Category Archives: New Jersey

Can Amtrak bar NJ Transit from Northeast Corridor if state withholds rent?

Governor Chris Christie (best known for George Washington Bridge) posed this question and covered the story.

NJ Transit pays Amtrak $93 million a year so that more than 400 of its trains can use the Northeast Corridor, but Gov. Chris Christie wants to stop making the lease payment until he gets answers to maintenance questions after an April 3 derailment in Penn Station…
NJ Transit paid $62 million for maintenance for 2016, in a lump sum payment after executing a contract with Amtrak in February, spokesperson Nancy Snyder said. That payment wasn’t late under the agreement, she said.

NJ Transit officials are waiting for an invoice from Amtrak for this year’s $74 million maintenance payment. That bill will be reviewed and, once any discrepancies have been reconciled, NJ Transit will make arrangements to pay, Snyder said. Amtrak officials said NJ Transit makes monthly rent payments.

At the same time, reported Amtrak officials are citing mechanical issues with an NJ Transit train as the cause for the incident that stranded 1,200 passengers for several hours in the Hudson River tunnels between New Jersey and New York on Friday night.

“Amtrak has determined that the incident involving NJ Transit Train 3850 last Friday was not caused by Amtrak infrastructure, and that the preliminary cause appears to be a NJ Transit mechanical problem involving the train’s pantograph (power collector),” said Mike Tolbert, an Amtrak spokesman in a statement on Monday.

Then a story from Bloomburg: After three passenger-train mishaps in the past month underscored the fragility of New York City rail travel, Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Wick Moorman said the only solution is the $23 billion Gateway tunnel project.

“The fundamental problem is: What is plan B?” Moorman, 65, said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. “I don’t know.”

Then WABC-TV chimed in: Recent train disruptions in New York that caused cascading delays between Boston and Washington, D.C., have refocused attention on a multibillion-dollar tunnel project that could have ameliorated future problems if it hadn’t been canceled by Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2010.

Whether Christie feels any pangs of remorse over the decision was left unanswered Wednesday at a news conference to urge President Donald Trump’s administration to honor a pre-existing commitment to fund a new tunnel project.

Hoboken Train Crash

Train 1614, with a Comet V cab car on the head end, departed from Spring Valley at 7:23 AM and was due to arrive in Hoboken at 8:38 AM. The cab car came to a halt between the terminal’s indoor waiting area and the end of the platform. A metal and glass train shed collapsed. Most of the injuries occurred in the lead car or to people struck by collapsing debris inside the station. Many people were trapped on the train or in the debris. The single fatality was a woman in her 30s who was on the platform.

NJT is in the process of installing PTC system-wide, but does not currently have plans to install it within Hoboken Terminal’s massive and complex interlocking plant. NJT applied for and received from the FRA what is known as a “Main Line Track Exclusion Addendum” (MTEA) to its PTC Implementation Plan (PTCIP) for Hoboken Terminal, where the existing ATC (Automatic Train Control, cab signal with speed control) system enforces an MAS (maximum authorized speed) of 20 mph. PTC would have provided a zero-speed target for the end of the platform, and would have automatically made a penalty brake application if it calculated and determined that the train’s 20 mph-to-0 mph braking curve was insufficient to stop the train just short of the end-of-platform bumping block. ATC does not calculate and enforce braking curves.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials said on Sunday one data recorder recovered so far from the New Jersey Transit commuter train that crashed in Hoboken, killing one and injuring more than 100, was not functioning on the day of the accident.

The locomotive’s recorder has information on train speed. NTSB vice chair T Bella Dinh-Zarr said at a Sunday news conference she was hopeful the data recorder in the cab control car in the front of the train was functional. That has yet to be recovered from the crash site.

PANYNJ to welcome first neo-Panamax vessel

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) and GCT USA officials on Friday will greet the Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) Benefactor, the largest container ship ever to call on the port at GCT Bayonne.

The MOL Benefactor, which is a 10,000 20-foot-equivalent-units (TEU) container ship, successfully passed through the newly expanded Panama Canal on July 1. The ship was the first neo-Panamax vessel to complete a commercial transit through the new expanded locks, according to a press release issued by ship owner Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd.

