In my regional rail series, I proposed a new tunnel connection from Hoboken to Lower Manhattan, allowing regional trains to use the line and serve Manhattan and continue to Brooklyn on new track. I would like to revisit this concept, in light of my more recent post about where the Lower Manhattan station could be located. Hoboken is just one of many former railroad terminals on the west side of the Hudson, and there are alternative locations in Jersey City.
The importance of the connection is threefold. First, it’s a potential relief line for the near-capacity North River Tunnels: not as important as quadrupling the tunnels, since Lower Manhattan is a smaller CBD than Midtown, but still useful. Second, it’s a direct connection from New Jersey to Lower Manhattan, making life simpler for travelers who don’t have access to the PATH transfer at Newark Penn. And third, it’s useful for serving jobs in Hudson County, which has sprouted a secondary CBD in Jersey City; currently trains can only reach inner Hudson County from the north and west, or from the Manhattan CBD, but not from Brooklyn or Queens. It is the third aspect that makes through-running valuable – none of the commute markets crossing Manhattan is large on its own, but all combined have about 200,000 people among them.
Since the secondary CBD is in Jersey City and not Hoboken, the Jersey City options should be explored in addition to Hoboken. Since my concept for how New York regional rail should look is something like the Paris RER, let me draw the following analogy. The Ligne de Vincennes, which became the eastern branch of the original RER A, had its Paris terminus at Bastille. However, due to SNCF pressure to veer off and serve a more southerly location at Gare de Lyon, it was cut off near the city line, and its route into the city follows a different course, while the original route was abandoned. The upshot is that existing train stations that are at inconvenient locations can be left off the mainline, or closed entirely.
Thus, we should not be wedded to keeping a regional station at Hoboken, whose primary advantages are merely the PATH and light rail connections and the large railyard. Although the railyard may seem important, it’s pointing in the wrong direction for trains from New York. For short-turning movements on the shoulder of rush hour, railyards should make it easy for outbound trains to veer off at a location just after where demand drops off – for example, east of Jamaica, and west of Newark or Secaucus or eventually Paterson.
Many of the original rights-of-ways used by the railroads to deposit travelers across the Hudson from Lower Manhattan still exist. Of course, given the cost of constructing a new station in Manhattan, the cost of Jersey City construction should be regarded as secondary, though non-negligible. But an entirely greenfield option using new tunnels would have sizable cost: at about 3-4 km from where today’s Erie trains turn due east to Hoboken to the Hudson; at normal-world construction cost this is $1 billion, compared with about $2.5 billion for ARC before the cavern’s costs exploded.
Based on the need to leverage existing rights-of-way, there are four options. For distance calculations, it matters very little where the Lower Manhattan station is, but it is notionally measured from the point where Erie trains turn east to the Hoboken station to Broadway and Fulton; the straight-line distance is exactly 6 km.
Description: trains follow the existing route to Hoboken, but start descending as they exit the tunnel to the east, and go under the existing station, next to the PATH station. They cross to Manhattan on one side of the PATH tubes, then turn south to Lower Manhattan.
Stations: new station under Hoboken Terminal, and a Greenwich/West Village station.
Length: 8.5 km.
Manhattan station preference: any, but with north-south preference.
Advantages: less construction in New Jersey, Hoboken has a spacious railyard for station construction, easy transfer to PATH and light rail, plenty of space in the Village valley to align along the proper streets for service to Lower Manhattan, possible transfer to the West 4th Street subway station.
Disadvantages: longest, too far from Jersey City jobs, passes very close to the uptown PATH tubes and must cross under them somewhere, more construction in Manhattan, the most useful Village station requires crossing the three-level IND West 4th station or one of its two-level approaches, most north-south alignments require crossing the Holland Tunnel or an east-west subway to Brooklyn (the more easterly alignments more than one).
Description: trains follow the Bergen Arches into Jersey City, go underground in the vicinity of Jersey Avenue, and enter Manhattan at Canal Street, turning south close to but without intersecting the Holland Tunnel.
Stations: Pavonia/Newport, possibly Chinatown, possibly a future infill station on the Bergen Arches.
Length: 7.5 km.
Manhattan station preference: any, but with north-south preference.
Advantages: space in the TriBeCa valley to align along proper streets, possible transfer to the Chinatown Canal Street subway station, the unused four-tracked Bergen Arches are elevated and thus have space for local infill stations if necessary later, not much construction in New Jersey.
Disadvantages: Newport is not Jersey City’s biggest cluster of towers, the ideal construction location of a Pavonia station is 300 meters from the PATH station and any less requires going under the mall or between tall buildings, a fair amount of construction in Manhattan.
Description: trains cross to Journal Square in a new tunnel, follow the former PRR mainline alongside the PATH tracks, branch off to the PRR Pavonia terminal, start descending at Marin, and cross to Manhattan at a street between Worth and Vesey.
Stations: Journal Square, Pavonia/Newport
Length: just under 7 km.
Manhattan station preference: any works, but east-west under Vesey is exceptionally easy and north-south under City Hall Park slightly less so, and east-west under Liberty is slightly harder than the rest.
Advantages: relatively little Manhattan construction, flexible about Manhattan station location, several easy Manhattan station options.
Disadvantages: the Newport-south tower cluster is smaller than the Newport-north cluster, requires new elevated structures through Jersey City for the kilometer between Newark Avenue and Marin as well as about a kilometer-long tunnel (neither terribly expensive).
Description: trains cross to Journal Square in a new tunnel, follow the former PRR mainline alongside the PATH tracks, go underground when PATH goes underground, and cross straight east to Manhattan on one side of the PATH tubes.
Stations: Journal Square, Exchange Place.
Length: 6.5 km.
Manhattan station preference: any east-west.
Advantages: serves the biggest office building cluster in Jersey City, easy transfers to PATH, all east-west Manhattan station options are relatively easy, least construction in Manhattan, shortest length.
Disadvantages: north-south Manhattan options are difficult, generally inflexible in Manhattan, passes very close to the downtown PATH tubes, needs about 1.5 km of tunnel in downtown Jersey City (for which there are some right-of-way options) and another km of tunnel north of Journal Square, partially duplicates PATH service.
The general theme here is that there’s a tradeoff between construction in New Jersey and in Manhattan, but most likely construction in New Jersey is cheaper. However, the cheaper options involving more construction in New Jersey are less flexible in Manhattan – the Hoboken and Pavonia-North option do not constrain the choice of Manhattan station locations as much as the two PRR options.
For the record, my guess is that the best option is Exchange Place if the Manhattan station has to be east-west, and Pavonia-North if it is north-south.