Saturday, January 13, 2018

When The Tunnels Go

One thing that doesn't get mentioned enough in the context of Christie cancelling the tunnels so he could run for president - New Jersey needs them more than NYC does.

Christie’s folly became clear in October 2012. Hurricane Sandy struck the region with 80-mile-an-hour winds, and the water off New York rose higher than at any time in the city’s recorded history. The Hudson River surged over the banks of Manhattan, poured into a submerged railyard, and flooded Penn Station’s venerable tunnels. A few days later, Amtrak pumped out 13 million gallons of seawater from those tubes and two that run beneath the East River. But chemicals had penetrated the walls and begun gnawing away at concrete and power systems that dated to the time of the Orange Blossom Special.

Even after Sandy, a post-ARC construction effort called the Gateway Program languished. At a hearing in Trenton in 2015, Stephen Gardner, an Amtrak vice president, tried to stoke some urgency among legislators by brandishing a fearsome-looking hunk of wire from the tunnels’ malfunctioning electrical system. “Mr. Chairman, this is a portion of the feeder cable that failed,” he said. “These are 1930s-vintage, lead-lined, oil-filled, paper-insulated copper cables, and they do a pretty amazing job. As you can see here, they are quite an antique, and we rely on them every day.” Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, a local urban policy group, attended the hearing. He was stunned: “I mentioned to Steve afterwards, ‘Jesus, that looks like a set piece from the old Bride of Frankenstein movie.’ He kind of laughed and said, ‘Actually, I think it’s older than that.’ ”

The same month, one of New Jersey’s Democratic senators, Cory Booker, rode through one of the tunnels in a special Amtrak observation car, equipped with floodlights. Booker was shocked to see cracks in the walls. “It was incredibly eye-opening,” he says in an interview, adding that Amtrak officials told him if there were another storm as strong as Sandy, the tunnels might not survive.

Booker shouldn't have needed this eye-opening journey. Just ride the "normal" train in and it's pretty obvious.