TRENTON (AP) -- Train delays like the ones caused recently by electrical problems in a century-old Hudson River tunnel could become much more common if a new tunnel isn't built, an Amtrak executive told New Jersey lawmakers Monday.

Amtrak executive Stephen Gardner testifies before the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee (Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media NJ)

Even if that anticipated $14 billion project were started now, it wouldn't be complete until 2025 at the earliest, said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak's vice president of Northeast corridor infrastructure investment.

In the interim, there is no viable contingency plan in place if one of the two tubes in the tunnel has to be taken out of service for an extended period of time, which would reduce train traffic during rush hour from 24 trains to six, Gardner told the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee.

Amtrak's goal is to "keep the tunnel in working order to support the traffic we have today," Gardner said, adding that the tunnel is structurally sound even though it was built 105 years ago. "Every day we defer is expanding our risk."

Several days of train delays last month focused new attention on the push to build a new tunnel. Monday's hearing came as the major stakeholders in a tunnel project -- the governors of New Jersey and New York, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the federal Department of Transportation -- grapple with how to pay for it.

It is a steep challenge. Gardner told lawmakers that it would cost Amtrak $1 billion per year just to keep its Northeast corridor infrastructure in a state of good repair, and would cost another $4 billion per year to complete its backlog of projects on the 457-mile corridor, a span that includes numerous century-old bridges and a 142-year-old tunnel.

Senate Legislative Oversight Committee hears testimony about recent Amtrak and NJ Transit delays (Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media NJ)

Amtrak gets about $1.4 billion annually in federal funding, he said, of which about $300 million is used for Northeast corridor needs.

In the wake of the delays in July, federal Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx sent a letter to Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York urging them to meet with him within two weeks to put together a strategy for building new crossings under the river.

Christie and Cuomo then separately sent letters urging the government to come up with more money for the current project, called Gateway. Cuomo's letter made reference to the government's alleged offer to provide funding in the form of a loan that the states would have to pay back. The Port Authority also sent a letter to Foxx urging a bigger financial commitment.

"It's a little like a poker game. Who's going to show their cards first, who's going to put their money on the table?" Port Authority chairman John Degnan said last week. "I think clearly that has to be the federal government, and that will serve as an inducement for the states."

Several years ago, the government pledged $3 billion for a tunnel project initially estimated to cost about $9 billion, with the rest of the cost borne by New Jersey and the Port Authority. Christie pulled the plug on that project in 2010, citing concerns that his state would be forced to pay for billions in cost overruns.

 

 

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