the harbor, and aided considerably by its serpentine alignment with the purpose of... not much. Given the likely take, measured in car float receipts during the past twenty years, I don't see that such a tunnel has much practical use. And it fails in providing service to Manhattan, where the densest concentration of population, commerce, and consumerism obtains.
When considering the region's rail transit needs I have endeavored to plot alignments that take the shortest, most direct route possible - because this characteristic is the most important thing in rail transportation planning, and the essential difference between rail and other terrestrial modes. To design rail transportation with other than the most direct route possible, or with grade crossings, in the 21st Century, is not rail transportation planning. It is something else.
Bruce W. Hain November 14, 2016 - Revised 2018