Streams

Amtrak, NJ Transit Tunnels Are Dry, More Penn Station Trains Can Roll on Friday

Wednesday, November 07, 2012 - 07:06 PM

Amtrak's has six tunnels under the East and Hudson Rivers. They are 102-years-old. This was the first time any of them flooded, and Sandy left four of them filled with water.

Amtrak pumped one dry two days later. It has taken another week for Amtrak to finish drying out the other three tunnels that were flooded by Sandy, but by Friday, Amtrak expects to add train service to New York's Penn Station nearly doubling capacity since the storm. Strained New Jersey Transit will also be able to add service.

One of the newly dried tunnels crosses the Hudson River and will allow extra Amtrak and NJ Transit service to New Jersey and to the south. With both trans-Hudson tunnels open, Amtrak expects trains to run 24 trains per hour across the river, 63 percent of normal capacity.

That may sound low, but it is double Wednesday's rate, offering desperately craved relief from long lines and strains on a commuter bus system trying to accommodate rail riders stripped of their normal commuting options. Lines for buses Tuesday afternoon snaked throughout the Port Authority bus terminal and added an hour or more of delay to many people's commutes home.

A project to build an additional trans-Hudson tunnel was begun, mostly funded, and then scrapped by NJ Governor Chris Christie who cited fears of cost overruns in the billions of dollars.

The other two tunnels coming back on line cross the East River and support Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Service, Empire Service and trains from the North and West of New York, including to Albany, NY. Those tunnels will open at 80 percent capacity, about 32 trains per hour, as repairs continue, Amtrak said in a statement.

"The return of all tunnel access to New York City will be a major milestone in the continued restoration of Amtrak and commuter rail service and for the larger recovery efforts of the Northeast region," said Amtrak President Joe Boardman in an emailed statement.

Full operational capacity may still be a ways away for Amtrak as it is for other area transit agencies battered by Sandy's storm surge. As a sample of the myriad puzzles involved in recovery, Amtrak offered this example: Some stretches of Northeast Corridor track retain the 1930's era equipment inherited by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Those use 25 hz current to power trains. The new standard is 60 hz. So the rail company can't just swap in replacement parts from other stretches of track, or easily identify alternate power sources.

Temporary bypass signaling must be rigged up in places, slowing capacity as well.

Amtrak's two other East River tunnels did not flood and have been running at capacity. Nine NY MTA subway tunnels flooded in Hurricane Sandy, all but one had been drained as of Wednesday afternoon.

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