Pete Buttigieg should make Amtrak fix its NYC tubes now

Yesterday, Amtrak and local pols opened refurbished and expanded stairs and escalators (and a first time elevator) at Penn Station’s Seventh Ave. entrance. Nice, but it’s all going to be torn out soon, as the master plan agreed to by landlord Amtrak and tenants NJTransit and MTA (LIRR now and Metro-North should Amtrak ever cooperate on the Penn Access project) has most of Penn’s upper level being removed. The competing Penn/MSG plan from ASTM envisions the same thing.

At the ceremony, we asked a top Amtrak official if one of the Hudson tubes was closed for repairs during the 55-hour weekend period from 10 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday. The official wasn’t sure, but there’s an excellent chance that both 1910 tubes were open.

Obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act, the Hudson tunnel logs show that during 2021, one of the tubes was closed for weekend repair just four times out of 52 weekends (8% of the time). In 2022, there was a full closure 11 times (21%) and in the first five months of 2023, there were four weekends (19%).

Meanwhile, the bistate Gateway Development Commission says in its financial plan that the 1910 Hudson tunnel has a “full closure of one tube each weekend for a 55-hour window beginning on Friday evening and ending early on Monday morning.” That lie was written by Amtrak and their consultants WSP, AECOM and STV, which form the Gateway Trans-Hudson Partnership, and has been passed off to the feds for years.

The weekends (and overnights) could and should be used to fully repair the 1910 tunnel. Three years ago, like today, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, the London Bridge Associates study on repair-in-place was published.

LBA, like the MTA’s L train work, proves that Amtrak’s Hudson and East River tunnels can be completely rehabilitated and made better than new during nights and weekends, while maintaining full, uninterrupted normal service in the day, including the morning and evening rush (or what we call rush, as the peaks are still running less than 50% of the 2019 pre-COVID load.)

But Amtrak won’t listen.

Earlier this month, we asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about this: “Mr. Secretary, it’s about Gateway yesterday where you were: You’ve made it a priority to use best practices, smartest technologies, new innovations, look overseas if you can do so. You’ve also said that the Hudson tunnel needs to be repaired. [MTA Chair Janno] Lieber, Jerry Nadler say, and have shown, that the Hudson tunnel can be repaired starting immediately using the way they do it around the world and that he [Lieber] did it for the L train. Amtrak is refusing to even consider that. It could save years and put the tunnels to get into proper use in two years rather than 12 years. Shouldn’t Amtrak be trying to repair the tunnel as quickly as possible and not wait 12 years?”

Unaware of the LBA proof, he answered: “Look, this is about getting the best results for our dollars and the quickest results that are practical. About 30 years of planning, preparation, and debate have gone on to this and we’ve arrived at an approach that we can fund that we believe in.”

Funding isn’t the issue. Pete’s a smart guy. Someone please give him the LBA report and fix the tubes pronto.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *