Hell of a Way to Run a RR, Brownie

by John Delach

Railroads for 20 points: The most traveled stretch of passenger railroads in America:


What is Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor?


Correct, for 30 points: The most densely trafficked part of the Northeast Corridor:


What is New York’s Penn Station?


Correct and finally: The least funded, least cared for and most neglected transportation operator in the US of A.


What is Amtrak?




West of Manhattan across the Hudson River, twin, hundred-year-old tunnel portals mark the point where Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains transition to and from daylight. Just beyond the Jersey swamps (a.k.a. Meadowlands) these tunnels flow under the Hudson River and into Pennsylvania Station. These tunnels are very sick. They are obsolete and overworked trafficked by more trains daily than the builders could have envisioned. As if that wasn’t enough, super storm Sandy’s aftermath is coming due creating high-anxiety for the engineers responsible for the safe movement of passengers and crews.


When Sandy hit New York City, it flooded the West Side causing the Hudson to cascade into the tracks leading to Penn Station. Those engineers faced a Hobson’s choice, let Penn Station flood causing an irreparable catastrophe, or open the flood gates into the tubes flooding them but sparing the station. Wisely, they sacrificed the tubes.


Massive pumps drained these tubes and in a few days, trains began to run again. One month shy of the second anniversary of this massive storm, Amtrak issued a report that the inundation by salt water has had a continuing and lasting effect on the inner workings of the tubes, roadbeds, tracks, signals, and even the very concrete linings. They are failing and the only alternative will be to close the tubes, gut them, re-waterproof, re-line with new concrete and install entire new roadbeds, tracks and electrical equipment. To do this work would mean closing each tube for at least a year.


Amtrak says insurance will pay for this to the tune of $350 million more or less. As a retired insurance broker, I caution, “Don’t bet the ranch on it.”


It gets worse. The New York Times reports: “But shutting one of the two tracks in the tunnel under the Hudson River would cut service by about 75 percent because trains headed into New York would have to share the remaining track with trains headed west from the city…an unacceptable effect on travel in the metropolitan area.”


Amtrak’s solution, delay this apocalypse until a new tunnel can be laid under the Hudson River. Why this grand idea already has a name, “the Gateway project.”  Anthony R. Coscia, Amtrak’s chairman told reporters: “…having the added capacity would make the shutdown more tolerable for the tens of thousands of commuters who pass through the Hudson tunnels each weekday.”


Isn’t that just swell? To the nearest billion dollars, name the amount funded for the Gateway Project? The correct answer: Zero point Zero!


That’s not all; two of the four tubes under the East River suffered the same kind of lasting damage from Sandy as their Hudson River cousins. Estimated cost to rectify, another $350 million, but at least three tubes would remain open while one was closed at a time. Back in New Jersey, just northeast of the town of Harrison, stands a two-track 100 plus year-old swing bridge called the Portal Bridge that is also in bad shape. Each time it is opened to permit the passage of marine traffic, it’s a crapshoot whether it aligns properly when it is closed. Same story…billions are needed to replace it but not one penny has been set aside to fund it.


Sad, isn’t it:


Once I built a railroad,

made it run,

made it run against time.


Once I built a railroad,

Now it’s done.

Buddy can you spare a dime.