Opinion

Penn Station Needs a Face Lift

By DUSTIN NILES

Layout & Design Editor

Ghosts haunt the seabed underneath the Hudson River. They get passengers where they need to go, and at the same time, place them in incredible danger. Like the Greek god Atlas, these ghosts hold up the entire economic viability of the Northeast Corridor. The ghosts are the train tunnels underneath the Hudson.

An article recently ran in Bloomberg Businesweek by David Leonard, titled “The Most Awful Transit Center in America Could Get Unimaginably Worse.” A lovely title, isn’t it? The article talks about Penn Station, a transit center that likely has been traversed by most, if not all of, the students, faculty and staff at the Metropolitan Campus.

The tunnels underneath the Hudson that carry hundreds, if not thousands, of NJ Transit trains are crumbling. They’re 110 years old, and were completed in 1908. Since then, little maintenance has been done on them.

Five years ago, Superstorm Sandy flooded the tunnels like they’ve never been flooded. Even after they were pumped dry, the salt from the 13 million gallons of seawater has been eating away at the concrete.

 

“There will come a time when the reliability of the tunnels starts to decay,” said Charles “Wick” Moorman, who was the co-CEO of Amtrak until the end of 2017, according to the Bloomberg article. “The curve, once it starts, may be fairly sharp. We’ll just have to see. Nobody knows. This is a great science experiment. Kids playing with chemicals.”

“If Amtrak and New Jersey Transit have to rely on a single Hudson tunnel, they could operate just six trains an hour, rather than the current 24,” according to Leonard. That, Amtrak says, will happen within seven years. A tunnel will have to be taken out of service for repairs that will take a year and a half. “The Northeast Corridor Commission, a panel created by Congress in 2008, projects that the U.S. economy would lose $100 million per day—$36.5 billion a year—if the entire train route from Boston to Washington ever shut down.”

These tunnels are crumbling. That’s fine, our great local politicians must have something in the works to fund the repairs! How could they let the region lose $36.5 billion a year while inconveniencing the hundred of thousands of commuters – their constituents – who use the tunnels every day? Towards the end of

2017, the New York native and candidate that ran on a $1 trillion infrastructure renewal plan, Donald Trump, rescinded a promise put forth by the Obama administration saying that the federal government would pay for half of the repairs if the states of New Jersey and New York put up the rest. And so, the fate of the tunnels is back to square one.

However, Amtrak completed repairs last summer at Penn Station as a part of their infrastructure renewal program, according to Progressive Railroading.

The next round of track renewal projects started in January and is expected to be completed in May, according to Progressive Railroading.

 

The issue of the tunnels is a non-partisan one. One of the beauties of modern public transit is the diversity of the people who ride it.

According to NJTransit, in 2012 on average 2,376 people rode the train every weekday from West eld, which has a median income of $128,000 according to the census, to New York. The author of this article rode them the past two summers to the internships that may jump-start his career. And many of these people, including myself, would have virtually no other way to get into New York City. This is clearly an issue that is very important to the constituents of New Jersey, who might have to quit their jobs without the tunnels, and New York, which would lose millions in economic revenue without those tunnels.

People need to recognize that money is needed for nice things. Reaming Amtrak for its shortcomings, while also using that to justify slashing its budget, is a vicious cycle that in the end only hurts the people that rely on the agency to maintain the tunnels. Commuters need to hold their politicians accountable for their priorities because so many people depend on those tunnels. Plus, if one of those tunnels goes down, the 168 bus to New York is going to get a whole lot busier.

Categories: Opinion