What the RER A vs. C Contrast Means for New York Regional Rail

A few weeks ago, I published a piece in City Metric contrasting two ways of through-running regional rail, which I identify with the RER A and C in Paris. The RER C (or Thameslink) way is to minimally connect two stub-end terminals pointing in opposite directions. The RER A (or Crossrail) way is to build long city-center tunnels based on urban service demand but then connect to legacy commuter lines to go into the suburbs. Crossrail and the RER A are the two most expensive rail tunnels ever built outside New York, but the result is coherent east-west regional lines, whereas the RER C is considerably more awkward. In this post I’d like to explain what this means for New York.

As I said in the City Metric piece, the current plans for through-running in New York are strictly RER C-style. There’s an RPA project called Crossrail New York-New Jersey, but the only thing it shared with Crossrail is the name. The plan involves new Hudson tunnels, but service would still use the Northeast Corridor and LIRR as they are (with an obligatory JFK connection to get the politicians interested). I alluded in the piece to RER A-like improvements that can be done in New York, but here I want to go into more detail into what the region should do.

Regional rail to Lower Manhattan

Regional rail in New York should serve not just Midtown but also Lower Manhattan. Owing to Lower Manhattan’s intense development in the early 20th century already, no full-size train stations were built there in the era of great urban stations. It got ample subway infrastructure, including by the Hudson Tubes (now PATH), but nothing that could be turned into regional rail. Therefore, regional rail plans today, which try to avoid tunneling, ignore Lower Manhattan entirely.

The Institute for Rational Urban Mobility, longtime opponent of the original ARC project and supporter of through-running, even calls for new tunnels between Hoboken and Midtown, and not between Hoboken and Lower Manhattan. I went to an IRUM meeting in 2009 or 2010, when Chris Christie had just gotten elected and it was not clear what he’d do about ARC, and when people pitched the idea, I asked why not go Hoboken-Lower Manhattan. The reply was that it was beyond the scope of “must connect to Penn Station” and at any rate Lower Manhattan wasn’t important.

In reality, while Midtown is indeed a bigger business district than Lower Manhattan, the job density in Lower Manhattan is still very high: 320,000 people working south of Worth Street in 1.9 km^2, compared with 800,000 in 4 km^2 in Midtown. Nothing in Ile-de-France is this dense – La Defense has 180,000 jobs and is said to have “over 800 jobs/ha” (link, PDF-p. 20), and it’s important enough that the RER A was built specifically to serve it and SNCF is planning a TGV station there.

Regional trains to Lower Manhattan are compelled to be more RER A-style. More tunnels are needed than at Penn Station, and the most logical lines to connect create long urban trunks. In a post from two years ago, I consistently numbered the regional lines in New York 1-5 with a non-through-running line 6:

  1. The legacy Northeast Corridor plus the Port Washington Branch, via the existing Hudson tunnels.
  2. More lines in New Jersey (some Northeast Corridor, some Morris and Essex) going to the New Haven Line via new Hudson tunnels and Grand Central.
  3. Some North Side LIRR lines (presumably just Hempstead and the Central Branch) to the Hudson Line via Penn Station and the Empire Connection; some LIRR trains should terminate at Penn Station, since the Hudson Line can’t support as much traffic.
  4. The Harlem Line connecting to the Staten Island Railway via Lower Manhattan and a Staten Island-Manhattan tunnel, the most controversial piece of the plan judging by comments.
  5. The New Jersey lines inherited from the Erie Railroad (including the Northern Branch) to the South Side LIRR (to Far Rockaway, Long Beach, and Babylon) via Lower Manhattan.
  6. More North Side LIRR lines (probably the Ronkonkoma and Port Jefferson branches) to Grand Central via East Side Access.

The Lower Manhattan lines, numbered 4 and 5, have long trunks. Line 4 is a basic north-south regional line; it’s possible some trains should branch to the Hudson Line, but most would stay on the Harlem Line, and it’s equally possible that the Hudson Line trains to Grand Central should all use line 2. Either configuration creates very high all-day frequency between White Plains and St. George, and still high frequency to both Staten Island branches, with many intermediate stations, including urban stops. Line 5 goes northwest-southeast, and has to have, at a minimum, stops at Pavonia, Lower Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, and then all the LIRR Atlantic Branch stops to and beyond Jamaica.

More stops within new tunnels

Even new tunnels to Midtown can be built with the RER A concept in mind. This means more stations, for good connections to existing subway and bus lines. This is not superficially obvious from the maps of the RER A and C: if anything, the RER C has more closely-spaced stops within Paris proper, while the RER A happily expresses from La Defense to Etoile and beyond, and completely misses Metro 5 and 8. Crossrail similarly isn’t going to have a transfer to every Underground line – it’s going to miss the Victoria and Piccadilly lines, since connecting to them would have required it to make every Central line stop in the center of London, slowing it down too much.

However, the important feature of the RER A is the construction of new stations in the new tunnels – six of them, from La Defense to Nation. The RER C was built without any new stations, except (later) infill at Saint-Michel, for the transfer to the RER B. The RER C’s urban stations are all inherited legacy stations, even when underground (as some on the Petite Ceinture branch to Pontoise are), since the line was built relatively cheaply, without the RER A’s caverns. This is why in my City Metric piece, I refer to the RER B as a hybrid of the RER A and C approaches: it is a coherent north-south line, but every station except Saint-Michel is a legacy station (Chatelet-Les Halles is shared with the RER A, Gare du Nord is an existing station with new underground platforms).

With this in mind, there are several locations where new regional rail tunnels in New York could have new stations. I wrote two years ago about Bergenline Avenue, within the new Hudson tunnels. The avenue hosts very high bus and jitney frequency, and today Manhattan-bound commuters have to go through Port Authority, an obsolete structure with poor passenger experience.

Several more locations can be identified. Union Square for line 4 has been on the map since my first post on the subject. More stations on line 5 depend on the alignment; my assumption is that it should go via the approach tracks to the Erie’s Pavonia terminal, but if it goes via Hoboken then there should be a station in the Village close to West 4th Street, whereas if it goes via Exchange Place then there should be a station at Journal Square, which is PATH’s busiest New Jersey station.

On lines 4 and 5, there are a few additional locations where a station should be considered, but where there are strong arguments against, on the grounds of speed and construction cost: Brooklyn Heights, Chinatown (on line 5 via Erie, not 4), a second Lower Manhattan station on line 4 near South Ferry (especially if the main Lower Manhattan station is at City Hall rather than Fulton Street).

There are also good locations for more stations on the Metro-North Penn Station Access routes, both the New Haven Line (given to line 1) and the Hudson Line (given to line 3). Current plans for Penn Station Access for the New Haven Line have four stations in the Bronx, but no connection to Astoria, and a poor connection to the Bx12 buses on Fordham Road. A stop on Pelham Parkway would give a stronger connection to the Bx12 than the Coop City station, which the Bx12 reaches via a circuitous route passing through the 6 train’s northern terminus at Pelham Bay Parkway. Astoria has been studied and rejected on two grounds: one is construction difficulties, coming from the constrained location and the grade; the other is low projected ridership, since current plans involve premium fares, no fare integration with the subway and buses, and low off-peak frequency. The first problem may still be unsolvable, but the second problem is entirely the result of poor industry practices.

On the Empire Connection, there are plans for stops at West 62nd and West 125th Street. It is difficult to add more useful stations, since the line is buried under Riverside Park, far from Upper West Side and Washington Heights development. The 125th Street valley is one of few places where urban development reaches as far west as the Empire Connection. That said, Inwood is low-lying and it’s possible to add a station at Dyckman Street. In between, the only semi-plausible locations are 145th Street or 155th-158th (not both, they’re too close), and even those are marginal. All of these neighborhoods, from West Harlem north, have low incomes and long commutes, so if it’s possible to add stations, Metro-North should just do it, and of course make sure to have full fare integration with the subway and buses. The one extra complication is that there are intercity trains on this line and no room for four-tracking, which limits the number of infill stops that can support high frequency (at worst every 10 minutes).

