Imagine some time in the mid-2020s its an early spring morning and there’s a packed New Jersey Transit commuter train and one of the two century old Pennsylvania trans-Hudson rail tunnels has a catastrophic failure, trapping a thousand commuters in the tunnel.
And then there’s the far more likely scenario, that engineers will have no choice but to take one of the two existing 105-year old rail tunnels entirely out of service for repairs because it has deteriorated so badly. That will be like the region’s transit hub suffering an on going coronary.
We have to brace for these scenarios because it appears our government is incapable of doing what needs to be done and build a new tunnel complex. The tens of thousands of commuters, who rely on the existing aging tunnels every day need to adopt the stoicism of my Welsh coal mining ancestors every time they went down the shafts ‘maintained’ by the greedy coal mine owners.
For years transportation advocates and engineers have been imploring that we get started on building a back up trans-Hudson rail tunnel. Once again, last week, an elected official has canceled another iteration of the trans-Hudson rail tunnel project.
Back in 2010, it was Governor Christie, who killed what was then called the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) tunnel project. The move got Christie national headlines as a fiscal conservative as he was gearing up for his Presidential big, which ironically collapsed because he tried to use a bridge for something other than moving people.
For years, the lack of trans-Hudson passenger rail capacity has cost the entire region (both New Jersey and New York) billions of dollars in lost productivity. For decades, well before Superstorm Sandy, engineers had predicted that the existing century-old rail tunnel needed a serious upgrade and that a second tunnel complex was essential.
Back when Christie walked away, a half-billion dollars had already been spent on designing the ARC tunnel that had been on the drawing board for twenty years.
SANDY TOOK A SERIOUS TOLL
As it turns out, in 2012, the existing tunnel–built in the early 1900s by the Pennsylvania Railroad–was seriously affected by the saltwater storm surge from Superstorm Sandy. And while the corporate news media made the twisted wreckage of a roller coaster on the Jersey shore the emblem for Sandy’s destruction, all these years later, the public has no idea of just how much the storm undermined the essential infrastructure at the heart of region’s critical core.
According to an independent engineering inspection done for Amtrak in 2014, the chloride and sulfate residue left behind by the storm surge “continue to compromise the integrity and strength of the track and rails.” Moreover, the inspection report concludes “there is no reliable method of correcting this damage other than through the complete replacement of the track structure, including the ballast.”
And there was more. The part of the structure that was most seriously damaged was the part passengers and crew would most rely on to escape from the tunnel in the event of an emergency. “The most serious damage in the tunnels was found in the concrete bench walls. These bench walls, which run portal to portal, are an essential component of the tunnels. The structures provide emergency egress from trains, when necessary, as well as access to trains and track for emergency and other personnel… These bench walls were found to have a significant number of longitudinal cracks, severe spalls with exposed steel, and corrosion of embedded steel elements.”
It continued, “Due to the porous nature of concrete, the continuous duct work, the cracks and various other factors, there were a multitude of paths into the structure of the bench walls for chlorides and sulfates…. Due to their thorough infiltration of the bench-wall surfaces and the ducts, these substances cannot be reliably removed.”
In essence, the tunnel is actively deteriorating from the inside. “One example of the damage being caused by the chlorides and sulfates was evident [on] August 19th (2014)… A piece of the bench wall fell onto the tracks, which led to emergency repairs and train delays. Unless the damaged bench walls are replaced, such incidences will continue and worsen due to the processes known generally as chloride attack and sulfate attack.”
Yet, no matter how dire the situation our politics are held captive by despotic bullies like Trump and Christie, who use their prerogatives for their own narrow political self-interest not the broader public interest.
And New Jersey Transit commuters are at this point more like battered and abused spouses who have no choice but to take whatever these guys dish out. What are the odds that Christie or Trump would have to rely on a train and a tunnel? This is a concern for working stiffs only.
DYSFUNCTION PROMPTS STAMPEDE
It was just last year, on Good Friday that conditions had so deteriorated at Penn Station in New York Cit, after NJ Transit service collapsed during rush hour there, that thousands of stranded commuters stampeded after an Amtrak policeman fired a taser at an homeless an apparent unconfirmed report of a shooting) and raced for the exits, leaving sixteen people injured, some with broken bones.
Last month four New Jersey House Republicans wrote House Speaker Paul Ryan imploring him to ignore President Trump and include money for the Gateway Tunnel project in the federal budget.
“We write in strong support for the Hudson River Gateway Tunnel project amid reports that President Trump is pushing congressional leaders not to fund this crucial infrastructure project of national significance,” the House member wrote. “We urge you to reject any effort to jeopardize this project of national significance and ask that we meet with you personally.”
The letter was signed by Representatives Leonard Lance , Frank LoBiondo , Chris Smith and Tom MacArthur. They were joined by five House Republicans from New York and one from Pennsylvania.
PALACE INTRIGUE- BELTWAY MYOPIA
According to the latest from NBC/Wall Street Journal polling President Trump’s approval ratings were on the rise, even as prospects for his fellow Republicans in Congress took a turn for the worse in the same data set.
While Trump’s numbers are still several points south of 50- percent, he has stopped his slide. I attribute that to his ability to so skillfully play the news media by keeping them so fixated on his personality and his seemingly ‘outrageous’ behavior that they miss entirely the ruinous impacts of his policies like killing Gateway.
Throw in the news media crediting Trump for a great economy, without any having done any actual reporting to substantiate that assertion, and you could see Trump poised to do it all over again in 2020. You say that could never happen? 2016 wasn’t supposed to happen either.
For all the vast resources of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and MSNBC they don’t seem to step back and grasp how Trump has got them wasting their time while undermining their own credibility by endlessly anchoring their reporting in speculation over whose in and whose out of the White House.
On Friday night MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said she had “no appetite at all for Kreminology-style type coverage and speculation about whose in favor and whose out of favor—whose been able to move their desk a little closer to the Oval Office and who, someday might be fired” and then did a segment doing exactly that.
Here’s a recent example of how the shell game works that the news outlets keep losing to Trump in a way that keeps him in complete control of the narrative. The White House throws out anonymous leaks about the firing of H.R. McMaster and the news media swallows every bit of it and puts it on page one or hypes it as breaking news.
The next news cycle they breathlessly look for on the record confirmation from the Trump White House press shop to confirm their anonymous reporting, and then they get outraged when they are ‘gas-lighted’ by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who denies their reporting.
Presto, we have yet another anecdote of apparently ‘fake news’ that re-enforces the bias held by tens of millions of Americans that the news media just makes things up.
Meanwhile, the fixation on all the inside beltway machinations leaves the impacts of Trump’s era of misrule, like the killing of Gateway, under reported.