Since opening the expansion June 26, the Panama Canal has been able to accommodate ships as large as 14,000 TEUs. The MOL Benefactor is the first ship to visit an East Coast port after passing through the locks.

Mitsui OSK Lines took delivery of the new ship in March.

NY-NJ port able to handle 14,000-TEU ships after Bayonne Bridge raised

The Port of New York and New Jersey will be able to accommodate ships with capacities of 14,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units at its Newark Bay terminals as soon as the Bayonne Bridge is raised in the latter part of 2017, the port said.

The port’s 20-year project to deepen its channel to 50 feet, allowing mega-ship access to four of its five largest marine terminals, is essentially finished. Once it is officially completed, the Bayonne Bridge spanning the channel leading into Newark Bay will be the only remaining obstacle to the port’s ability to accommodate ships of 14,000 TEUs. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Sandy Hook Pilots agree that the 14,000 TEU-ships — the largest vessels able to transit the expanded Panama Canal — will be able to reach the Newark Bay terminals after the project to raise the bridge is completed, although there could possibly be some draft restrictions.

Questions about the port’s ability to handle 14,000-TEU ships were raised in a JOC story last week that cited a study of the navigational capabilities of the 50-foot channel being undertaken by the Army Corps, and the fact that the ships carriers are planning to bring into the port are larger than the ones envisioned when the deepening project was initiated nearly 20 years ago. The article erroneously questioned whether the port would be able to accommodate 14,000-TEU ships after the Bayonne Bridge raising is completed late next year.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requested that the corps undertake the study, which is known as a general reevaluation study and typically initiated at the conclusion of a deepening project, to determine what, if any, operational limitations the new channel and harbor configuration will have in accommodating vessels larger than 12,500 TEUs. Vessels of that size were the largest that were anticipated when the 50-foot deepening project was initially scoped out in the late 1990s. The study will take a few years to complete and evaluate such parameters as anchorages, channel width and turning basins. The study will also look at the feasibility of 18,000-TEU ships entering the port. It will be used to justify any additional work that may be necessary.

Given that the corps’ study will take a few years to be completed, the port authority is working with the New York Shipping Association, which represents marine terminals, and the Sandy Hook Pilots to conduct a post-Bayonne Bridge raising navigational simulation of 14,000- and 18,000-TEU ships. That simulation study and training of pilots “is being conducted to ensure that the pilots identify and perfect the best practices in safely handling the 14,000-TEU vessels and to provide training to all harbor and bar pilots,” and will be completed this year, port director Molly Campbell wrote in a recent letter to carriers.

“The simulation could reveal operational parameters that may be required such as the number of assist tugs or the need to get underway at a specified time before slack water,” she added.

However, the port stated that neither the corps project nor the simulation, being done at the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies, better known as MITAGS, in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, will impact the port’s ability to handle 14,000-TEU ships at the Newark Bay terminals. The facilities in the bay include APM Terminals Elizabeth, New York Container Terminal, Maher Terminals and Port Newark Container Terminal.

“With the planned completion of the 50-foot harbor deepening project later this summer and the anticipated completion of the navigational clearance at the Bayonne Bridge late next year, I assure you the Port of New York and New Jersey will be able to handle 14,000-TEU vessels toward the end of 2017,” Campbell said.

The studies, however, leave open the question of 18,000-TEU ships, which carriers are not currently planning to bring to the New York-New Jersey port, but potentially could at a not-so-distant date in the future. Growing volumes, and a larger number of ships of that size, both in service and under construction, could motivate some container lines to bring them to the largest East Coast port and the gateway to one of the world’s largest consumer markets, if navigationally feasible.

FRA begins environmental impact review for Hudson tunnel project

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) yesterday published its notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement with New Jersey Transit for the proposed Hudson tunnel project, according to the Federal Register.

The project involves the construction of a new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River, including the railroad infrastructure in New Jersey and New York to connect the new tunnel to the Northeast Corridor (NEC), as well as rehabilitating the corridor’s existing tunnel known as the North River Tunnel, according to the notice.

The environmental impact statement will evaluate the project’s potential environmental impacts of a range of alternatives, as well as the “no build” option.