Infill stops on existing lines

The existing regional lines in New York have very wide stop spacing within the city. It’s a general feature of North American commuter rail; I wrote about it 5 years ago in the context of Chicago, where Metra is even more focused on peak suburb-to-CBD commutes than the New York operators. In most North American cities I heartily endorse many infill stops on commuter rail. I have a fantasy map for Los Angeles in which the number of stops on inner commuter rail lines triples.

However, New York is more complicated, because of the express subway lines. In isolation, adding stops to the LIRR west of Jamaica and to Metro-North between Harlem and Grand Central would be a great idea. However, all three lines in question – Metro-North, the LIRR Main Line, and the Atlantic Branch – closely parallel subway lines with express tracks. It’s still possible to boost urban ridership by a little by having a commuter rail stop for each express subway stop, which would mean 86th and 59th Streets in Manhattan and Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, but the benefits are limited. For this reason, my proposed line 4 tunnel from Grand Central down to Lower Manhattan has never had intermediate stations beyond Union Square. For the same reason, while I still think the LIRR should build a Sunnyside Junction station, I do not endorse infill elsewhere on the Main Line.

That said, there are still some good candidates for infill. Between Broadway Junction and Jamaica, the LIRR parallels only a two-track subway line, the J/Z, which is slow, has poor connections to Midtown (it only goes into Lower Manhattan), and doesn’t directly connect Jamaica with Downtown Brooklyn. The strongest location for a stop is Woodhaven Boulevard, which has high bus ridership. Lefferts is also possible – it hosts the Q10 bus, one of the busiest in the borough and the single busiest in the MTA Bus system (most buses are in the New York City Transit bus division instead). It’s 4.7 km from Woodhaven to Broadway Junction, which makes a stop around Logan or Crescent feasible, but the J/Z is much closer to the LIRR west of Crescent Street than east of it, and the A/C are nearby as well.

Another LIRR line that’s not next to a four-track subway is the inner Port Washington Branch. There are no stops between the Mets and Woodside; there used to be several, but because the LIRR had high fares and low frequency, it could not compete once the subway opened, and those stations all closed. There already are plans to restore service to Elmhurst, the last of these stations to be closed, surviving until 1985. If fares and schedules are competitive, more stations are possible, at new rather than old locations: Queens Boulevard with a transfer to a Triboro RX passenger line, and two Corona stops, at Junction Boulevard and 108th Street. Since the Port Washington Branch is short, it’s fine to have more closely-spaced stops, since no outer suburbs would suffer from excessive commutes as a result.

Beyond Jamaica, it’s also possible to add LIRR stops to more neighborhoods. There, the goal is to reduce commute length, which requires both integrated fares (since Southeast Queens is lower middle-class) and more stops. However, the branches are long and the stop spacing is already not as wide as between Jamaica and Broadway Junction. The only really good infill location is Linden Boulevard on the Atlantic Branch; currently there’s only a stop on the Montauk Line, farther east.

In New Jersey, the situation is different. While the stop spacing east of Newark is absurdly long, this is an artifact of development patterns. The only location that doesn’t have a New Jersey Transit commuter rail stop that could even support one is Harrison, which has a PATH station. Additional stations are out of the question without plans for intense transit-oriented development replacing the warehouses that flank the line. A junction between the Northern Branch and line 2, called Tonnelle in my post on The Transport Politic from 2009, is still feasible; another stop, near the HBLR Tonnelle Avenue station, is feasible on the same grounds. But the entire inner Northern Branch passes through hostile land use, so non-junction stations are unlikely to get much ridership without TOD.

West or south of Newark, the land use improves, but the stop spacing is already quite close. Only two additional locations would work, one on the Northeast Corridor near South Street, and one on the Morris and Essex Lines at the Orange Street stop on the Newark Subway. South Newark is dense and used to have a train station, and some area activists have hoped that plans to extend PATH to the airport would come with a South Street stop for additional urban service. At Orange Street the land use isn’t great, since a highway passes directly overhead, but the Newark Subway connection makes a station useful.

Finally, in Manhattan, the East River Tunnels have four tracks, of which Amtrak only needs two. This suggests an infill East Side station for the LIRR. There are strong arguments against this – namely, cost, disruption to existing service, and the fact that East 33rd Street is not really a prime location (the only subway connection there is the 6). On the other hand, it is still far denser than anywhere in Brooklyn and Queens where infill stations are desirable, and the 6’s ridership at 33rd Street is higher than that of the entire Q10 or Bx12.

Conclusion

The RER A and Crossrail are not minimal tunnels connecting two rail terminals. They are true regional subways, and cost accordingly. Extracting maximum ridership from mainline rail in New York requires building more than just short connections like new Hudson tunnels or even a Penn Station-Grand Central connection.

While some cities are blessed with commuter rail infrastructure that allows for coherent through-service with little tunneling (like Boston) or no tunneling at all (like Toronto), New York has its work cut out for it if it wants to serve more of the city than just Jamaica and the eastern Bronx. The good news is that unlike Paris and London, it’s possible to use the existing approaches in Brooklyn and New Jersey. The bad news is that this still involves a total of 30 km of new tunnel, of which only about 7 are at Penn Station. Most of these new tunnels are in difficult locations – underwater, or under the Manhattan CBD – where even a city with reasonable construction costs like Paris could not build for $250 million per km. The RER A’s central segment, from Nation to Auber, was about $750 million/km, adjusted for inflation.

That said, the potential benefits are commensurate with the high expected costs. Entire swaths of the city that today have some of the longest commutes in the United States, such as Staten Island and Eastern Queens, would be put within a reasonable distance of Midtown. St. George would be 6 minutes from Lower Manhattan and perhaps 14 from Grand Central. Siting infill stations to intersect key bus routes like Bergenline, Woodhaven, and Fordham, and making sure fares were integrated, would offer relatively fast connections even in areas far from the rail lines.

The full potential of this system depends on how much TOD is forthcoming. Certainly it is easier to extract high ridership from rapid transit stations that look like Metrotown than from ones that look like typical suburban American commuter rail stops. Unfortunately, New York is one of the most NIMBY major cities in the first world, with low housing growth, and little interest in suburban TOD. Still, at some locations, far from existing residential development, TOD is quite likely. Within the city, there are new plans for TOD at Sunnyside Yards, just not for a train station there.

The biggest potential in the suburbs is at White Plains. Lying near the northern terminus for most line 4 trains, it would have very good transit access to the city and many rich suburbs in between. It’s too far away from Manhattan to be like La Defense (it’s 35 km from Grand Central, La Defense is 9 km from Chatelet-Les Halles), but it could be like Marne-la-Vallee, built in conjunction with the RER A.

Right now, the busiest commuter lines in New York – both halves of the Northeast Corridor and the LIRR Main Line – are practically intercity, with most ridership coming from far out. However, it’s the inner suburbs that have the most potential for additional ridership, and middle suburbs like White Plains, which is at such distance that it’s not really accurate to call it either inner or outer. The upper limit for a two-track linear route with long trains, high demand even in the off-peak hours, and high ridership out of both ends, is around a million riders per weekday; higher ridership than that is possible, but only at the levels of overcrowding typical of Tokyo or Shanghai. Such a figure is not out of the question for New York, where multiple subway lines are at capacity, especially for the more urban lines 4 and 5. Even with this more limited amount of development, very high ridership is quite likely if New York does commuter rail right.

