can we fix it

New Hudson River Amtrak Tunnel Still Doesn’t Exist — But Officials Now Know How They Could Pay for It

A train awaits transportation armageddon. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the federal government and Amtrak agreed to pay for half of the much-needed project to fix the Hudson River rail tunnel, which is more than 100 years old. New York and New Jersey, both reticent to offer up too much cash for the giant infrastructure endeavor — which could cost up to $20 billion thanks to damage from Hurricane Sandy and the fact that repairs have been long delayed — claiming that the tunnel is Amtrak’s problem and not theirs, will split the remaining costs. 

The Gateway Development Corporation — a newly created entity composed of Port Authority members from both states, an Amtrak official, and a federal Transportation Department official — will be in charge of overseeing the project and magically finding the billions of dollars that will be necessary to carry out its ambition. There was a plan to fix the tunnel back in 2009, but Governor Chris Christie canceled it shortly after he was elected, citing worries about taxpayers getting stuck with the bill. The project was expected to cost around $11 billion and was scheduled to be completed by 2019. 

At this point, Amtrak riders traveling under the Hudson know to expect delays. At some points this fall, electrical problems left half of the tracks in the tunnel unusable. 

The current race to fix the tunnel has mostly been compelled forward by elected officials who tell horrifying stories about the future that awaits us if the system isn’t repaired. Back in August, Senator Chuck Schumer said we were heading toward“transportation Armageddon” and that the current delays were a “soul-chilling premonition of our future.”

A pessimist sees a dark tunnel,” he explained, in case his other statements weren’t dramatic enough. “The optimist sees a light at the end of the tunnel. The realist sees a freight train. The train conductor sees three idiots standing on the tracks. … Right now, we’re the ones standing on the tracks.” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx noted that the fact that there wasn’t already a plan to fix the tunnels was “almost criminal.”

Even though there’s now a plan to fund the project, politicians seem intent on coming up with new infrastructure horror stories to tell until the mission is complete. “Our shovels are ready,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told The Wall Street Journal. “Literally, if you don’t build this tunnel, you would greatly imperil train service.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand released a statement, according to The Hill, noting that “this agreement is an important step towards averting a potentially disastrous situation for millions of commuters and our entire region’s economy.”

Senator Cory Booker, on the other hand, has unleashed a year’s worth of train imagery in his statements on the big news. “This train is really on the track and moving,” he told NJ Advance Media. He told WCBS 880, “We are, pun intended, now on the right track.”

Although there is a plan to fix the tunnel now, it will still be many, many years until the project is complete. Amtrak has said it would probably take at least a decade. 

New Amtrak Tunnel Closer to Reality, Maybe