As necessary, the FRA and NJ Transit will coordinate the statement with Amtrak — which owns the tunnel — and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The FRA is soliciting written comments on the scope of the statement by May 31. In addition, the FRA and NJ Transit will hold scoping meetings on May 17 in New York City and May 19 in New Jersey.

The tunnel system is a critical component of the NEC, as it is the only intercity passenger rail crossing into New York City from New Jersey. Amtrak and NJ Transit provide connections between the major cities of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states and commuter connections for people heading into and out of New York City.

Hudson River rail tunnel project receives funding commitment

Amtrak‘s Gateway program, which includes rebuilding the Hudson River rail tunnel system, received commitments last week for the funding of preliminary engineering work and the creation of an executive oversight committee.

The project to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River will receive $70 million in funding for critical preliminary engineering work, with $35 million in federal funding coming from Amtrak and $35 million from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), according to a PANYNJ press release.

The existing Amtrak Hudson tunnels, which Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains use to transport riders between New Jersey and Manhattan, are more than 100 years old and are deteriorating. Their deteriorating condition was further damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx also announced that the department will commit the necessary resources and take steps to accelerate federal environmental reviews and permitting for the project. The project has been included in the President’s Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard, which means it should receive a “swift and thorough” environmental review process, PANYNJ officials said.

NJ Transit has issued a formal notice-to-proceed for consulting services, which will be funded by Amtrak and NJ Transit.

In addition, PANYNJ, Amtrak, the U.S. Department of Transportation and NJ Transit have agreed to enter into a memorandum of understanding that will result in a framework for coordination among the various parties to advance Gateway. This includes the creation of an executive committee that would coordinate activities and working groups focused on environmental permitting, construction and preliminary engineering, funding and financing, rail operations and governance matters for the project.

The local agencies have announced their intent to apply for competitive federal grants in the coming months to advance Gateway, which also includes the Portal Bridge replacement project in New Jersey and the completion of the Hudson Yards right-of-way preservation project in Manhattan.

Port of New York and New Jersey set cargo record in 2015

The Port of New York and New Jersey set a new cargo volume record in 2015, surpassing the previous high-water mark recorded in 2014, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) announced on Monday.

Photo: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

During 2015, the port handled 6,371,720 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) or 3,664,013 cargo containers, an increase of 10.4 percent compared with 2014. The record volumes allowed the port to maintain its position as the East Coast’s busiest port, with nearly 30 percent of the total market share, PANYNJ officials said in a press release.

ExpressRail — PANYNJ’s ship-to-rail system serving New York and New Jersey marine terminals — also set a new record, handling 522,244 containers, an increase of 12.2 percent compared with 2014’s total, the previous best year for rail activity. In 2015, the port also handled 477,170 vehicles, a 21.5 percent increase compared with 2014.

China remained the top import country serving the port, with 1,013,669 import TEUs; India was second (196,956 import TEUs) and Germany third (189,622). The top import commodities were furniture, apparel and clothing, and machinery parts.

“The significant infrastructure investments we have made in our port continue to drive job growth and economic activity in the region, and have set the table for continued long-term growth,” said PANYNJ Executive Director Pat Foye. “Moving forward, we will continue to work in partnership with all port stakeholders so we can efficiently and effectively handle greater volumes of cargo in the years to come.”

NJ Transit, MTA prep for possible rail strike

New Jersey Transit and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) yesterday announced alternate service plans in the event that NJ Transit’s rail workers go on strike starting March 13.

The date marks the end of the so-called “cooling-off” period after a Presidential Emergency Board in January selected a coalition of labor unions’ offer of a contract as most reasonable.

The agency is still working to reach an agreement with its rail labor unions, which have been working for five years without a new contract. Today, NJ Transit and a coalition of rail unions are scheduled to meet in Washington, D.C., for final talks to avoid the strike, local media reported.

NJ Transit’s contingency plan calls for adding capacity to existing New York commuter bus routes in close proximity to rail stations, contracting with private carriers to operate bus service from key regional park-and-ride locations during weekday peak periods, and maximizing the use of available capacity on Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) routes and ferry service.

Additionally, NJ Transit would increase capacity on its three light-rail systems, agency officials said in a press release.

The alternate service plan would accommodate up to 38 percent of the agency’s existing New York-bound customer base.