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77 comments

  1. anonymouse

    On the Atlantic Branch (LIRR to Brooklyn), there’s already an abandoned station at Woodhaven where the abandoned Rockaway Beach branch crosses. It’s a few blocks away from Woodhaven Boulevard, which is a bit inconvenient for transfers, but it’s also already in the tunnel and would require absolutely minimal expense to reactivate.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, I was going to say that it’s possible to connect to either Woodhaven or the RBB. Do you know where the abandoned platforms are more precisely? If they’re west of the RBB then they can be reused pretty easily. If they’re east then it’s harder for transfers, almost to the point that it’s worth it digging new platforms. (New platforms would be required at the other sites anyway – there used to be a Lefferts stop, but the platforms were short.)

  2. A.G.

    As usual, really good thoughts. As per the mayor himself, White Planes is furthermore politically open to more TOD (granted, they may be satisfied with the Harlem line as-is).

  3. Colin Parker

    To the extent NY costs are high due to over engineering, does doing something like this maybe help? As in, since this is already a premium option, might the NY costs come closer to Parisian ones, given that even Paris would pay a lot for this scale of project? My intuition is that with a large project there’s less room for vanity additions like ornate stations, because enough contractors can be put to work already. My anecdotal support is LA having lower costs and building a lot right now. But I’m not confident either way.

  4. michael.r.james

    The RER C was built without any new stations, except (later) infill at Saint-Michel, for the transfer to the RER B. The RER C’s urban stations are all inherited legacy stations, even when underground (as some on the Petite Ceinture branch to Pontoise are), since the line was built relatively cheaply, without the RER A’s caverns.

    The significant thing about RER-C is that the century-old train line it is based on was possible as a through-line because it is built just under the road (quais) that follow the river. Thus even with steam trains it could function because it was open to the river, as is the RER-C line today. (In fact it must have been at risk of flooding during that scare last year?) All the other suburban rail lines terminated 3 to 4 km from the centre because the old city would have had to be demolished with open trenching, obviously out of the question. On RER-B the open (old rail line sections) end at Gare du Nord in the north and Port Royal just south of Luxembourg (and remains open today)–ie. as you say the section of deep tunnel to connect these north and south points was relatively short (though of course Paris is shorter N-S than E-W).

    Surely Gare d’Orsay (today Musee d’Orsay) was the only station between the Gare d’Austerlitz (eastern end) and the western segment until it got out of Paris? As you say St Michel is the only new station in the eastern segment (ie. east of M. d’Orsay, about half the total length in-Paris C). Today the east of Gare/Musée d’Orsay there are 5 stations within Paris and I thought these were all new when RER-C was built? It seems to me it was made to act as a Metro here since there is no metro line that covers its route with only the widely-spaced cross-river Metro lines.

    The deep stations of RER-A and B at Chatelet-les-Halles were constructed at the same time as the massive Forum-des-Halles (former markets) redevelopment in the mid-to-late 70s; it was in fact a massive excavation so the stations and interconnections (and underground roadways) were constructed in an open pit rather than underground, with the Forum-des-Halles modern shopping mall and gardens built on top of it all. (It is a funny trick of memory that I “recall” looking into this pit but that was not possible since it was all finished by the time I first visited Paris; however it took quite a few more years before they pushed the RER-B tunnel south to under the river to meet up with Port Royal, and by then I was living in Paris. It opened in 1985.)

    At any rate the feature of RER-C is such that very few cities will have anything like it on which to base a heavy-rail like the RER because they couldn’t/wouldn’t build such lines through existing city centres back then in the golden age of rail. I think the lesson of RER-A being built at large expense in 1977 is that the sooner the better. London CrossRail is costing (so far) £18bn (US$22bn but probably closer to $30bn). As I understand it versions of CrossRail were planned shortly after WW2 but in British fashion it took another half a century to actually decide to do it.

    • Alon Levy

      You’re getting some of the RER history wrong.

      The RER B opened from the Ligne de Sceaux to Chatelet-Les Halles in 1977, on the same day as the RER A. It was later extended to Gare du Nord (in 1981), and opened an infill stop at Saint-Michel in 1988. The construction at Les Halles was relatively shallow – they just dug up the entire area to build the station, and realigned Metro 4 while they were at it to be slightly closer to the new RER station. It’s not deep the way Etoile, Auber, and Nation are.

      The RER C was just the Musee d’Orsay-Invalides segment. Austerlitz-Orsay opened in 1900 and was electrified from the start; it might have been the first mainline electrification in the world, I’m not sure. It influenced New York’s mainline electrification around Penn Station and Grand Central. The RER C was formed in 1979 by connecting the tracks to Orsay with the tracks to Invalides, both of which were exclusive to commuter trains – PO’s intercity trains terminated at Austerlitz, Etat’s went to Saint-Lazare and Montparnasse. East of Musee d’Orsay, there are just three stations within the city: Saint-Michel and Austerlitz, both of which are legacy, and BNF, which opened in 2000, just after M14 opened there.

      • michael.r.james

        The RER B opened from the Ligne de Sceaux to Chatelet-Les Halles in 1977, on the same day as the RER A. It was later extended to Gare du Nord (in 1981), and opened an infill stop at Saint-Michel in 1988.

        OK, what I am remembering is the opening of the St Michel station. Did they really build the station after the line had been running? And presumably while the line was operational! Since this is a very long station (you can walk from leftbank to the middle of the island) that must have been a heck of an awkward and complicated construction. Or maybe the station cavern was built along with the tunnel and not fitted out as a station for all that time? I must have used that line dozens of times before St Michel opened in 1988 but no way I can clearly remember.

        The construction at Les Halles was relatively shallow – they just dug up the entire area to build the station, and realigned Metro 4 while they were at it to be slightly closer to the new RER station. It’s not deep the way Etoile, Auber, and Nation are.

        That’s what I meant (ie. it was an excavated pit rather than an underground construction) but I’ll have to take your word for the depth. Obviously you have much better access to information than I have but still those tunnels have to be pretty deep as they are under all the Metros, and they squeeze in those underground roads too.
        Good to learn about the electrification of the railway to Gare d’Orsay (you should update the Wiki entry which is very minimalist and this is surely a bit of world city rail history? Is this stuff on the french RATP website, which I’ve always found a pain to navigate?). Are you saying that there was a suburban rail station at Invalides? Was it a big Victorian station that has been subsequently demolished? Presumably it also served the old railway over the curved bridge crossing Allée des Cygnes? (Again my memory fails me but that is because I probably never used this branch of RER-C but it apparently (re-)opened in 1988 with the RER-C1C3 lines; but I am pretty sure that bridge was there all along (unused for half a century?)). Also you seem to be saying (again) that the western stations (Champ de Mars, Javel and Pont du Garigliano) were there from the beginning?

        Finally it would be good to know where you are getting your info. I have the usual books on the Metro and Ovendon’s books (which don’t deal with the RER? I’ll have a look when I get home tonight). You know you could feasibly scare up a commission from a publisher to write an overview history of the Ile de France’s rail transport system–and what role it played in its urban development etc. (I’ve fantasised this myself but admit it is extremely unlikely.) Of course it would be a huge multi-year job and isn’t exactly best-seller territory, but maybe RATP might be interested (ie. with proper full-paying position? In this case being a native English speaker would surely be a selling point? As far as I can see there is no such tome, and with the huge developments ahead with Metropole Grand Paris …. )

        • Alon Levy

          A lot of what I’m saying is from French Wikipedia, plus some of its sources (e.g. on the cost of the RER A from Auber to Nation – my rule is not to trust Wikipedia on construction costs without reading where it’s sourcing its information from).

