This morning, our crowded and crumbling infrastructure grabbed headlines once again as an Amtrak train derailed shortly after leaving Penn Station, scraping an incoming NJ Transit train and leaving thousands of commuters stranded on either side of the Hudson.
This morning’s crash has stopped NJ Transit in both directions. NJ Transit is planning on running trains from Penn Station to New Jersey for this evening’s rush hour, but no traffic will be heading into the city. New Jersey Transit and Amtrak share a single tunnel beneath the Hudson River, making for one serious transit chokepoint. Two people suffered minor injuries during the crash, which left the NJ Transit train disabled in the station. Photos from commuters show a train with damage consistent with being sideswiped by a passing car.
— Scott Parsons (@ScottyParsonsNJ) March 24, 2017
This morning’s incident comes after the derailment of an LIRR train this past January, and a horrifying crash this past September, which killed Hoboken woman Fabiola Bittar de Kroon after an NJ Transit train crashed into Hoboken Terminal.
After the September crash safety advocates focused on years of budget cuts to NJ Transit that have left the system seriously behind in safety measures. While today’s crash appears to be on the Amtrak end of the equation under Penn Station, it continues to prove just how deficient and without redundancy New York’s transit system is.
The existing 117-year-old tunnel remains damaged from Superstorm Sandy and is in need of serious repairs just to keep it functioning. When a single train derails, commutes are snarled along the busiest commuter corridor in the country. A full-tunnel failure is a catastrophe that politicians have long discussed.
Under President Obama, New York and New Jersey saw some progress in restarting the Gateway Tunnel project, as the cross-Hudson rail tunnel has been dubbed. That included setting up a bi-state body to govern the building of the new tunnel, as well as funding commitments from New York, New Jersey, and, most importantly, the federal government.
However, the budget proposed by President Trump leaves massive holes in the Gateway’s budget, leaving the entire project in jeopardy, even after his administration dubbed it a “priority.” The federal government has promised to pay $10 billion of the $20 billion project, but the Trump budget provides nowhere near that amount.
According to Politico, the Trump budget would limit the Department of Transportation’s “New Starts” program to already funded projects, as part of a cut to the entire Department of Transportation of 13 percent. Without the “New Starts” funding, there’s no way that New York or New Jersey (already both of which see their own federal support slashed under the new budget) being able to pay for the vital tunnel.
“President Trump’s proposal to eliminate the New Starts program — and the Gateway Project along with it — is irresponsible, short-sighted, and demonstrates a complete failure of leadership,” New Jersey senator Robert Menendez said in a statement last week. “President Trump is single-handedly trying to derail Gateway and send a catastrophic ripple effect that will cause irreparable harm to our regional and national economies.”
Trump has promised to pursue massive federal infrastructure spending, however much of his plan appears to hinge on private investment. The Gateway tunnel, funded by both states and the federal government, and used by public entities at an expense to the states already, seem not to fit the bill for such a type of investment. There’s not much profit to be had for private companies unless there is a complete reordering of the area’s transit network. (And even if the infrastructure bill were to be a priority for Trump, take a quick look at how his large legislative initiatives are faring in Congress. Sad!).
Expect more commutes from hell, as cities with large, older public transit infrastructures see stunning population losses, which might make saving the transit systems useless anyway. In the future, the super-rich denizens of greater Manhattan will be taking driverless cars through the single remaining tunnel (brought to you by Bank of America) as the poor flee to places where there isn’t even public transit to torment them.
For now, at least, the bridges outta town still work.