By Sarah Trefethen
Time is of the essence for a plan to beef up high speed rail between New York and New Jersey, Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) told the audience at a New York Building Congress breakfast last week.
Amtrak’s $14.7 billion plan to bring new, high-speed trains into an expanded Penn Station does not call for the project to be completed for a number of years.
But a tunnel entrance on the west side of Manhattan, where Related Companies is soon to begin construction on the Hudson Yards development, is an essential portion of the plan — meaning that portion of the project must be completed by 2014, according to Schumer.
“If we do not secure space under the Hudson Yards now, the project will be lost forever,” he said.
Transportation and congestion in the northeast is a national concern, the Senator said, and Amtrak’s plan to construct a new tunnel under the Hudson River deserves bipartisan support in Washington.
“We get a lot more back on highway and mass transit dollars than we put in,” he said.
He hopes to secure $20 million in federal money for the project next year and $100 million in 2014, he said.
But that will require overcoming some entrenched opposition. “There are 100 people in the house and senate, some of whom are New York’s representatives, who are fighting having the federal government involved in infrastructure at all,” he said.
Reducing the federal deficit is an important goal, Schumer said.
“We have to deal with it, but we have to be selective and smart and not just reject everything,” he said.
The plan, called the Gateway Program, will add to New Jersey transit’s commuter capacity but is also essential to Amtrak’s broader scheme to connect the Washington D.C. to Boston corridor via a 220-mile-per-hour high-speed network by 2040, according to Amtrak.
In a 2011 report, the agency estimated that the plan would increase Penn Station’s total capacity from 62 trains per hour on Amtrak, Long Island Railroad and NJ Transit to 92 trains per hour through almost 50 percent increases in the Amtrak and LIRR service as well as the addition of Metro North service to Penn Station.
Schumer called on his audience to bring pressure to bear in Washington in support of transportation infrastructure.
“Our business community has been absent in this conversation,” he said.