          Invalides had an intercity rail station starting in 1900, but was demoted to suburban rail in the 1930s. The building still exists – it’s the big one with “Air France” written on it, if you’ve ever walked along that part of the Seine on the Left Bank. It was never as fancy as Gare d’Orsay, which was a palace before it was a train station; the reason Gare d’Orsay is named after a suburb that it didn’t connect to is that it’s not named directly after Orsay, but after the palace, which was named after Quai d’Orsay in the ancien regime.

          Champ de Mars is an even older suburban station, from 1867. Javel and Pont d’Alma are both from 1900, opening with the line from Champ de Mars to Invalides, which also involved trenching the approach to Champ de Mars from the west (it had already been connected to the Petite Ceinture branch that hosts the RER C today). Pont du Garigliano is from 1889, but was called Javel at the time and went through several renaming cycles subsequently.

          Saint-Michel’s platforms were built when the line was dug in the 1970s. But it took until 1988 to build the access shafts.

          • michael.r.james

            Thanks for that. Of course I am aware of the Air France and airport bus terminal at Invalides but have never been inside or upclose. Though I vaguely remember thinking that it was a bit of an aberration, slicing out a chunk of the green Esplanade des Invalides for this hideous ’50s-type building.

            In fact, there is a good section on RER in Ovenden’s book which I had forgotten. Indeed quite a bit of this I had already underlined! So I should have known some of those details, groan.
            Quite a lot of the same info is in the 2006 book Metros in Frankreich by Christoph Groneck which I only got recently and was already buried in a stack of books to be read!

            One snippet is that in 1895 the Sceaux suburban rail line (future RER-B) was extended from Denfert-Rochereau to Luxembourg via the cutting at Port Royal. I had assumed it had stopped at Port Royal because of that cutting, which remains open today. But here’s the thing: the Luxembourg terminus station had to be built underground and that made it the first underground station in Paris. A prelude to the Metro only a few years later (construction began 1898).

            Also here is what Ovenden says about plans in the 40s:

            The Metro Express plan was, not surprisingly, among the early casualties of the Second World War. (Incidentally, a scheme to build an Express Tube in London, with similar north-south and east-west axes, also collapsed for the same reason, despite many miles of excavation having taken place.) After WWII, a number of key developments would alter some of the plans but also bring the dream a step closer.

            The Metro Express plan became the RER.

  5. vanshnookenraggen.com

    What about the fact that the LIRR, Metro North and NJT all use different voltages for their trains? Converting even just one system would cost billions alone. That combined with the politics involved it seems close to impossible for through running to be done. Which isn’t to say it shouldn’t be studied, which it totally should, but what I mean is that there are more limitations than just lines on a map.

    Also, do you happen to know the data on LIRR/MetroNorth riders who switch to the subway? Knowing this would go a long way in justifying building new commuter rail trunk lines within Manhattan.

    • Alon Levy

      Dual-voltage trains run in New York every day, on Metro-North. If Amtrak wipes the 25 Hz system and makes it 60 Hz then the M8s can run anywhere, and it should do that anyway because 60 Hz means smaller on-board transformers and lighter trains (this is why the M8s can’t run under 25 Hz – they’d have been too heavy). Even replacing the entire LIRR and Metro-North with catenary, which is kind of wasteful, is still way cheaper than the actual physical tunnels.

      The East Side Access studies said something about how only 30-something percent of LIRR users in Manhattan worked within walking distance of Penn Station, but 60% worked within walking distance of Grand Central. I don’t think it had actual statistics on transfers to the subway, though.

      • Henry

        Presumably, if you replace the electrification you also have to replace the vehicles that run under them; Metro-North and LIRR have relatively new train fleets, of which only a small subset (the M8s) can even inter-operate anywhere feasibly. Supposedly the M9s will have third rail shoes that can actually be used for both MNR and LIRR without further configuration (from what I understand M7s and M8s have to be configured to be in the correct position), but that’s still not a lot of trains that can be through run.

        Granted, Metro-North, LIRR, and NJT should be aggressively pursuing further electrification and should replace all their diesels and diesel-electrics with something as interoperable as NJT’s ALP-45DP as an interim solution, but without replacing a large amount of rolling stock, through-running capability is quite limited, basically limited to the NE Corridor. It’s not as if there is another large operator of commuter rail EMUs that MNR and LIRR can just secondhand their EMUs to.

        • Alon Levy

          The M8s can run through to New Jersey if the 25 Hz electrification on the NEC is replaced with 60 Hz; in a pinch, it’s fine to just through-run them to the already-60 Hz Morris and Essex Lines and just go 60 Hz from the junction with the NEC east. The Arrows (and ALP-46s) can then run through on the NEC, i.e. parts of what I call Line 1. The M7s can use the non-run-through ESA tunnel, and, with some modifications, what I call Line 3; the M7s can probably be modified to allow changing the direction of the third rail shoe on the fly, there just needs to be a segment with Metro-North third rail on one side and LIRR third rail on the other. Line 4 is entirely third rail (one side Metro-North, the other subway/LIRR), and Line 5 has an unelectrified side that might need to be third rail if the Atlantic Avenue tunnel doesn’t have enough clearance for a pantograph. All of this involves service expansion – on the New Jersey side especially what I am proposing includes new Hudson tunnels, doubling and eventually tripling capacity, so new equipment is needed anyway.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They want to go to 60Hz. The conversion process from 60Hz to 25Hz is not 100 % efficient. When it’s a lots and lots of trains sucking up lots and lots of electricity, that matters. It removes a point of failure too.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amtrak's_25_Hz_traction_power_system#Recent_problems

            ….best time to convert Penn Station is soon after Gateway opens. The only thing that has to use the old station are trains that go to and from Sunnyside and beyond. Until a month and half later and induced demand outstrips what is available in Gateway.

    • quintus murray

      That is why a study would be a complete waste of money money that can be used to upgrade the existing network plus there is a reason LIRR doesn’t have closely spaced inner city stations it’s called the subway.

  6. Adirondacker12800

    Lots and lots of LIRR riders work on Wall Street. Or places like SoHo or Union Square. Metro North riders too. NJTransit passengers change at Newark or Hoboken for PATH. LIRR passengers change at Penn. Station and Metro North passengers change at Grand Central – for the subway.
    The LIRR is forever third rail. The clearances in the Atlantic Avenue tunnel and the 63rd St. tunnel are too tight for pantographs.

      • Alon Levy

        That the clearances are too low for catenary? In the 63rd Street tunnel, it is. It was built around the dimensions of the M1 and nothing more. In Atlantic Avenue, I’m not sure, I haven’t seen a tunnel profile.

        • Owen Evans

          The previous poster did not say it’s too low for catenary but rather that it’s too low for pantographs. If it’s too low for catenary then it’s no big deal. Metro North deals with this every day when they run trains from the New Haven Line into Grand Central. But with less clearance, even existing trains like the M8 with pantographs lowered won’t fit.

          This is not really a big issue for 63rd street tunnel / East Side Access / Line 6 in your proposal; as you say, it is LIRR-only.

          However, if this is true about Atlantic, it definitely complicate any through routing plan for Lower Manhattan (Line 5.)
          Possible solutions:
          (1) Find a way to design a train that can run through the Atlantic Avenue tunnel with pantograph lowered and buy a bunch of them.
          (2) install third rail on whatever portion of the NJT rail nework will have through running trains.
          (3) Forget about through running and have a Lower Manhattan terminal that operates just like Penn Station does today.

          Option 3 kind of defeats the purpose of the whole endeavor. Options 1 and 2 are expensive. 1 may not be possible at all; however, if it is, it is probably the best solution. It could be timed to coincide with retirement of some existing rolling stock or else the equipment currently assigned to these lines could be reassigned to operate elsewhere. You wind up with a unique, captive fleet but that’s not so bad since it would be a very large fleet..

