Analysis: 85 dramatic days of delay found in century-old tunnels, bridges

Substantial delays were found throughout the Northeast Corridor caused by failures at the North River Tunnel and Portal Bridge, according to a new analysis by the Gateway Program Development Corp.

The analysis, which was based on five years of data provided by New Jersey Transit and Amtrak, found 85 days between 2014 and 2018 where infrastructure failures in the tunnel and bridge caused more than five hours of delays for train passengers.

In total, there were 112,000 minutes of train delays, or almost 2,000 hours lost in extra transit time.

Anthony Coscia, GDC’s board vice chair and Amtrak trustee.

“Regular delays are unacceptable for any amount of time, but these 85 major delay days are particularly bad, adding up to more than one day a month of major delays,” Jerry Zaro, GDC board chair and New Jersey trustee, said. “Commuters are rightly frustrated at being forced to arrive very late to work and parents dismayed over lost time otherwise spent with family and children. It’s past time to build Gateway and give passengers the reliability they pay for and deserve.”

The analysis said that the 85 days accounted for 35% of all train delays and 43% of all delay minutes attributable to the tunnel and bridge during those four years.

“The North River Tunnel and the Portal Bridge might only represent a few miles of track, but they link 20% of the nation’s economy and carry 200,000 people per day. Incidents that start here ripple up and down the entire Northeast Corridor, particularly when they are causing five-hour delays and more. That’s why we’re working so hard to get Gateway funded and built,” said Anthony Coscia, GDC board vice chair and Amtrak trustee.

The rate of total delayed trains doubled from 11.8% on an average day to 22.6% on days where there were major incidents, the analysis found.

“These major delay days caused by century-old infrastructure are too frequent, and riders have been forced to become too used to them,” said New York GDC Trustee Steven M. Cohen. “Building Gateway is the most effective way to make sure that these unacceptable delays stop.”

Other major findings include:

  • There were 65 major infrastructure failure incident delays involving the tunnel and 18 related to mechanical failures of the bridge;
  • Most of the major issues involving the bridge happened when the bridge would not close properly after being opened for marine traffic or testing;
  • Even when the bridge is closed properly, regular openings for marine traffic and testing resulted in more than 1,000 delays on 230 days between 2014 and 2018;
  • Power transmission/catenary failures generated 35% of major delays at the tunnel, while 65% were caused by other failures.

The data involved examining 3 million train movements and 750,000 daily delay records compiled from Amtrak, NJ Transit and other Northeast Corridor operators. The findings focused on the 1.5 million train movements in the New York-New Jersey metro area.