Amtrak CEO: NJ-NYC tunnels have less than 20 years remaining

Amtrak CEO: NJ-NYC tunnels have less than 20 years remaining
© WTVD-11

Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman warns that the company's tunnels under the Hudson River in New York City have less than 20 years of service left.

Boardman said during a recent appearance at a regional transportation conference in New York that two of the main tunnels used to carry trains between New Jersey and the Empire State are reaching the end of their useful life.

“I’m being told we’ve got something less than 20 years before we have to shut one or two down,” Boardman said of the tunnels at a conference of the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut Regional Plan Association (RPA).

Boardman said Amtrak needs funding to replace the tunnels sooner rather than later.

“I don’t know if that 'something less than 20' is seven, or some other number,” he said. “But to build two new ones, you’re talking seven to nine years to deliver, if we all decided today that we could do it.”

The RPA posted audio of Boardman's appearance at its convention in late April on its website this week.

The rail tunnels under the Hudson River carry trains on Amtrak's most heavily-traveled routes in its popular northeast corridor.

Amtrak said last year that 11.3 million of its record 31.6 million passengers in 2013 were riding on northeast corridor trains.

The company has pressed Congress to improve investment in its tracks and stations in the northeast, but Republicans in the House have pushed to privatize service in the popular rail corridor.

Amtrak has received about $1 billion per year from the federal government since its inception in 1971. The company received $1.348 billion in 2013, with $443 million going to subsidizing the cost of operating long-distance trains, $647 million going to capital construction and $258 million being used to service debt.

Boardman said in his remarks at the transportation planning conference that the imperiled New York tunnels currently carry 24 trains per hour between the state and New Jersey.

He said the impact of closing even one of the tunnels would be severe.

"If we have to rebuild this in pieces, we have 55 hours a week that we can work from Friday night until Monday morning and we really can't get a heck of a lot done in that period of time and the cost is even higher because of the way that you would have to do that," the Amtrak chief said.

"If you take it to one tunnel, typically you'd assume 12 [trains per hour]," Boardman continued. "Not so."

Between getting the tains in and out and sharing with the New Jersey Transit, Boardman estimated that one tunnel closure would reduce service to six trains an hour.

A proposal to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, known as the Access to the Region's Core project, was cancelled in 2010 by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).

The Department of Transportation had committed $3 billion to the project at the beginning of the Obama administration, but Christie raised questions about the impact of potential cost overruns.