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P.A. to revamp PATH train fleet Officials set aside $809M for cars, security

 Date: September 11, 2003 Ron Marsico Newark Star Ledger

The entire fleet of  PATH rail cars will be replaced or rebuilt under an $809 million expenditure authorized yesterday by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Nearly three-quarters of the trains are more than 30 years old, some of the oldest rail cars in the nation. Port Authority commissioners approved the spending over the next seven years to replace the 246 oldest cars, overhaul the 94 cars that were bought in 1986 and replace the railroad's signal system.

"Providing new PATH cars will greatly improve the commute for tens of thousands of people who live and work in this region," said Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia. "It is a critical component of our $8.7 billion capital plan that will allow the Port Authority to fulfill its regional mandate to strengthen the transportation system in New York and New Jersey."

PATH began collecting its current $1.50 fare -- up from $1 -- in March 2001 to help pay for the new trains and signals, but the project was delayed after declining revenues following the economic downturn and 9/11. The initiative, first planned in the mid-1990s, is scheduled to be completed by September 2010, according to Michael DePallo, the PATH's director/ general manager.

The signal system, which also was supposed to be replaced sooner, dates to the late 1960s but some components are 90 years old. Service on the old Hudson & Manhattan Railroad was opened by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908 and the Port Authority acquired the bankrupt 14-mile line in 1962, renaming it PATH.

Under the current timetable, the first new cars will be in service by the end of 2006 and will have a design life of 30 years.

"Sixty percent of the fleet is essentially the oldest in the nation," said DePallo, explaining the average PATH car is 31 years old. He said the Staten Island Railroad has the nation's oldest fleet, with an average age of 32 years.

PATH ridership is expected to reach 54 million passengers this year, significantly down from the 74 million riders in 2000. Ridership has suffered from the loss of the World Trade Center station, where some 67,000 PATH passengers traveled on weekdays. But that station is set to reopen in November, while the Exchange Place station -- also closed after 9/11 -- reopened in June.

With security a paramount issue, DePallo said the revamped PATH will include detection systems for chemical and biological agents, as well as a video recording system on trains and live camera feeds. The new trains will meet federal rules for access by individuals with disabilities.

The Port Authority also approved spending $47 million to develop an environmental impact analysis and preliminary engineering for replacement of the deteriorating Goethals Bridge between New Jersey and Staten Island.

The ultimate cost of a new bridge will exceed $900 million, according to Anthony Cracchiolo, the agency's director of priority capital programs. Officials have considered renovating the span but Cracchiolo said he and his staff now believe "it might make more sense to completely replace it." Similar environmental impact studies, costing some $25 million, were done for the project in 1997 but the U.S. Coast Guard did not issue a bridge permit, according to agency officials. That work is now outdated and must be redone, according to Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman.


Ron Marsico covers the Port Authority. He can be reached at rmarsico@starledger.com or (973) 392-7860. Copyright 2003 NJ.com. All Rights Reserved.
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