          • Alon Levy

            The Erie lines are not electrified at all, so the cost of third-railing them is the same as the cost of catenarizing them. In practice there’s an extra cost coming from the fact that the authorities in the US don’t like approving new third rail grade crossings (even though the LIRR has them and the subway had them until the 1960s), but there are ways around that, for example leaving them unpowered and letting trains coast. The LIRR already has so many unpowered gaps coming from interlockings that there’s a minimum train length of 6 cars.

            The reason I’m saying “I don’t know” about Atlantic is that some people think the Park Avenue Tunnel is too low for catenary, and it isn’t, based on German standards for static clearances from 25 kV catenary. (US standards may be different; I don’t know them. But the laws of physics are the same in both countries.) My presumption is that line 4 stays third rail, since both preexisting halves of it are third rail, albeit still incompatible. Line 5 can go either way; the big benefit to catenary is that trains can draw far more power from it, but stop spacing on line 5 is pretty close and there is no reason to ever run express trains, so if the power drawn is capped due to low voltage, it’s not as big a deal as if there’s a cap on the NEC. Line 2 should be all-catenary, which means at least the two central tracks in the Park Avenue Tunnel should get catenary.

            Electrifying new lines is not free, but it’s also not expensive. Double-track electrification is on the order of $2-4 million per km, and there is precedent that such costs are achievable in the US and not just in Europe, namely Amtrak’s New Haven-Boston electrification project and the itemized cost of California HSR. The tunnel from Flatbush/Atlantic to Pavonia is 9 km of pain, and if it can be done even on $5 billion I will worship the project manager. In contrast, 150 km of Erie electrification, including the Northern Branch, should be doable on less than $500 million.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Buried somewhere in the 150 pages of blather about Penn Station Access for Metro North, on railroad.net, is he claim that M7/M8’s third rail shoes can use either type of third rail. So to run an M8 to Penn Station all they need to do is extend a few hundred yards of third rail onto the Hell Gate line. They don’t have enough M8s to do that. They could go out and buy whatever the ALP46 has become and locomotive hauled cars. Like they do for New Haven Line service to the Meadowlands. ( which is actually New Haven line service to Trenton with a change in Secaucus. ) They could buy whatever the ALP45s become and run through to the Hudson Line. Or convert Penn Station to 60Hz. Or..

          • Owen Evans

            Good point about third rail for electrifying the Erie lines.

            As for how can costs be cut. Firstly no headhouse would be required if the station is at Futon. The Calatrava PATH terminal and the Grimshaw/Carpenter oculus for the Futon station should more than suffice. In fact, connecting a regional rail line to those two headhouses only adds additional justification for their existence. Was it worth it to spend that much to build them, no. But now that they are built, let’s get the most out of that expenditure. Build just the barest of platforms with no mezzanine whatsoever underground. I presume four platform faces would be required to handle the expected frequency even given through running, as in Central Station Citybanan in Stockholm?

            This whole thing kind of seems to duplicate PATH, at least somewhat. Are there any changes that can be made to PATH to help it take on a new role once its NJT- Lower Manhattan role is handed over to the regional rail network?

          • Adirondacker12800

            PATH can keep on doing what it does now, move people between Essex County, Hudson County and Manhattan. There comes a point where shoving more cubicals into Manhattan becomes too expensive. Probably sometime after the extra capacity on ten car PATH trains runs out. They are at capacity now, with 8 car trains

  7. Devin

    Alon, is there truly an RER C-style project in NYC anyway? It was 1 km, shorter than Penn/GCT anyway! And being along the banks of the Seine, it seems like it was probably cut-and-cover as you’re saying it wasn’t too deep?

    It seems like the best (only?) true analog of RER C in NYC is just Penn through-running: quick and low cost and immediately enabling through-running. Maybe toss in new Hudson tunnels and a Penn/GCT connection. Anything beyond that seems at least RER B, if not RER A on your spectrum?

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, it’s through-running at Penn alone that’s RER C-style. Penn-GCT involves more tunneling, although it’s still just 2 km (plus 5 km under the river, but that’s capacity, not a new connection) – much more RER C than RER B. The RER B project also involved an intermediate station at Saint-Michel for a transfer with the RER C and (sort of) with Metro 10.

      The RER A involved 17 km of tunnel and 7 new trunk stations. I specify the number of trunk stations for two reasons. First, all of them except maybe Nanterre-Prefecture were difficult endeavors. And second, this created a long express lines running at metro frequency. This isn’t really present in Crossrail NY/NJ, where the only trunk stations are Penn and maybe Secaucus and Sunnyside, which not every train is going to serve. Even with Alt G as proposed, the only urban trunk service would be Penn-GCT-East Harlem.

      Unfortunately, owing to how the lines are set up, it’s really hard to fix this in what I call lines 1 and 2. Frequency on the New Haven Line Penn Station Access has a hard cap of a train every 10 minutes if Astoria is served, because of track-sharing with intercity trains; this in turn forces relatively early branching, at Sunnyside. In New Jersey, possibly after some reverse-branching and recombination, it’s possible to run high trunk frequency in Newark and its inner suburbs. But because of poor land use on the line between Newark and New York (some because of protected wetlands, but mostly because of warehouses) there won’t be good urban trunk service. On lines 3 and 4, which don’t go into Jersey, the situation is very different. On line 5 there’s a fairly long trunk to the east, and 1-2 good urban stations in Jersey (Pavonia and maybe Bergen Arches), but the Erie system is unfortunately too branched and it may be best to cut the Bergen County Line to a shuttle with timed connections to the Main Line off-peak.

  8. orulz

    You mention the Lower Manhattan line needing a stop in Downtown Brooklyn. Does Atlantic/Flatbush count, or would you put a new station west of there closer to the center?

      • Joey

        Atlantic/Court isn’t incredibly close to most of the tall buildings in Downtown Brooklyn. Getting any closer would be a world of pain, but I’m wondering if it’s worth considering.

        • Alon Levy

          When I say Court Street I mean the subway station, not the intersection at Atlantic. So really this would be Court/Joralemon, not Court/Atlantic.

          • Gary

            Why not under Adams/Boerum, which is super wide and a long-block closer to the A/C/F/R at Jay-MetroTech?

          • Adirondacker12800

            Gotta decide where the station is going to be on Wall Street. Going up Flatbush Avenue is great if you want the station to be under Canal Street. Or maybe Chambers St. I don’t think most people have City Hall in mind when they think of “Wall Street” Getting to Boerum Place puts curves in… Straight out Atlantic means there can be a gentle curve to Battery Park to Trinity Place, Church, 6th Ave, Canal St and across the river to Newport….. People who want to get farther downtown in Brooklyn can get on the subway for a few stops. Just like they do if they work in Rockefeller Center…. Ya wanna get to Metro Tech use the R train.

  9. Eric

    In New York at least, tunnels are the cheap part of a subway line, stations are the expensive part. A GCT-Lower Manhattan line would require one new station in Lower Manhattan, and you’re suggesting another new station at Union Square, which would double the cost for stations. Union Square is not that big a destination (just look at the size of the buildings), and the one subway line that intersects there (the L) has relatively low capacity, so wouldn’t the “sweet spot” of usefulness and affordability be not to build a station there?

    • Caelestor

      Union Square is actually a great place to put a station. As the 4th busiest subway station in the system, it has high traffic every hour, every day. It serves a very bustling retail corridor, and NYU is nearby. The North-South line would effectively be a fast subway line stopping only at 125, 42, 14, and Fulton Sts, and would do a lot to relive the (4) (5) in a way that the local SAS can’t.

