Category Archives: Trains

East River tunnel plan: feasible or fantasy?

Think tank’s rail tunnel plan: feasible or fantasy?

It took a century to complete even a small piece of the Second Avenue subway. The ARC rail tunnel project was canceled after work began. The quest to build the Gateway tunnel has been dragging on. East Side Access, which was once expected to have connected the LIRR to Grand Central by now, is still about six years away. And the cross-harbor rail freight tunnel, after 30 years of advocacy from Rep. Jerrold Nadler, remains just a hope.

Yep. Building train tunnels around here is hard.

So what did the Regional Plan Association propose yesterday? Two new rail tunnels under the East River.

But anyone who mocks the idea as fantasy should consider the list of big RPA ideas that have been ridiculed over the last few decades only to eventually come to fruition, including the George Washington and Verrazano bridges; open space preservation (the Palisades, Governors Island Gateway National Recreation Area); the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the Second Avenue subway, East Side Access (just about) and (probably) Amtrak’s Gateway project.

Crains New York

CSX Woes Hurting Shippers…Wake Up Hunter Harrison

Dozens of U.S. trade groups have asked federal rail regulators to investigate CSX Corp’s “chronic service failures,” saying problems at No. 3 U.S. railroad have rippled across the North American rail network, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The letter, from the Rail Customer Coalition sent on Monday, is the latest challenge to CSX Chief Executive Hunter Harrison’s effort to ramp up productivity at the Jacksonville, Florida-based railroad and fulfill investor expectations for substantially better financial performance.

The 44 trade groups, representing chemical and agricultural companies, steel and auto makers, and beer producers and importers, among other companies, told U.S. lawmakers on House and Senate Transportation committees “chronic service failures” could degrade the nation’s broader rail network.

“This has put rail dependent business operations throughout the U.S. at risk of shutting down, caused severe bottlenecks in the delivery of key goods and services, and has put the health of our nation’s economy in jeopardy,” they said.

The shipper groups want Congress to make it easier for them to file complaints and allow other operators to use CSX track during service disruptions, according to their letter.

CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said the company has acknowledged that some customers are experiencing service issues as Harrison implements his vision for driving efficiency, known as Precision Scheduled Railroading.

The letter comes about two weeks after the Surface Transportation Board notified Harrison of complaints about CSX’s service. And an analyst survey last month found shippers have moved freight to rival Norfolk Southern Corp and truckers.

CSX’s service problems were exacerbated by an Aug 2 derailment in rural western Pennsylvania that forced the company to re-route trains. Federal safety officials are investigating the cause of the accident.

Shippers and employee sources said Harrison’s changes and cuts are causing rail cars and trains to sit idle or be re-routed across multiple states, delaying product shipments, and leading to inadequate customer service.

Crowley Maritime Corporation hauled 150 container loads by truck from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, and then loaded them onto Florida East Coast Railway trains to avoid CSX’s system issues.

Current and former CSX employees say the railroad is suffering from poor communication from leadership, job cuts, and rapid changes to operations – like doubling train sizes, shutting hump yards where train cars are sorted, increasing the frequency of crew changes on a service line, and blocking overtime pay.

In Montgomery, Alabama, dwell times jumped to 60.9 hours from 35.8 hours a year earlier, and doubled in Nashville, Tennessee, to 71.9 hours. However, some of CSX’s cost-cutting moves do not appear to be dramatically affecting operating performance in other locations, based on data CSX provides to the AAR.

At CSX’s Barr Yard in Chicago, roughly seven managers now run the company’s service line, down from more than 35 managers a month ago, an employee told Reuters. The overall work force has been halved by furloughs, he said.

The Delaware and Hudson in Recent Memory

We have just updated our Delaware & Hudson Railway WebSite

https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/delaware-hudson-railway/

We have added lots of new material called “The Delaware and Hudson in Recent Memory”

See some great advertising, maps, time tables and posters of the D&H

We hope you enjoy it like we do.

Alan Chartock’s The Capitol Connection: How Cuomo can turn it around

I was recently considering what Andrew Cuomo could do to turn his low polling numbers around. As I have explained in the past, he doesn’t get great numbers upstate. He’s a Democrat, albeit a middle of the roader, and that doesn’t play that well above the burbs. Now he needs to worry about how he’s doing in the Big Apple and its environs.

