Pandemic reduced service – but not delays – in Hudson River tunnel

Delays, in fact, are only getting worse as uses edges back to pre-pandemic levels

Completion of the final Environmental Impact Statement and the issuance of a Sure, the pandemic meant fewer trains were going through the 110-year-old North River Tunnel in 2020 – but that didn’t slow down delays.

According to new data from the Northeast Corridor Commission released Monday by the Gateway Development Commission, the infrastructure failures that delay trains and cause headaches for train travelers continued in 2020.

While the number of trains, passengers and subsequent delays decreased during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall frequency of delays in 2020 remained largely consistent with prior years.

Even more: It is increasing in early 2021 as service returns.  

The data was revealed by the Commission at its board meeting Monday.

According to the data, passengers experienced 12,653 minutes of delay in 2020 due to problems caused by aging tunnel infrastructure. Delays occurred on 54 different days in 2020 and were attributed to a variety of causes involving the electrical power, signal and track systems. 

With decreased levels of service due to the pandemic the magnitude of impact of infrastructure problems was less severe during the middle of 2020. Passengers returning to the system in the first three months of 2021, however, already experienced 10 days of 100 or more minutes of delay and a total of 3,416 minutes of delay during that same period. 

GDC co-chairs Balpreet Grewal-Virk (N.J.) and Steve Cohen (N.J.) along with GDC vice-chair Tony Coscia said the data backs up the pressing nature of the situation.

“This new data once again illustrates the fragile nature of the century-old tunnel system underpinning the entire Northeast Corridor and the urgent need to move the Hudson Tunnel Project forward to full construction,” they said in a joint statement. “A new, state-of-the-art tunnel, and a fully rehabilitated existing tunnel, will eliminate problems like these and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of daily commuters who rely on train travel every day.” 

Funding for the Gateway Tunnel Project – long stalled in Washington – is close.

In May, federal approvals essential to building two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River were granted by federal officials. 

Record of Decision by the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration is a major milestone for the project, officials with the Gateway Development Commission said then.

With a Record of Decision in hand, real estate property acquisition, advanced engineering design, utility relocation and other pre-construction activities can move forward, bringing the project a significant step closer to major construction. 

GDC officials say the Gateway Program is the most urgent infrastructure program in the country – a comprehensive set of rail investments that will improve commuter and intercity services, add needed resiliency and create new capacity for the busiest section of the Northeast Corridor, they say.

The NEC is the most heavily used passenger rail line in the country hosting more than 2,200 train movements and 800,000 passenger trips daily.