    • Alon Levy

      The only way to build the Fulton Street station is with a large-diameter TBM, and in that case, the stations are not the expensive part anymore. Station infrastructure is entirely within the bore, plus some access shafts. I don’t know how much slant shafts for escalators cost, but vertical shafts for elevators are cheap.

      Union Square is also useful for the transfer to the N/Q/R/W, and not just the L. It’s a north-south line, but it goes east-west at Canal and 59th, and doesn’t intersect the Harlem-GCT-Fulton line at either location. Both 59th and Canal would be good station locations if the 4/5 express trains didn’t exist, but they do. So the Union Square N/Q/R/W transfer has value for passengers traveling from point south to Herald Square, and from points north to Chinatown (the 6 connects at GCT but is slow). Not to mention the very high O&D volumes there.

    • Gary

      Union Sq is a HUGE destination, and one of the busiest subway stations in the system. The 4/5/6/L/N/R/Q/W trains stop there, for excellent connections.

    • Adirondacker12800

      the 4,5 and 6 stop at Grand Central and the N, Q, R and W stop at Herald Square. And the 2,3, 4, 5, A, C, J, N, R and W stop at Fulton.

  10. MR M CURRIE

    ‘Knock on wood’ so far Crossrail in London is on budget and time, though the electrical unions are trying to pull some tricks now it is nearing completion. Luckily it does not have such a political imperative to open on time, unlike the Jubilee line which had to be open before the Millenium in time for the Dome to open before 2000 arrived. Though there was a variety of reasons the 50% overrun in costs helped delay anymore tube projects for quite a while and the distrust of London transport by the Treasury meant we were saddled with the stupid PPP scheme to upgrade the tube.

  11. Henry Chin

    I’m not familiar with Parisian employment or residential density patterns, but I feel like a major issue with linking, say, New Jersey to the South Side lines of the LIRR, is that Manhattan has a lot of jobs, but the only way to do an alignment like that would be a single station in Manhattan. To have more than one stop serving Manhattan employment centers necessitates a north-south alignment in Manhattan.

    I’ve always considered it better to have four regional lines:

    NJT/MNR via Penn
    NJT/MNR via GCT and Hoboken, stopping at Union Sq and Fulton St
    LIRR GCT -> Atlantic loop via Union Sq and Fulton St
    MNR/LIRR via Penn and Empire Corridor

    It adds a transfer for those trying to get from NJT to Long Island, but i feel like this serves Manhattan pretty adequately.

      • Henry Chin

        What I mean to say is a tunnel from Hoboken under the river (probably under Liberty St in Manhattan), before turning north on Gold St and shooting up the Bowery and Third to the general vicinity of Grand Central. The “Fulton St” station could either be on Gold/Fulton or Liberty (the latter is also a block away from Cortland St (R), and the Wall St/Broad St complex.), and a 14th St station would be a block away from the existing Union Sq complex, so it shouldn’t be that bad to connect it.

        Granted, the MTA’s neighborhood maps show a 2D view of the network, so all this may not be physically possible.

        • Alon Levy

          Okay, a couple things:

          1. A tunnel from Hoboken to Liberty would be diagonal. Exchange Place to Liberty would be horizontal.
          2. Downtown Brooklyn has about the same number of jobs as the area around Union Square, so it’s not any worse at distributing passengers across more than one city-center station.
          3. Hoboken is a railyard and a residential area, but Pavonia and Exchange Place have some office towers (fewer than Downtown Brooklyn or Union Square, though).
          4. If Fulton has cross-platform transfers, then people from Brooklyn can get to Grand Central without crowding the Fulton access points or internal circulation.

          • Adirondacker12800

            If the broad concept is LIRR to NJTransit and Metro North to Staten Island people in Brooklyn, downtown anyway, would just get on a train to Grand Central in Brooklyn.
            Tunnels can run under buildings/city blocks diagnoally. It’s complex to do that but it can be done. It’s much easier to do that under rivers, there’s one owner to deal with and a lot less buildings and utilities to deal with.
            12 car commuter trains are longer than a West Side Midtown block. Not that it should be under 50th Street but if it was centered between 5th and 6th the southbound escalators would be coming up on 49th or 48th and 6th or 5th and the northbound escalatora would be coming up on 51st of 52sn, 5th and 6th. The east end could have escalators to 50th and Madison or Park and the west end to 50th and 7th. Eyeballing it if it was under Fulton the west end would be on Greenwich and the east end on Nassau. 8 entrances/exits northbound on Greenwich, Church, Broadway and Nassau and southbound on the same.

          • Henry Chin

            As far as New Jersey goes, I see the point about Hoboken, and Newport/Pavonia looks like a better fit. However, I don’t really see how you could get from Secaucus Junction to Exchange Place.

          • Alon Levy

            From Secaucus to Journal Square you’d tunnel. It’s a short tunnel in relatively easy terrain. By itself, it’s by far the best way to get into Manhattan from the Erie lines. The problem is that it has to be east-west within Manhattan, so no cross-platform transfer to GCT or Staten Island.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The Erie Railroad had it’s own separate right of way to to their ferry terminal where Newport is now. It’s still there, unused.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergen_Arches

            Parallel to the “covered roadway” Route 139, the access road from the Skyway to the Holland Tunnel. Even if it wasn’t there, they could dig the tunnel out there.

  12. ant6n

    So I understand through Midtown you propose an East-West (33th street) and North-South (4th ave) through-routed regional rail tunnel. Would there be a station at their intersection?

  13. car(e)-free LA

    I suggest that Jersey-Lower Manhattan-Brooklyn regional rail line and the PATH-Lex proposal be combined into one project.
    This would require three steps:
    1. Build the Gateway project, because the PATH line to WTC will have to be closed for a few years, and capacity will be desperately needed Also, operate a free ferries from Hoboken and Exchange Place to World Financial Center every 5 minutes.
    2. Close down the PATH Line to WTC. Build the new PATH-LEX connector by having new tunnels dip down out of the Lower Manhattan Tubes at the World Financial Center. Have these tunnels bend up to Vessey Street, to a new WTC through station under Vessey between Broadway and Church. Continue the line up Park Row, and have it hook into the Lexington Avenue Line at Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall Station.
    3. Construct a new regional rail line from Hoboken to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, having it enter Manhattan at Chambers Street, and bending it south along Greenwich Street to the abandoned WTC PATH Station, which it will repurpose. Then have it continue south along Greenwich Street, and have it make a broad arc under the East River so that it enters Brooklyn following Atlantic Avenue to the existing LIRR Route.

    This is a map to help visualize it all: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1c-mj3KH6zvoupyNOYPzroKeDOAs&usp=sharing

    • Adirondacker12800

      This was longer. It’s obvious you don’t appreciate the scale in many respects.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Okay, you chose not pause and reflect for a moment

          Ferries:

          Any solution you come up with that leverages the existing docks and scares up some boats from someplace else, cheap, is woefully inadequate. Hoboken is a big terminal with lots tracks but that is inadequate too. This is probably fixable at reasonable cost and it could be reused for suburban trains to Wall Street, existing access to Hoboken is inadequate.
          For enough capacity, in very round comparisions, you are replicating the Staten Island Ferry. Boats that size aren’t just laying around not being used. The Staten Island Ferry is buying new ones. They cost 100 million dollars a piece. How many 100 million dollar boats do you need to be running one every five minutes and do 100 million dollar boats have enough capacity? How much do two terminals on either side or the river, that can handle a boat that big every five minutes, cost? it gets to a billion dollars real fast and that may not be enough money. We aren’t going to do that for a temporary solution. That nobody likes because it’s slow and doesn’t go where they want to go. Ferries are not a viable solution.

