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Monday, November 12, 2001

Plan for fourth line under Hudson advances

NEW YORK CITY -- A proposed fourth rail line under the Hudson River took its biggest step yet toward becoming a reality on Thursday (November 8), as $2-billion in funding was approved by the Senate Finance Committee in Washington, D.C.

The rail funding is part of a transportation measure that provides $7 billion to Amtrak to upgrade high-speed rail corridors throughout the United States. The transportation package is attached as an amendment to a sweeping tax reduction and stimulus bill.

"There is simply not enough rail capability under the Hudson River," Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., said late Thursday. "This is the only realistic means of reducing traffic congestion at the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel."

The funding also includes $100 million to cover all engineering costs of the project, said Torricelli, who sponsored the Hudson project before the committee.

"It's a big hurdle and it happened fast," said NJ Transit Executive Director Jeffrey Warsh.

Neither Warsh nor Torricelli gave a time line for building the tunnel.

The plan, dubbed "Access to the Region's Core," has been discussed as a needed improvement to the area's transportation system. But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 lent new urgency to the project. Since the attacks, train capacity between New Jersey and Manhattan has been pushed beyond its limits.

Much of the new pressure on the rail system has to do with changing travel patterns, as office workers relocate from the financial district to midtown. The attacks also took out the downtown PATH station, displacing about 50,000 daily passengers.

"The elimination of the PATH downtown and the loading up of people into midtown on the Northeast Corridor has created a tremendous pressure on the rest of the system," said Jeff Zupan of the Regional Plan Association. "Additional capacity is needed."

NJ Transit and Amtrak now use the Northeast Corridor tunnel between Weehawken and Penn Station. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey uses the two PATH tunnels to Manhattan, one from Jersey City and the other from Hoboken. The Port Authority has promised to contribute $1 billion to the tunnel project.

There are three proposed options for the fourth rail tunnel, each ending at different locations and providing different amounts of service.

The most attractive -- and expensive -- option for rail users would take the new tunnel toward New York's Penn Station, allowing for a stop there, and then on to Grand Central. This option, dubbed "G," may cost between $4 billion and $5 billion.

The cheapest alternative -- at $3 billion -- is option "P," which ends the line at a new, lower level of Penn Station. The least attractive option, from the New Jersey commuter's standpoint, would take the tunnel to Penn Station and then on to the Sunnyside rail yard in Queens. Called option "S," this approach would cost about the same as "G."

"Neither option "P" or "S" gets you to the East side," Zupan said. "From a customer's point of view, the [Grand Central station] option is clearly superior. Not only does it bring people to Penn Station, but it brings people to the East side."

Doug Bowen, president of the New Jersey Rail Passengers Association, was pleased by the move.

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