The Cuomo name has always been gold in the city. His papa Mario has been worshiped as a semi-deity there for years. Since most people know little or nothing about New York State politics, the Cuomo mantel was all that was necessary for Andrew to get approval. But that was before the “Summer of Hell” on the New York subways and the commuter trains in and out of the city. As the appointing authority of the MTA, Andrew took credit for building the Second Avenue Subway so he couldn’t then deny his role in the collapse of the subway system even though he tried to do exactly that. Clearly, he and his cohorts had the mistaken impression that Donald Trump might help out by financing some of the work necessary to repair the mess in the sweltering, accident prone underground system.

So Andrew made sure that Joe Lhota, a real expert on things subway, now heads the beleaguered MTA. That was a good idea and Cuomo and his colleagues deserve credit for the appointment. The problem for Andrew is that Lhota, who already has experience heading the MTA and ran for mayor against — guess who — Bill De Blasio, is a Republican and a Giuliani protégé. It’s no secret that Cuomo has personal problems with De Blasio so he grabbed an opportunity to take a shot at his mayoral nemesis by elevating Lhota to the chairmanship of the MTA. Cuomo never seems to learn that people are fed up with his war on De Blasio. But he gets points for the Lhota appointment because the guy is good. If people perceive that Cuomo is moving aggressively in a bi-partisan manner they may return to the pro-Cuomo fold.

If I were giving Andrew some other advice, I think I would suggest that he do more of what Papa Mario did. Cuomo, like Donald Trump, seems to have his own private war with the press. Papa Cuomo had regular press conferences which he seemed to relish. His son does not. Papa Cuomo was eloquent. Junior is anything but. If you are to win popularity in New York, you need the press on your side. My unsolicited advice to Andrew would be to work on his communication skills. He should make friends by just being honest, accessible, transparent, and open with the people who write and talk about him. That way he would be the beneficiary of a certain kind of respect and camaraderie that often exists on both sides of that relationship. Maybe Cuomo feels that because the press as an institution polls so low, he can afford to ignore them. What’s more, Cuomo should avoid trying to buy loyalty from some members of the press by giving them unfettered access. He tried that in the beginning of his governorship with disastrous results.

As long as I am giving him advice, let me add that he has to be very careful about the amount of power he gives his subordinates. One of the reasons why his numbers are so low is that several of his former close associates face trials that could land them in jail for a good part of their lives. Not only that, his treatment of his fellow political actors like Tom DiNapoli, the state Comptroller, and Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General, has been disgraceful. People don’t like that. He needs to learn how to play nice. Maybe then his numbers will rise from the low point where they now reside.

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at alan@wamc.org.

He publishes in the Troy Record

Friday Is “Subway Day”! Start Of A Trend?

Just like some bloggers have established Thursday as “Door” Day, we are starting Friday as “Subway” day.

We’ve been over the ways modern infrastructure would help ease the crush of record ridership. But there’s no doubt, the subway system needs to expand. “Sure, it’s necessary! We have more people.”

So why does it cost 4 times per mile than in London?

Then it is not like Dubai, NY City has cables that Thomas Edison put in.

We also have high labor costs here because it’s an expensive city but also we have unions that aren’t necessarily the most efficient way to build a new subway.

And we’ve been building stations that are nice and big but more cavernous than they really need to be. On Second Avenue, the stations account for more than half the total budget.
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McDonald’s doesn’t have its own TV show. Neither does Burger King. Shake Shack doesn’t have one either. That leaves Wahlburgers as the only hamburger restaurant chain with its own TV show that you could describe as a program-length commercial for the brand. Then they own the new Wahlburgers at 85th and Second. This new location seems reasonably successful so far. Plus, it’s near the new Second Avenue subway on a portion of the avenue that has been fixed up considerably. Well played, Wahlbergs.

