Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel
The Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel (also known as the Cross Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel) is a proposed freight rail transport tunnel under Upper New York Bay in the Port of New York and New Jersey between northeastern New Jersey and Long Island, including southern and eastern New York City.
Direct connections for rail freight between Long Island and nearby areas of the United States have long been limited. At present, freight trains from the west and south destined for New York City (except for Staten Island, via the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge), Long Island and Connecticut must cross the Hudson River using the Alfred H. Smith Memorial Bridge which is 140 miles (225 km) north of New York City at Selkirk, New York, making a 280-mile (451 km) detour known as the "Selkirk hurdle." Partly as a result, less than 3% by weight of the area's freight is said to move by rail. The former Pennsylvania Railroad planned a freight railroad tunnel between Brooklyn and Staten Island in 1893, but the project was never carried out. Attempts by government planners to revive the project from the 1920s through the 1940s did not succeed. The Pennsylvania Tunnel and Terminal Railroad tunnels through New York Penn Station, generally used only for passenger trains, were used for freight during World War I to relieve congestion at the barge transport docks. Proposals for a cross-harbor tunnel were floated as early as the 1920s.
In the early 1990s, U.S. Rep Jerrold Nadler revived interest in direct connection of rail freight to Long Island, hoping to reduce truck traffic through Manhattan. With support from the City government, the New York City Economic Development Corporation commissioned a study of rail freight traffic across New York Harbor. The Cross Harbor Freight Movement Major Investment Study received $4 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $1 million from the New York City Industrial Development Agency. Edwards and Kelcey, a transportation engineering firm in Morristown, NJ, was hired to study the feasibility of alternative approaches to increased rail access for freight.
The idea of a cross-harbor rail tunnel also received support from Connecticut transportation planners, who believed such a rail connection would reduce truck traffic on the heavily congested Connecticut Turnpike.
The proposed tunnel would primarily serve Long Island, which includes the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties, with a combined population of 7.7 million. It is served by the Long Island Rail Road, the 2nd busiest commuter railroad in North America (Behind Metro-North). Rail freight service on Long Island is provided by the New York and Atlantic railroad (NYA), which operate on LIRR tracks and carries about 20,000 carloads each year. The NYA connects with CSX Transportation via the Hell Gate Bridge to CSX Transportation's Oak Point Yard in the Bronx. It also connects to CSX and Norfolk Southern in the Greenville section of Jersey City, NJ, via a cross harbor float barge service, the New York New Jersey Rail, LLC, currently owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The New York City boroughs of the Bronx and Staten Island have active rail freight connections, via the Oak Point Link and the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge, respectively. The latter connects Staten Island with rail lines west of the Hudson, and serves the Howland Hook Marine Terminal and a municipal waste facility, but there are no rail connections between Staten Island and the rest of New York City or Long Island. Manhattan last saw freight service in 1983. The West Side freight line was converted to passenger service in 1991, with the West Side freight yards replaced by Trump Place and the elevated portion south of 30th street converted into High Line Park.
Studies of feasibility and environmental issues
In its summer 2000 report, Edwards and Kelcey evaluated proposals for rail tunnels between Brooklyn and Staten Island and between Brooklyn and Jersey City, plus increased barge transport of railcars across New York Harbor. It estimated a pair of tunnels between Jersey City and Brooklyn to cost $2.15 billion, not including track connections or track improvements. Despite the length of the tunnels being considered, up to 17,000 ft (5,182 m), the study found that providing enough ventilation to operate diesel locomotives would be practical.
Probably mindful of environmental issues that were key elements in the 1985 cancellation of the Westway project, the New York City Industrial Development Agency commissioned an environmental assessment. This assessment found that immersed tube construction would be environmentally more hazardous and more expensive than bored tunnel construction. Ventilation was confirmed as practical and found unlikely to present greater hazards than fumes from trucks that would otherwise be used to transport freight.
Following the feasibility and environmental studies, two organizations were formed to plan and promote a tunnel project and to seek government funding. They are the Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project, hosted by the STV Group, a construction firm in New York City and Douglassville, Pennsylvania, and the Cross-Harbor Tunnel Coalition, also known as "MoveNYNJ" or "Move NY & NJ". The Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project is supported by funds from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, while the Cross-Harbor Tunnel Coalition is a voluntary organization of business, union and political leaders. Political activity led to authorization of $100 million for a Cross Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel as a federal transportation project in the U.S. Transportation Equity Act of 2005.
Rail tunnel facilities and characteristics
The proposed Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel tubes would be large enough to take double-stacked container cars. As of 2004, according to the Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project, the alignment favored for a Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel was between portals (access points) located in Conrail's Greenville Yard in Jersey City and along the Long Island Rail Road's Bay Ridge Branch at 65th St in Brooklyn, crossing the middle of the Upper Harbor, with a length of 5.5 mi (8.9 km).
During the environmental assessment, existing rail infrastructure was surveyed for compatibility with a Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel. Parts of the existing trackage need repair. Some rights of way have been reduced to single-track width or were never wider and are in deteriorating condition due to their little use and maintenance. Nearly all track segments lack enough clearance above the tracks for the envisaged double-stacked container cars. Such factors limit the effective capacity of a rail tunnel and will add substantial cost to overcome. Rail yards east of New York Harbor lack a trans-shipment terminal with enough capacity to transfer the freight coming through a Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel to trucks. A proposal was generated to acquire 100 acres (40 ha) of land to build one in West Maspeth, Queens. According to the Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project, project costs, including rail line connections and upgrades, will be substantially more than the costs given in summer 2000 for just tunnels. Their estimate is $4.8 billion for a one-track tunnel and $7.4 billion for a two track tunnel.