          PATH system;

          It’s at capacity. In nice very round numbers it carries half the passenger that BART does or twice the amount of LA’s Metro. It’s not filled with suburbanites that changed from suburban trains. You don’t comprehend it.

          The platforms at the World Trade Center:

          Are too short and too narrow for commuter trains. You aren’t going to rebuild the commuter system in the suburbs and at Penn Station with less capacity to make it fit one station in Lower Manhattan. Changing the World Trade Center into a commuter rail station is very likely to be impossible. Or cost so much money a deep cavern station as big as the Empire State building is cheaper. …. Swapping something that has two lines for something that has twenty lines very likely means you don’t have enough platforms even if you did that. Or enough space to have people loitering around… you do understand that when PATH trains are running frequently, at the terminal stations, passengers don’t wait much to get on the train, that as they filter in they wait on the train itself, for it to depart, not on the platform. That falls apart if it’s ten differnt lines going two different directions. The World Trade Center is not a good fit for the suburban trains.

          …. I’m just started. Next time sharpen the Crayolas.

          • car(e)-free LA

            1. With 6 ferries, you could operate ferries every 5 minutes in each direction to Hoboken and Exchange Place. That would have a daily capacity of 80,000 passengers, 55,000 less than the existing PATH Lower Manhattan tubes. That is why you have to build Gateway, which will allow most PATH passengers transferring from NJT an option to connect to the subway at Penn Station instead. In total, the would cost about 600 million, but the ferries could be sold for almost that. I agree that normally ferries aren’t good transportation, but in this case, they are taking passengers direct from a PATH Station (Exchange Place) to the Manhattan Terminal Station (4 minute trip) and from a PATH/NJT Station (Hoboken) to the Manhattan Terminal Station (8 minute trip), so they aren’t that bad.

            2. The PATH Station currently has 6 tracks. A 2 track through-running regional rail line could widen platforms and utilize the Spanish solution easily within the existing station box. Furthermore, because of the curvature the PATH trains take entering the station box, the platforms are only 60% of their potential length. A diagram can be seen here: . http://wheredidthetowersgo.com/articles/DEW/dewpics/Image204.jpg.
            Besides, there aren’t ten different lines going ten different directions. The route would be used by all Port Jervis line trains, Pascack Valley line trains, and Morristown/Gladstone line trains. (I’m just going to ignore the Meadowlands Branch for the moment.) They would feed into trains to Oyster Bay, Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma, and Hempstead, respectively. That is four routes, each operating every 15-20 minutes, all passing through, which is considerably less chaotic than Penn Station.

          • Adirondacker12800

            I just wanna make sure I’m understanding this. You want to spend 1.2 billion dollars on ferries and build three terminals? ….. every five minutes at two termials on the New Jersey side implies every 2 and half minutes at the single terminal on the Manhatan side. Which would be twice as big. Four terminals worth of terminal. I just want to make sure I’m clear

            You do understand that the trains that go to the World Trade Center all pass through Exchange Place, stopping briefly for a few passengers and that turning them around there seriously constrains the amount of trains that can go there. Especially if everybody on them is getting off or getting on. And that there isn’t is a whole lot of access to the surface at Exchange Place. And that the narrow platform on the southern side is not under the street. It’s under skyscrapers and the owners of those skyscrapers would be very upset if you started carving holes through to add access. For a few years until it’s all obsolete. I just wanna make sure I understand up to that point.

          • car(e)-free LA

            I want to spend 1.2 billion (if 4 terminals really costs 600 million, which I doubt), and then sell the ferries for about 500,000, and the ferry terminals to some developer. You could also cut out the Exchange Place route and have ferries every 2.5 minutes from WTC to Hoboken, which would be a loss of about 100 million, plus whatever the loss of a ferry terminal costs. Unless you have a better idea.

          • Adirondacker12800

            I’ll resist the urge to suggest the best idea.

            I’m sorry that after explaining that new BOATS cost 100 million a piece that I was expecting you to understand that a dozen of them would cost 1.2 billion. It’s 1.2 billion just for the BOATS. The things that could just aimlessly bob up an down in the water. Comparatively speaking people who have ferry terminals buy ferry boats fairly frequently and terminals infrequently. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time ferreting that out. You are the one suggesting it. I did find that in 1997 RENOVATING the Manhattan terminal of the Staten Island Ferry was projected to cost 81 million. I’d hazard a guess that building one from the muddy riverbed up would cost a lot more, that there has been some inflation since then and a nice guesstimate for a terminal is a quarter of billion dollars.

            I forget that an old fogey like me who learned old math and new math and didn’t touch a cheap calculator until I was out in the working world, has learned all sorts of Jedi arithmetic tricks. I really should type out the numbers completely and not describe them in English.
            500,000 for something you paid
            100,000,000 for is not a good price. Is it less than a penny on a dollar. It’s exactly half a cent on the dollar. Or one half of one percent of what you paid. Not a good price.
            … or if you think half a million for the boats is a good price the boats you are thinking about are far too small. There I go using English descriptions Something you can buy for even 5,000,000 is too small. And 500,000 for something you paid 5,000,000 for isn’t a very good price.
            …You are toying with 2 billion dollars for something that will be obsolete fairly fast. Ferries are not a viable option.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Widening platforms doesn’t make them longer. Ten cars of PATH train is half as long as 12 cars of commuter train. Almost exactly. The difference in size is that great. Each commuter car is 60 percent LONGER. The station at the World Trade Center is too SHORT.

    • Joey

      Interesting proposals. A couple of thoughts:

      1) I am hopeful that building the Path-Lex connection could be done without completely closing the PATH WTC station during construction. The part under the WTC site would probably be in a bored tunnel anyway. Constructing a bored tunnel without disrupting anything above it isn’t exactly trivial, but it’s been done many times at this point and is relatively well understood. The only messy part then becomes connecting the new tunnels to the existing ones, which could hopefully be done on weekends.
      2) It might not actually be possible to connect to the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station since the ramps would be too steep. I think the main obstacle here is the 2/3 tracks along Beekman St which are exactly where you’d need this tunnel to be. This is according to page 6 of this pdf: http://www.rrwg.org/path-lexa.pdf (I don’t think what they propose is possible anymore – they propose the station occupying the level of the current PATH mezzanine, if I’m not mistaken this was proposed before the transit center was actually built, but it’s a good reference anyway). I might be wrong and it could be possible to dive right out of the station to dip under the Beekman St tunnels, but it seems far from certain.
      3) There is certainly room to expand the PATH station box, but parts of the platforms/tracks would end up being under 7 WTC and the currently under construction Performing Arts Center. Both would be somewhat challenging and involve a lot of underpinning.

      • Adirondacker12800

        It may just be that George is really really good at email and all these organizations let George take care of the email but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not “they” it’ “him”.

        • Joey

          Could be the case. But I don’t particularly care who or how many people are operating that site, or even very much about the specific proposals being made. I care that the presentations seem to have detailed data about the track geometries in downtown Manhattan which I haven’t been able to find elsewhere.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It could be that he actually has access to that information or it could be that he’s just cooking some stuff up from things he found on nycsubway.org, subchat.com and railroad.net. Hard to tell.
            I don’t spend a whole lot of time on it. Google doesn’t find much about “them” and anything that seems to hint at something professional turns out to be circular. IRUM citing RRWG kind of thing. Take the things “they” say with a bit of skepticism.

            .

          • Joey

            I’m sure most of the diagrams were available in some public manner at some point in time, but it doesn’t appear to be the case anymore – things do disappear from the internet (try to fine the ARC EIS, with images, these days). Most of the specific proposals on that site seem to date from before the WTC rebuild anyway. Like I said, I visit that site for the useful background graphics, not for the things they’re actually pushing for.