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Empty stores plague the streets of the Upper East Side like an epidemic. Known affectionately as the ‘Gold Coast’, this area was home to trendy store front like American Apparel, Reebok, BCBG MAXAZRIA and oldies like Filenes Basement, all of whom have since shut. in July there were 82 vacant storefronts along Madison, Lexington, Third and Second avenues between 57th and 96th streets. “That is a lot, and there’s probably 20 percent more that’s on the market,” with space that is occupied but available for lease. It was a LOOOONG Wait for the 2nd Avenue Subway!

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Council Membersare scratching their heads on funding. The hearing comes amid an increasingly testy fight between the city and state over the MTA’s recently announced $836 million rescue plan for the crisis affecting the city’s subways. MTA Chair Joe Lhota, recently appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, has insisted that the city provide $456 million for the emergency upgrade plan to stabilize the system over the next year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has refused to bear those costs, pointing to an equal amount of city-issued funds that have been diverted since 2011 by the state from their intended use in MTA operations. De Blasio on Monday proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund the MTA, but the proposal was quickly dismissed by state Senate Republicans who would have to approve it. “You guys do not know how to spend a dime, how could you spend a billion dollars?”

Even If It Gets The Subway Fixed, The MTA Is Still Broken

The state-run MTA has four new people in charge: one for “innovation and modernization,” one for day-to-day operations, one for big projects like the Second Avenue Subway and one — Chairman Joe Lhota — to keep an eye on the other three.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t charged any of them with fixing the authority’s deteriorating $15.7 billion annual budget. Instead, he simply wants the city to pay more.​ The mayor is taking the bait now, reportedly proposing a new income tax hike on the rich — a terrible idea.

Last week, the MTA tasked Pat Foye, the former Port Authority executive director, with figuring out how to upgrade signals and the like. The MTA has also put two other people — Ronnie Hakim, a longtime transit vet, and Janno Lieber, who rebuilt the World Trade Center towers under developer Larry Silverstein — into a new “Office of the Chairman.”

All seem competent — though two of them, Foye and Lieber, are better at reducing the harm done by political malfeasance rather than reducing the political malfeasance itself. Which appears to be the governor’s preferred strategy.

Foye and Lieber managed to do good things at the Port Authority and for Silverstein, respectively. Yet the PA is still a mess, trying to build way too many things at once.

Lieber, too, did a good job of managing the private-sector construction at Ground Zero. But higher-level decisions about what to build saddled New Yorkers with billions of dollars in debt, plus the $4 billion Oculus train station.

Managing the effects of bad political behavior is no substitute for fixing the behavior. Evidence of that is in the MTA’s latest budget, released just as Cuomo was making changes at the top.

The good news: The MTA has precariously balanced its budget for the next two years, plus the rest of this year. The bad news: After that, things get worse. In February, the MTA projected a $372 million annual budget gap for 2020. Now, the gap is double that.

The biggest problem is the slowing commercial property market. The MTA expects to take in nearly $800 million less in its property-related taxes. That’s not because we’re having a recession; it’s because this market was overheated.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s attempts to turn itself around are costly. It will spend $484 million in extra money over four years to increase inspections and maintenance, including $281 million at the subways and bus division.

The MTA benefits from ever-lower interest rates, which make debt cost less. But it’s not enough.

The agency will take some steps to address the deficit — but many are unwise. For example, it won’t make $59 million in contributions to its retiree health care fund, even though it already owes $18.5 billion there. And it will divert $158 million from a construction account.

One of the MTA’s assumptions demands something of the governor: $260 million in extra state money by 2020, to make up for the governor’s decision, in his first term, to reduce the MTA’s payroll tax on small businesses.

And the request is half-justified, in government world. The MTA’s payroll taxes are coming in $138 million higher than expected. But were it not for the governor’s tax cut, in the MTA’s reasoning, they’d be even higher.

A governor who regularly spends a little something on pet projects all around the state doesn’t want to give up some of those precious dollars to the MTA.

And this extra payment just delays $493 million of the deficit to 2021, when, as the authority’s budget officials mildly note, “it will need to be addressed.”

The governor’s slapdash answer: Make the bigger payment under cover of funding a huge new maintenance push at the MTA, and make the city pay, too.

