The Port Authority is investigating extending PATH service to Newark International Airport. It's an idea discussed for decades, and it is worth a hard look.
The big question is whether extending PATH would provide significant additional mass transit access to the region's busiest air hub. We don't need PATH if it would just duplicate the "train to the plane service" that will begin in September.
That's when NJ Transit and Amtrak trains will connect with the airport monorail at a new Northeast Corridor rail station. It will be a boon for those tired of fighting traffic to the airport and scrounging for a parking space. But for how long?
Passenger volume at Newark International has risen far faster than anyone expected. The monorail already carries more than 30,000 people a day. With additional riders from the train lines, it may not be many years before the monorail becomes yet another choke point for congestion-weary travelers.
Extending PATH, which now ends at Newark's Penn Station, would provide a direct ride from downtown New York and Hudson County to the airport. Such convenience could attract thousands of additional riders. But the price would be high. It's only 2 miles, but the cost could be a hefty $525 million to $1 billion.
But stopping PATH at the new rail station would not solve overcrowding on the monorail. So planners should focus on the possibility of extending PATH to the airport terminals. The costs and benefits can be compared with those of an upgraded monorail that can handle more traffic or with accommodating crowds by augmenting the monorail with bus or other service. Future light rail service to the airport, from Newark and Union County, should be factored into any analysis.
There is time to do a thorough and thoughtful review. The Port Authority will be adding a seventh car to the monorail trains during the next five years, increasing each train's capacity by 16 percent.
It's been years since Newark Airport was "New York's best-kept secret." The only thing that may halt growth at the airport is the fact that even in good weather the runways can handle only about 100 flights an hour. In the meantime, we must explore all options for increasing access without adding to road traffic.
 A PATH more traveled?
Airport's link to trains coming, and it may be just the start
By AL FRANK
Another train to the plane?
Newark International Airport's rail station, which will allow passengers to transfer between the monorail and NJ Transit and Amtrak trains, is set to open in September, after four years of construction. But the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also is accelerating studies that could lead to a 2.5-mile extension of PATH service to the airport from Newark Penn Station. One preliminary report estimates 4,500 riders a day would use the PATH link.
Making the airport more accessible is a chief concern for its major tenant, Continental Airlines, as it tries to compete with other carriers in the New York metropolitan market.
Brian Harris, an analyst with Salomon Smith Barney, recently noted Newark International was an "underperformer" compared with other airline hubs such as Pittsburgh, Detroit, Miami and Los Angeles.
"Continental in Newark must battle for market share with LaGuardia and JFK," Harris wrote in a
The analyst singled out better utilization of the Northeast Corridor train lines as a key to sustaining growth at the region's only hub. While that will get closer to reality Sept. 15 with the opening of the Northeast Corridor monorail station, PATH service to the airport won't come cheap.
The Port Authority report estimated the cost at $525 million to $1 billion. But the review has prompted Port Authority executives to speculate whether PATH might even replace the monorail at the region's busiest airport.
At issue, though, is the people-mover's future capacity.
With all the region's traffic congestion, train service to Newark airport has been a long-held dream. The idea is to give riders a mass transit alternative and a
convenient place to leave their bags and check in for their flights.
But the airport's growing popularity - it surpassed New York's John F. Kennedy International as the region's busiest four years ago - already has sparked concern the monorail could be strained. It already carries more than 30,000 riders a day on a two-mile route linking airport parking lots and the three passenger terminals.
Another 7,000 people are expected to board when the $415 million Northeast Corridor link opens across Routes 1-9 from the airport.
"My view is, we've been so wrong on our ridership projections in the past that whatever it is on the (Northeast Corridor) will be exceeded early on," said Ronald Shiftan, deputy executive
director of the Port Authority. "How long will it be before we blow the capacity out? When we do that, what are the alternatives? And, at that point, PATH becomes a viable alternative. Then you've got to think of extending PATH to the terminals."
The airlines, particularly Continental, already are panting at the prospect of the additional business that will come their way via a rail connection that puts the airport within a 20-minute train ride of New York Penn Station.