          • Adirondacker12800

            the internet archive can be your friend. ….especially when conspiracy theorists on railroad.net are insisting that the official position was that it would never go to Grand Central and it has nothing all to do with water tunnels, its all just that NJTransit is evil.
            …. it’s there.. At least it was the last time I looked. The PDFs the glossy brochures were printed from can be a lot easier to go through and find things about going to Grand Central and water tunnels. At least twice which is where I stopped looking for more. It may be the FAQs which were still there last time I looked.

          • Joey

            Really? The last time I checked the wayback machine PDFs had their images stripped out. Feel free to prove me wrong of course.

          • Joey

            Okay, I stand corrected, most of the later captures have working PDF links, just the early ones are mostly broken (not missing images but broken).

            But have you seen anything resembling the diagrams used on the RRWG site anywhere? I haven’t found anything even remotely close to that level of detail about track alignments in lower Manhattan.

          • Adirondacker12800

            there’s this one that has some tasty tidbits.

            http://web.archive.org/web/20110429202016/http://arctunnel.com/pdf/news/Tunnel%20Info%20Kit_Dec2009_single%20page%20layout.pdf

            Where this appears

            “Moreover, no route to the east can currently be built because it would interfere with New York’s Water Tunnel No. 1. In the future, however, that will not be a barrier, once the city completes the ongoing construction of its Water Tunnel No. 3”

            Which perfectly reasonable thing to do, wait until 2020 or so when the City shuts down No. 1 for it’s first inspection in a century.

            And apparently the Google Books machines have scanned the EIS. Yech. but it’s been scanned.

            http://web.archive.org/web/20110429202016/http://arctunnel.com/pdf/news/Tunnel%20Info%20Kit_Dec2009_single%20page%20layout.pdf

            Click on the left to get to the title page.

          • Adirondacker12800

            …..and I haven’t seen that level of detail anywhere else either. Railfans love to pass around maps and diagrams, technical specs, errata and ephemera. if someone not George had run across something, someone somewhere would be passing it around. Which is very interesting. He either has access, has spent the time finding it somewhere or he’s cobbled together this that and the other thing and it looks good. It may not bear any relationship to reality but it looks good. I’m a bit skeptical. I don’t have another source to compare it to. Well the publicist George likes to type up things that appear to be press releases responding to the response to his comments… I haven’t delved that far except once. I skeptical.

  14. spencepatrickj

    1. You don’t need 12 ferries. You need 6–2 for the 4 minuite Exchange Place Run and 4 for the 8 minuite Hoboken run. Or 8, if all ferries are going to Hoboken.
    2. As I have previously explained, the way the PATH tracks enter the station at a curve means that platforms only take up 60% of the station box, which means that the new regional rail tracks, which would pass directly through the station box, would be able to construct platforms 60% longer, which is perfect for the regional rail trains.

    Essentially though, you can split my proposal into two parts. First off, you have the PATH-Lex connection. If you think that should be built, and I certainly do, then PATH will have to be shut down for several years. If this occurs, I propose ferries as a potential way to make up for the lost capacity.
    Second, you have the Hoboken-Brooklyn regional rail. If PATH-Lex is built, then it leaves behind a very valuable station at WTC, and it fits perfectly into the regional rail plan.

    • Adirondacker12800

      You definitely need more than two. A wild assumption is that the ferry boats shuttling back and forth will have passengers on them. Passengers are self-loading and self-unloading but that takes time. Aren’t particularly good at stampeding quickly and don’t even think about coming up with something where the whole passenger saloon slides on and off the boat. You need more than two.
      Arithmetic is a cruel mistress. Six of them at 100 million a piece is 600 million. One ferry terminal is not particularly useful. You need at least two and they aren’t cheap.
      Arithmetic is a very cruel mistress. PATH cars are 51 feet long. 10 times 51 is 510. 60 percent of that is 306. 510 plus 306 is 816. Commuter cars are 85 feet long and 12 times 85 is 1020. 1020 is somewhat longer than 810. Or 810 is somewhat shorter than 1020. Whichever way you want her to be cruel. No you aren’t going to build brand new platforms that are 9 cars long in the center of the two busiest commuter rail systems in the country. You are not.
      Maps are a cruel mistress too. It does take time to ride escalators up from platforms deep under the reflecting ponds and dinosaur model but ferry docks would be blocks and blocks away and walking blocks and blocks takes time. Commuters will not be amused.
      Very optimistically this is gonna cost a billion dollars. So it can be obsolete in a few years. While it is in service it will be slower than you think it will be. And no one is going to build it because the stubby little platforms you get out if it are too short, it doesn’t meet the goals of the project.

      ….. goals of the project…. You haven’t considered Metro North or Staten Island…

      • car(e)-free LA

        And your ferry alternative is….? Perhaps Joey’s proposal of connecting the new tunnels to the existing ones, which could hopefully be done on weekends would work. The PATH station box is 990 feet long, which means it would need to be extended 30 (okay, more like 50) feet. That is doable on the south end.

        Seriously though…what is your proposal?

        • Adirondacker12800

          I don’t need to come up with anything. Anyway, I gave my crayons and crayon shapener to younger kid back when Johnson was president. Lyndon not Andrew. I do have a few but let’s just focus on billion dollar ferry systems that have a few inadequacies.
          We can save up the discussion about what happens when you try to mix high frequency Lexington Avenue Local with lower frequency 6th Ave PATH service at Grove Street or Newport for some other day. You are going to maintain or increase service on 6th Avenue aren’t you? Did you consider 6th Ave at all? No, we are gonna save that up for another day.
          Or the discussion of how badly you misunderstand suburban service and what real people would try to achieve instead of scrawling crayon marks on their screenshot.
          Let just focus on ferries having some problems that may be fatal.

          • car(e)-free LA

            Got it. Alon Levy and Yonah Freemark are ridiculous people with terrible ideas, and therefore new regional rail service should of course not be built to Lower Manhattan because you think so, because a common sense line should not be built from Hoboken to Atlantic.
            And of course combining a line with 135,000 daily riders (WTC PATH) to a line with 645,000 daily riders (Lexington Avenue Local) with a small amount of new track is absolutely idiotic.
            And of course I’m clueless to propose reusing a big, valuable station that the aforementioned project abandons.

            PS. The Lexington Avenue local operates trains every 3 minutes, and the WTC PATH operates trains every 3 minutes, so that works nicely. New Platforms would have to be constructed at Exchange Place so that 6th Ave PATH can turn back there without interfering with Newark-Bronx trains. Conveniently, that allows 6th Ave PATH trains to be extended along an upgraded HBLR via Bayonne to Staten Island someday, so that solves that problem.

            PPS. I appreciate Joey’s suggestion of shutting down the WTC PATH every weekend to build that connection, instead of ferries. That could really work.

          • Adirondacker12800

            I think it’s a fabulous idea and have since Governor Nelson Rockefeller suggested it. I don’t think that doing it requires a billion dollars ferry system as a temporary solution.

        • Joey

          I think we should probably think about the station box as more than a rectangular space enclosing the tracks. Any time something is built above the tracks, the support structures for that thing are going to be built around the tracks. In particular, at the northern end, under the Performing Arts Center, the tracks curve westward, so straightening the tracks and adding platforms would require moving some supporting structures. There’s not a whole lot over the southern approach tracks. The south tower footprint is partially over them but that shouldn’t be terribly heavy. There’s some space to expand to the south but probably not enough to accommodate the station and both approaches (the tracks would be pretty deep but possibly not deep enough to pass under the pilings of high-rises, maybe someone else has more info on this than me?)

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