US Sen. Charles Schumer is asking the feds to hand over $550 million in yet-unclaimed Sandy-relief funds to Amtrak so the agency can make direly needed repairs to the beleaguered East River rail tunnels.
Amtrak had hoped to collect several hundred million dollars needed for the repairs from insurance policies it had in place during the 2012 superstorm. But US District Judge Jed Rakoff last
month capped the amount that Amtrak can collect at $125 million instead of the $700 million it said it needed.
Amtrak plans to appeal the ruling, but that could take years and it needs to move on the repairs now, Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement Monday.
He wants the feds to take money from the massive kitty it set aside for superstorm-related damage and give it to Amtrak.
“The repair of the East River tunnels — which is the vital link for [Long Island Rail Road] commuters, as well as for Amtrak and NJ Transit — simply cannot wait for an Amtrak insurance appeal process to arrive,” he said. “This project is too important to our regional economy and to hundreds of thousands of commuters. Any delay in this project will not only mean more
disruptions in these critical tunnels but could also delay East Side access, countless commuters, and potentially stall a critical national priority.”
Schumer is asking Amtrak to sign a letter promising to pay back to the federal government any additional money it gets from insurance years down the line.
Amtrak owns the four East River tunnels. It uses them for its Northeast Corridor service. It also shares them with the MTA, which uses them for its LIRR service, and New Jersey Transit, which uses them to access a rail yard in Sunnyside, Queens.
The superstorm left the tunnels inundated with salt water, causing the already antiquated passageways to rapidly deteriorate.
Schumer is also working with Gov. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Christie to get funds to rebuild the Hudson River rail tunnels, which were also seriously damaged during Superstorm Sandy and have suffered several cable failures in recent months, often causing major commute delays.
Five years after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spiked the ARC transit tunnel to redirect money to roads, politicians are finally discussing how to go about upgrading rail capacity between Jersey and Midtown Manhattan, currently limited to a pair of century-old tunnels under the Hudson River. But just about every announcement related to the proposed Gateway Project comes with a different price tag.
[E]ach time Gateway is the news, there usually seems to be a fresh cost escalation. Is it a $10 billion project? A $14 billion project? A $16 billion project? Or a $25 billion project? And what is included exactly? Amtrak does not make it clear what the various items are and how much they cost; I have not seen a single cost estimate that attempts to establish a baseline for new Hudson tunnels without the Penn Station South component, which would provide a moderate short-term boost to capacity but is not necessary for the project. The articles I’ve seen do not explain the origin of the $25 billion figure, either; it may include the tunnel and full four-tracking of Newark-New York, or it may include additional scope, for example Amtrak’s planned vertical circulation for a future (unnecessary) deep cavern for high-speed rail (see picture here).
Against this background, we see scare stories that Gateway must be built for reasons other than capacity and ridership. The old tunnels are falling apart, and Amtrak would like to shut them down one track at the time for long-term repairs. The more mundane reality is that the tunnels have higher maintenance costs than Amtrak would like since each track can only be shut down for short periods, on weekends and at night. This is buried in technical documents that don’t give the full picture, and don’t give differential costs for continuing the present regime of weekend single-tracking versus the recommended long-term closures. The given cost for Sandy-related North River Tunnel repairs is $350 million, assuming long-term closures, and it’s unlikely the present regime is billions of dollars more expensive.