"There will be a shift of LaGuardia passengers to Newark," said Greg Brenneman, Continental's
president and chief operating officer. "You'll also be able to check your bags at the monorail so you should see more of a shift of international (passengers) from JFK."
Talk like that, plus the monorail's own limitations, have not been lost on the Port Authority.
"Extending PATH to the (Northeast Corridor) station itself doesn't deal with the choke point issue," Shiftan said. "So, when you think about how to expand the capacity of the monorail, you have two alternatives: replace it with something robust or provide either a parallel or alternative service."
Running time between Penn Station and the Northeast Corridor station would be five minutes - 5 minutes if trains make a stop at South Street - along a frequently congested stretch of highway that easily can take motorists headed for the airport 15 minutes or more to negotiate. To support a 24-hour operation would require 23 additional PATH cars.
In their initial review, the consultants estimated 9,000 riders would use the Northeast Corridor station, or 2,000 more than the Port Authority estimated before the project began in 1997.
For now, Shiftan said the agency was far from the point of making
recommendations. "It's on simmer, rather than boil," he said, adding that Port Authority staff was now re-evaluating the monorail's ridership projections.
The Port Authority also is buying time by adding a seventh car to the monorail trains during the next five years. The $53.3 million project would increase each train's capacity by 16 percent, to 91 passengers.
"Maybe in some logical fashion, we could supplement it with buses and vans," Shiftan said. "Eventually, we'd have to build something."
A longer PATH has been discussed on and off almost since the Port Authority took over the former Hudson & Manhattan Railroad in 1962. The study of extending the Port Authority's own train system to the airport was requested last June when then-Gov. Christie Whitman and New York Gov. George Pataki settled a 17-month feud over the Port Authority.
"The major conclusions are it's technically feasible and would have significant regional benefits," Shiftan said after a recent oral presentation by the consultants .
Consultants calculate that extending PATH from Penn Station to the airport train station would attract 2,000 additional riders daily. Some would be siphoned off NJ Transit trains, which would carry 6,500 passengers daily.
The review also suggested four alternate routes taking PATH's new tracks along the elevated
rail viaduct that parallels Route 21 and beneath the Route 78 and Route 22 overpasses.
Shiftan said the two most likely scenarios, costing about $740 million, would require half-mile tunnels through rail yards. Another $525 million plan that would require no tunnels but more difficult property acquisition and a longer Northeast Corridor station platform.
But not everyone is as enthusiastic about a PATH-airport connection. "It doesn't make sense to do both," said Jeff Zupan, senior fellow for transportation at the
Regional Plan Association, noting the monorail and Northeast Corridor station was the compromise that evolved in the 1980s after the Port Authority opposed a PATH extension to the airport.
"I think now it wouldn't make sense to press ahead with that project," said Richard Leone, who lobbied hard for the Northeast Corridor station while serving as Port Authority chairman.
 Jersey tries again to link PATH trains with airport
Rail line to Newark could end Whitman-Pataki spat over P.A.
By Al Frank
A PATH rail connection to Newark International Airport is on New Jersey's list for resolving the deadlock between Gov. Christie Whitman and New York Gov. George Pataki over the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Rick Mroz, Whitman's counsel, confirmed the project was among several on a list that negotiators are using in a bid to end the 16-month stalemate between the governors, who control the bistate agency.
''A PATH extension is the kind of project that should get done," Mroz said. "It's good for the region, and it's good for travelers."
Extending PATH from its terminal at Newark Penn Station, which was last discussed 15 years ago, is aimed at balancing New York's demand for $150 million from the Port Authority to help convert the Farley Post Office into a new Penn Station in Manhattan. The aim is to resolve a stalemate between Whitman and Pataki that has prevented the agency from making major decisions since last June, when it approved $1 billion for terminal projects at Newark and Kennedy airports. The dispute began over Whitman's insistence that the agency approve a lease
for a new marine terminal at Port Newark-Elizabeth. That project is on hold, too.