Just before the bad budget news, Cuomo and the MTA asserted that the city should pay at least $236 million in extra operating costs — almost all of the extra subway and bus spending planned. But this would set a terrible precedent. City taxpayers and riders already provide the most MTA money.

Strip away all the theater, and the MTA’s biggest financial problem doesn’t come from its operational failures. Its announcements to improve service aren’t some radically improved strategy, but what it should have been doing all along. “We need short-term emergency financing now,” Lhota said on Sunday — but the fact is that the MTA’s internal incompetence created this emergency.

The MTA’s financial problem is old and predictable: Volatile tax revenues, like those related to commercial property, are indeed volatile.

If the city gives more, as Mayor Bill de Blasio seems set to propose, it’ll be saying that when the MTA can’t manage its budget in the good times, the city will bail it out.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. NY Post

Simple, Big Solutions for Penn’s Problems

Gotham Gazette

The original Penn Station was an architectural masterpiece. The most ironic part about removing it in a “monumental act of vandalism,” though, is that as a transit facility the original Penn Station had serious flaws. In fact, the platforms and tracks haven’t been significantly altered in more than a century.

Unfortunately, those flaws are growing more obvious by the day. Narrow, crowded platforms and grossly inadequate stairs and escalators are a constant source of delays, dangerous overcrowding and frustration for commuters. But most importantly, Penn Station is not actually a station for most passengers – it’s a terminal. The difference is not merely semantic; in a terminal, trains must cross each other as they enter and leave, making it far less efficient than a through-running station. Even when this doesn’t cause delays, it severely limits capacity and ensures every train has to travel more slowly in Penn.

Twenty-five years ago, we could tolerate these inefficiencies, but passenger counts from Long Island and New Jersey have skyrocketed. Any major investment plan for Penn Station must be focused on solving the cause of commuters’ misery. Amtrak’s Gateway Program and the new Moynihan Station, if optimized, could do so.

Phase 1 of Gateway would add two new critically-needed tracks between Newark and Penn Station. Phase 2 of Gateway, though, includes a new terminal station—Penn Station South. This would require the demolition of an entire city block at a price tag of $8 billion to build another inefficient terminal, and do nothing to alleviate conditions in the existing station. Those funds are better spent on improving Penn and regional connectivity.

This alternate plan would remove the need for Penn Station South, provide additional economic opportunity for the entire region and the opportunity to invest in projects that create smoother and smarter commutes. Through-running is the key to unlocking the ReThinkNYC vision. Highlights of that vision include:

First, build new facilities in the Bronx and New Jersey so it is possible to operate Penn Station as a through station. NJ Transit trains could be extended to Queens, the Bronx, and then along existing Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Lines; similarly, Metro-North and LIRR could be extended to New Jersey.

Next, widen and lengthen Penn’s existing platforms – and use the 31st Street side of the station for eastbound trains and the 33rd Street side for westbound ones, regardless of final destination. Universal “smart” ticketing between the systems can help erase arbitrary distinctions.

This would allow nearly 50% more trains to use the station.
NJ Transit would no longer need to use Sunnyside Yards, making it possible to instead build a major station across the East River that would have access to all of the region’s 26 commuter rail lines, Amtrak, both Penn Station and Grand Central, and seven subway lines. Sunnyside could be the new East Midtown.

In Port Morris, the light industrial neighborhood east of the Bruckner Expressway and south of Hunts Point, commuters could catch NJ Transit and Metro-North – and an extended Second Avenue Subway serving the Bronx.

An AirTrain under the East River to an expanded LaGuardia Airport would provide a quick, convenient single seat ride for millions.

New Yorkers once dreamed of, and then built, big projects. Now, in this post-Robert Moses, post-urban renewal era, planners are taught to think “politically” smaller. This approach has prevented us from addressing transportation systemically and holistically. It’s time to think big…again.

below is the same chart as the featured image.

Jim Venturi is Principal and Founder of ReThink Studio. On Twitter @jimventuri and @RethinkNYCplan.