Studies performed for the Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel say about 30,000 trucks per day cross the George Washington Bridge and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge going to or from parts of Long Island, including Queens and Brooklyn, or about 10 million trucks per year, and the capacity of the proposed rail tunnel to carry freight is equivalent to between 0.5 and 1.0 million trucks per year. If these estimates are accurate, then at full capacity the proposed rail tunnel could reduce truck traffic between 5 and 10%.
Criticism of rail tunnel plans
Some critics object that improving rail transport with a tunnel would provide little traffic reduction relative to its high cost. The West Maspeth facility has been heavily criticized. It is proposed for an industrial site about four blocks south of the interchange between the Long Island Expressway (I-495) and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (I-278), where Nichols Copper and later Phelps Dodge operated a copper refinery for decades. The copper plant closed in 1983, and the site has been largely vacant since then, although a new food warehouse was completed at its eastern end in 2005. It abuts the heavily polluted Newtown Creek.
Although the Cross-Harbor tunnel terminal site is close to two major highways and existing rail, many access routes pass through residential neighborhoods. Based on the estimates of the rail tunnel's capacity, traffic to and from the site could reach thousands of truck trips per day. However, most of those trucks already travel through those highways to use the existing bridge connection.
Spokespersons for neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens strongly object to land being designated for a trans-shipment terminal or other railroad uses and to the noise and vibration expected from passage of up to 1,600 rail cars per day. Reacting to these criticisms, in March 2005 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he opposed the rail tunnel project. However, in early July 2007, Mayor Bloomberg told Rep. Nadler, he would be willing to take another look at the plan.
A City University of New York study, published in 2011, pointed out that "no current demand for a containerized truck-rail facility has yet been demonstrated" on Long Island, in part because long distance trucks, including intermodal containers, generally must be unloaded at major distribution centers which typically serve an entire metropolitan area. Few such distribution centers are located on Long Island. The study also noted that standard double stack rail equipment is too wide to run on tracks where third rail is used, as it is on much of the Long Island Railroad's passenger routes.ibid. p. 19
Notes and references
- Gareth Mainwaring (2002). "The development of the New York Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project". Hatch Mott Macdonald (Toronto, ON).
- Christopher T. Baer, Ed. (June 2004). "PRR Chronology". Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society.
- "SAYS ROADS BLOCK PORT UNIFICATION; Van Buskirk Discusses Authority's Project Before JerseyCity Kiwanians.EXPLAINS BELT LINE PLANCommissioner Indicates That NoParticular Rall Line Can LongPrevent the Work". The New York Times. November 24, 1922.
- Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) (1993). "HR 2784, New York Harbor Tunnel Act of 1993". Library of Congress.
- New York City Industrial Development Agency
- Edwards and Kelcey
- Connecticut Turnpike
- New York and Atlantic Railway information
- last saw freight service in 1983
- Michael G. Carey, President (2000). "Cross Harbor Freight Movement Major Investment Study". New York City Economic Development Corporation. Archived from the original on 2003-06-13.
- Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project
- STV Group
- Cross-Harbor Tunnel Coalition
- Marnie McGregor (July 29, 2005). "Cross Harbor Tunnel receives significant funding in federal transportation bill". Cross-Harbor Tunnel Coalition.
- Steve Anderson (2006). "Holland Tunnel historic overview". Eastern Roads. The diameter of a two-lane tube for the Holland Tunnel is slightly less than the diameter for a tube with one rail line in a Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel, as shown in reference  (Mainwaring).
- Jon Orcutt and Kate Slevin (May 17, 2004). "Long-Awaited Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel Environmental Report Released". Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
- Dredged Material Management Interagency Workgroup (February 5, 2003). "Meeting Notes". NY/NJ Clean Ocean And Shore Trust.
- Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project (2004). "Brief History of Cross Harbor Rail". Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project.
- Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project (2004). "Frequently Asked Questions". Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project.
- Marnie McGregor (February 2, 2006). "The Cross Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel". Cross-Harbor Tunnel Coalition.
- Peter Samuel (September 29, 2004). "New York harbor rail tunnel pushed with special truck toll tax". Toll Roads Newsletter.
- Laura Stockstill (March 3, 2005). "Planning Industrial Futures in West Maspeth". Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.
- Rob McKay (September 30, 2004). "Rally Rips Freight Tunnel Plan". Ridgewood Times Newsweekly (Queens, NY).
- Leo King (December 6, 2004). "Freight Lines: New Yorkers hear tunnel objections". National Corridors Initiative.
- David Cargin (March 10, 2005). "Mayor Bloomberg Opposes Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel". Queens Chronicle, Mid-Queens Edition.
- Lisa L. Colangelo (July 10, 2007). "Dig it! Bloomy waffles on tunnel". New York: Daily News, City Hall Bureau.
- Paaswell, Robert E.; Eickemeyer, Penny (June 9, 2011). "NYSDOT Consideration of Potential Intermodal Sites for Long Island" (PDF). CUNY Institute for Urban Systems University Transportation Research Center. p. 22. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
- Cross Harbor Freight Movement Project Several planning documents at this site.
- U.S. Federal Railroad Administration
- NYNJ Railroad