Other proposals for ending the impasse include $250 million cash funds for each state and New Jersey's agreement to sign off on $270 million in improvements to the Airtrain people-mover project at Kennedy airport and $376 million for improvements to New York marine terminals. While not a Port Authority facility, the Farley renovation would ultimately benefit residents of both states who board NJ Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak trains at the Midtown terminal.
PATH serves riders in both states, and extending the 14-mile line to the airport would provide them with a new service and give Whitman a glitzy project she could point to if she agrees to sign off on a fare hike. A one-way trip has cost $1 since 1987, and Pataki contends an increase is long overdue because the Port Authority is being forced to make up ever-larger operating deficits.
That is the beauty of the airport extension, according to those aware of the plan. It would provide a direct, mass transit link between the airport and lower Manhattan and it would generate cash by charging a premium fare for whisking passengers from the World Trade Center to the airport in a half-hour. A fare of $10 to $20 would still be more than competitive with taxis and limousines and would be tailored to cover interest costs on bonds needed to pay for the project. The extra cash from the airport-only fare, plus that generated by a higher fare, also would narrow the PATH deficit New Yorkers find so objectionable.
Although surprised the long-dormant extension plan has resurfaced, experts called the project feasible.
Martin Robins, director of the Transportation Policy Institute at Rutgers University, said the PATH connection to the airport could provide a more convenient service to the airport than the light rail system proposed for linking the downtowns of Newark and Elizabeth. The Newark-Elizabeth Rail Link also would include an airport stop.
''A PATH extension would give you a one-seat ride from lower Manhattan and Jersey City," Robins said. "It has sufficient merit to be examined."
''I think PATH is the logical and most convenient way of getting to Newark airport out of all the
transit systems," said Joseph Dominiczak, general chairman of Joint Protective Board 380 of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen.
''It's just a simple extension and you'd have a direct line from downtown Manhattan to Newark airport," added Dominiczak, whose members repair the PATH fleet.
With no engineering or feasibility studies, and only a ballpark cost estimate of $125 million, it would take a few years to hammer out a construction plan on a right of way that would parallel tracks now used by NJ Transit and Amtrak trains.
The Whitman proposal calls for PATH to use the same airport station that will link passengers on those trains with the airport monorail. The $415 million connection is to open next year.
PATH's rail tracks extend beyond Penn Station along Route 21 to South Street. From there, it's about two miles to the new monorail-Northeast Corridor station under construction.
Extending PATH has been discussed on and off almost since the Port Authority took over the former Hudson & Manhattan Railroad in 1962. The agency was never happy assuming responsibility for the bankrupt line, but that was New Jersey's condition for allowing the World Trade Center to be built.
A plan to extend PATH to Plainfield, which would have cost $500 million, was ultimately shelved in 1975, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated state laws permitting the Port Authority to participate in other passenger rail projects that could run a deficit.
In 1985, the Port Authority considered another plan to take PATH to the airport. But the consensus was to take advantage of federal funds for other projects in New Jersey.
In addition to the PATH extension, New Jersey also is asking for another $25 million to cover costs associated with connecting the Chemical Coast rail line to a rail bridge that spans the Arthur Kill in Elizabeth. The link will provide the Howland Hook Marine Terminal on Staten Island with vital rail access to the mainland, an important issue for New Yorkers.
Still part of the negotiations is the allocation of cash "balancing banks," now said to be $250 million for each governor, that the states can spend on transportation projects of their choosing.
However, under terms suggested by New Jersey, it would stretch its payments out over 10 years while New York would have immediate access to the money. This is a concession to Pataki's objections that the Maersk Sealand terminal will be subsidized by the Port Authority for a number of years before turning a profit.
It was the subsidy for that project, which Pataki contends benefits New Jersey more than New York, that touched off the feud with Whitman nearly a year and a half ago. Since then, investment banker Lewis M. Eisenberg of Rumson, the Port Authority's chairman, has been unsuccessful in attempting to hammer out a deal with Pataki aide Charles A. Gargano, the Port Authority's vice chairman. Neither Eisenberg, nor Gargano were available for comment.