As its intercity passenger traffic waned over time, the Pennsy shifted its commuter trains to Pennsylvania Station. When the last trains departed from the Exchange Place terminal in the early 1960s, the conventional wisdom was that Pennsylvania Station would be more than adequate to handle the traffic. In fact, the Pennsy's managers decided to tear it down and replace it will a cramped facility underneath a new Madison Square Garden.
They did not envision a future with:
- a revitalized Northeast Corridor with conventional and premium, high-speed trains.
- connections to bring trains off the former Lackawanna and New York Central mainlines into Penn Station.
- a transfer station in Seacaucus where passengers off former Erie routes could catch trains to Penn Station.
That's the problem confronting New Jersey Transit, the government agency that inherited the state's commuter rail lines, including the former Pennsylvania, Lackawanna and Erie trains, in 1983. The two tunnels under the Hudson River and associated infrastructure "can no longer accommodate the expansion in passenger rail services associated with continued growth and development in the region."
Much of New Jersey's population works in New York or is employed with companies tied to New York's economy, such as the back offices of financial services firms. Thus, mobility between the Garden State and Manhattan Island is vital to the state's economic future. With the three highway crossings at peak capacity, as well, the state needs a new entry to Manhattan, and rail is the most efficient option.
That is the rationale behind Access to the Region's Core, a mega-project with an estimated $8.7 billion price tag. It consists of two new tunnels under the Hudson, connecting trackwork and a new station to the north of Penn Station. Among the benefits it would provide are:
- Doubling of capacity for the trans-Hudson commuter rail system.
- One-seat rides from areas now requiring a change of trains.
- A new station to relieve overcrowded and inadequate facilities at Penn Station.
- Reduced overcrowding and delays due to lack of track capacity in the station.
- A network that could keep up with population growth west of the Hudson and job growth in Manhattan.
NJ already has dual-power locomotives that can run on diesel fuel or draw electricity from overhead catenary on order. This will obviate the need to extend electrification.
The project's final environmental impact statement is complete and $5.7 million in financing has been lined up from the state and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Now the project's managers are looking to the Obama Administration to come up with the remaining $3 billion as part of an economic stimulus package.
According to NJ Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles, Access to the Region's Core is the linchpin in future expansion of the state's rail system. He told the Trenton Times recently:
"The building of the tunnel will make it possible to build proposed new rail line extensions to Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex Counties, as well as a western extension that could connect Scranton, Pa., to New York."Down the road, it could make it feasible to restore service to West Trenton via Bound Brook and Hopewell.
Penn Station and its connecting tunnels have served New York and its suburbs well for nearly a century, but new facilities are needed to support the region's continued economic development. Both NJ Transit and the Long Island Rail Road, with its East Side Access project to build a tunnel and new station adjacent to Grand Central Terminal, are stepping up to the plate. For commuters there may be light at the end of the tunnel.