“NJ Transit will operate a plan that the overall system and region can safely handle to accommodate as many customers as possible who absolutely must travel into and out of New York, bearing in mind that bus service cannot replicate the railroad,” said NJ Transit Interim Executive Director Dennis Martin, noting that the worker stoppage could lead to 10,000 additional cars on the road per peak hour.

In developing the plan, NJ Transit primarily focused available resources on New York-bound riders, which comprise the largest segment of the agency’s rail customer base.  Approximately 105,000 customers make up the total rail-based interstate market, including customers who transfer from NJ Transit rail to PATH trains at Hoboken Terminal and Newark Penn Station.

Through a combination of added capacity to existing New York bus routes, operation of regional park-and-ride service and private carriers expanding capacity where possible, NJ Transit expects to carry approximately 40,000 New York customers.

Meanwhile, MTA in New York City also announced preliminary preparations if the NJ Transit strike occurs.

The agency would provide limited peak-direction shuttle bus service between New York’s Rockland and Orange counties and the MTA Metro-North Railroad‘s Hudson Line. This bus service would accommodate riders on Metro-North’s Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines, which are operated by NJ Transit.

Additionally, MTA New York City Transit will evaluate road conditions on a daily basis and may opt to reroute express buses that normally travel through New Jersey between Manhattan and Staten Island. These buses instead could travel through Brooklyn in the mornings and evenings, MTA officials said in a press release.

Morristown & Erie completes third straight year of traffic growth

Morristown & Erie Railway logged an 8 percent increase in freight-rail traffic last year, the third consecutive year of traffic increases, the New Jersey short line announced late last week.

The increase in 2015 equates to more than 2,000 trucks removed from New Jersey’s highways. Since 2010, freight-rail traffic has increased 72 percent on the 26-mile railroad, Morristown & Erie officials said in a press release.

Marketing and Logistics Manager Rudy Garbely attributed the short line’s traffic growth to a number of factors.

“We improved our efficiency, expanded and rebuilt our facilities, and acquired the equipment and tools necessary to improve service and expand growth possibilities for our customers,” said Garbely.

Also last year, the railroad recorded traffic gains at its Bayway Refinery switching operation in Linden, N.J., continuing a trend that started in 2010. Morristown & Erie boosted that growth by helping to coordinate service times between Class Is and the receivers within the refinery, which helped improve the refinery’s efficiency and output, officials said.

For 2016, the railroad is projecting similar traffic increases as a result of several capital improvement projects, such as the recently completed construction of the new Troy Hills Road Bulk Transload Facility. The facility’s  13 rail-car posts and location off Route 10 in Whippany will help contribute to freight-rail traffic growth, railroad officials said.

Another factor expected to boost freight-rail traffic trends is the recent increase of vertical height clearances on the New Jersey Transit Morristown Line, which enables the Morristown & Erie to interchange tall Plate C rail cars with CSX in Kearny, N.J. That includes the majority of box cars, all center-beam lumber cars and covered hopper cars.

“As we enter our 121st year of continuous service in 2016, we are continuing to look for ways to help our customers develop,” said Morristown & Erie Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Chuck Jensen.

World Trade Center’s Oculus set to open Thursday

The World Trade Center rail hub “Oculus” will officially open in Lower Manhattan on Thursday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) announced late last week.

The opening will provide 100,000 riders that use the PATH rail facility daily with below-ground access to a new entrance on the corner of Liberty and Church streets, a few blocks from Wall Street.

A rendering of the Oculus.

The hub replaces the World Trade Center terminal that was destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City. Although PATH trains have been using the new hub since May 2015, the facility has not been fully operational.

Over the next few weeks, the eastern entrance to the Oculus will open, providing PATH riders with direct access to Church Street and to the Fulton Street Transit Center. In late spring, the new access from the Oculus to the corner of Vesey and Church streets will open, PANYNJ officials said.

The hub’s centerpiece is a soaring wing-shaped steel structure designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava.

“Lower Manhattan soon will have an architecturally visionary 21st century rail station, combined with world-class retail shops, that will be a focal point for downtown commerce,” said PANYNJ Vice Chairman Scott Rechler in a press release.

The main transit hall is 365 feet, 90 feet longer than Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse.