Gateway To A 35-Year Concession

The Gateway project to rebuild and expand northeast corridor track, bridges, and tunnels between Penn Station Newark and Penn Station New York has been all over the media, including Newsday, New York Times, Vox, and Icons.

Hudson River Tunnels:

Age: 108 years

Passengers/Day: 200,000 Amtrak & NJ Transit

Est. Cost to Replace: $14 billion

Est. Year of Completion: 2026

The core of the Gateway project is a re-do of what the Pennsylvania Railroad (“Pennsy”) accomplished in 1910, when it created the Northeast Corridor by connecting Newark, across the Meadowlands, over the Portal Bridge on the Hackensack River, and through twin tunnels below the Hudson into 34th Street Manhattan.  That was from the West.

At the same time, on the other side of Manhattan, Pennsy bought the Long Island Railroad, and connected Queens to 34th Manhattan through four single tube tunnels under the East River.

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In the middle, Pennsy built Penn Station at 34th street, the architectural wonder of its age, covering the eight acres above its underground rail station.

Today, Penn Station handles 10 million commuters each year, 88 percent of them on New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Railroad.  Amtrak handles the rest.

Pennsy’s 1910 project was one of the most successful public private partnership in U.S. history.  Its revenue model, track, bridge, and tunnels worked well for fifty years.  But, the automobile broke the model in the 1960’s.  The above ground areas of the station were torn down after air rights were sold to developers to build Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden.  When Penn Central failed in 1970, Amtrak took over Pennsy’s 1910 project.

For nearly fifty years, Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and the Long Island Railroad have been unable to replace core elements of the corridor, including the Portal Bridge and the Hudson River tunnel.  The bad effect on levels of service is clear.  Maintenance and repair are routinely deferred.  But, the bridges and tunnels are functionally obsolescent.   This section of the Northeast Corridor is in dire need of both replacement and expansion.

A 30-40 year concession to design, build, maintain, and operate the railbed between Newark and Penn Station New York should be in the Gateway’s future.  Elected officials need simply to accept that getting the work done through competitive, binding cost commitments is more important that continuing a fifty-year argument in Congress over funding open-ended construction (only) Amtrak projects.

A properly constructed competitive procurement will provide multiple private sector solutions, at different life cycle costs.  Competition is the best way to prove to taxpayers, Congress, and the states whether a long term operating subsidy is required, and if so, the amount of that subsidy.

The corridor includes some of the most valuable real estate in the world, generating more than $2.4 billion in annual gross receipts from rail and event sales alone.  Commuter ridership is up. Higher service levels will attract more riders once the corridor is expanded and replaced.

It’s time for this portion of the northeast corridor to get back to its roots, giving 10,000,000 commuters a first class railbed and a railbed operator that keeps the corridor fully maintained and operational.  It is time to focus on getting this done with value for money.  This is the same thing taxpayers and Congressmen outside New York and New Jersey want, too.

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