Report says Hudson tunnels can be repaired while still in service, but finds little support

Independent study says one track could handle traffic while work is done at night and on weekends
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An Amtrak train emerges from the West Portal of the Hudson River tunnels. A new report says the tunnels could be rebuilt on nights and weekends while remaining in service, but the concept has found little support from officials.

NEW YORK — An independent report released Monday contends Amtrak’s Hudson River tunnels can be repaired while the tunnels remain in service, contrary to a longstanding belief that the tunnels cannot be fully refurbished until they can be taken out of service following the construction of the proposed Gateway Project tunnel between New Jersey and New York Penn Station.

The report from British engineering consultant London Bridge Associates has sparked disagreement from major stakeholders in the Gateway project. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Sens. Bob Menedez and Cory Booker, NJ Transit CEO Kevin Corbett, and Amtrak board chairman Tony Coscia are among those who joined in a press release Monday questioning the validity of the report.

The report was released by the Gateway Program Development Corp, the agency created to oversee the new tunnel proposal. In a statement, the agency says the report confirms the need for major repairs but “assumes between 85% and 100% of regular weeknight and weekend maintenance windows … can be used for these activities, an assumption being further studied” to determine if it is feasible.

At the heart of the London Bridge Associate report is the contention that the tunnels can be repaired through overnight and weekend repair work that could be accomplished with repair work in one tunnel while the other is in service to handle rail traffic. Among work the project should include, the report says, is replacement of the tunnel’s bench walls, replacement of track and trackbed, lowering of the trackbed to increase more room for the catenary system, and removal of the third rail system which is currently used only as an emergency backup system.

The New York Daily News reports that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had called for the report’s release, has been released after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for it to be released, saying it showed the tunnels “can be rehabilitated … There’s also a desire by Amtrak and many people to build new tunnels that have additional access to New York, which I think is a good idea, but one is not the enemy of the others.”

In response, Murphy questioned the feasibility of the project, saying in the joint press release, “I am opposed to any rehab proposals that could negatively impact the reliability for the thousands of New Jersey commuters who cross the Hudson each day,” while NJ Transit’s Corbett called the report “highly speculative and require a much more detailed evaluation before declaring them practical.” Coscia said the report confirms the need for extensive repairs to the existing tunnels but “makes extraordinary assumptions about the feasibility, costs, and inherent risks of performing the rehab work entirely on night and weekend outages.” Jerry Zeto, a New Jersey trustee of the Gateway Program Development Corp, the agency created to oversee the new tunnel project, said he opposed release of the London Bridge report “because I don’t find elements of it to be credible. It proposes very simple, unproven solutions to problems which have been 110 years in the making.”

The long-stalled Gatway project would build two new tunnels connecting the Northeast Corridor to Penn Station, and then rebuild the existing, deteriorating tunnels, increasing the route's capacity. The project is considered likely to be supported by president-elect Joe Biden.
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