FROM GATEWAY TO THE SUBWAY, TRANSPORTATION OFFICIALS TALK SOLUTIONS

City and State NY

The deterioration of the New York City subway system is a failure of political leadership that spans decades. Beginning with Robert Moses blocking the Second Avenue subway and culminating in Gov. Andrew Cuomo draining a whopping $450 million from the MTA budget in his six years as governor, New York’s leaders have consistently raided or withheld funding for capital projects from the city’s mass transit system.

In the following interviews with state transportation leaders – New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg; John D. Porcari, the interim executive director for the Gateway Program Development Corporation; Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Chairman Jeffrey Dinowitz and New York City Council Transportation Committee Chairman Ydanis Rodríguez – we look at some of the possible solutions you might have missed while Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have been passing the buck.

Gateway is a program of projects. It’s multiple projects that will eliminate a single point of failure for 10 percent of America’s GDP. That single point of failure is a 106-year-old bridge and a 106-year-old tunnel under the Hudson River. They carry about 200,000 people a day on 450 trains. It’s the economic lifeline for the New York metro area. Gateway will replace a bridge and a tunnel that were carrying passengers while the Titanic was still under construction.

I think the city welcomes the appointment of Joe Lhota as the new chair of the MTA. Joe is undertaking both a 30-day organizational review and then a bigger 60-day look at some of the deeper questions about what needs to be done to make some dramatic improvements to the subway system. We look forward to participating in those studies and doing what we can to help once the MTA puts some good solutions on the table.

Musical Chairs at NY City Transit Authority and Port Authority

NY Post

A shakeup in the highest echelons of the Port Authority reached all the way to the MTA on Tuesday — with the PA’s chief switching over to the transit agency.

Port Authority Executive Director and Bridgegate figure Pat Foye stepped down from his post at the PA in the morning to assume his new role as MTA president, sources said.

Foye — who famously ordered the lanes at the George Washington Bridge to be reopened after they were closed for political reasons in the Bridgegate scandal — will report to MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, sources said.

Rider advocates said they believe Foye is a good pick for the job at the agency, which has spiraled into chaos because of increasing derailments and delays caused by aging infrastructure.

“Gov. Cuomo has put in place an experienced team,” said Nick Sifuentes, deputy director of the Riders Alliance. “Now they need him to guarantee the sustainable funding source they need to make good on their promise to fix our subways.”

Following Foye out the door at the PA on Tuesday was the agency’s chairman, John Degnan, who had been clashing with Cuomo recently, sources said. Degnan was not given a new position anywhere, at least not yet.

Degnan was a Gov. Christie appointee to the bi-state agency. Foye was a Cuomo guy, as is Lhota.

The departure of both Degnan and Foye from the PA provides a new slate at the agency that both governors can live with, according to sources.

Gov. Cuomo’s trusted special counsel, Rick Cotton, will replace Foye, while former New Jersey legislator Kevin O’Toole is replacing Degnan, officials said.

Cotton and O’Toole will resume the search for a Port Authority CEO and will oversee major projects, including the new La Guardia Airport, renovations at JFK and plans for a new bus terminal, officials said.The departure of both Degnan and Foye from the PA provides a new slate at the agency that both governors can live with, according to sources.

Gov. Cuomo’s trusted special counsel, Rick Cotton, will replace Foye, while former New Jersey legislator Kevin O’Toole is replacing Degnan, officials said.

Cotton and O’Toole will resume the search for a Port Authority CEO and will oversee major projects, including the new La Guardia Airport, renovations at JFK and plans for a new bus terminal, officials said.

Sources said Degnan was pushed out for criticizing the mayor over the search for a new CEO. Last month, Degnan told a media outlet that the governor wouldn’t approve anyone he found for a new CEO position. He had also called the CEO search a failure, while Cuomo prides himself on getting the job done, no matter how difficult a task, sources said.

Meanwhile, the Cuomo administration has repeatedly blasted Degnan for failing to institute oversight at the beleaguered agency.

Foye had expressed a desire to leave the Port Authority for more than a year but stayed on to see Degnan out, sources said.

“Foye wasn’t going to leave until Degnan did,” a source noted.

In addition to Foye’s new post at the MTA, longtime transit-agency honcho Ronnie Hakim will be named managing director of operations, sources said. She will report to Lhota, who in June reclaimed the role he left in 2013