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Project to fix critical Northeast Corridor choke point gets go-ahead

December 09, 2021

A project to build and repair tunnels and tracks that run under the Hudson River has been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The work is part of the broader Gateway Program, which will double the rail capacity between New Jersey and Penn Station in New York City. It also includes new bridges and repairs to bridges between New York and New Jersey.

The projects are pivotal to Amtrak’s plans to enhance and expand its service throughout the Northeast Corridor (NEC)—and the nation—over the coming years. 

The permit for the $12.3 billion Hudson Tunnel project clears the path for work to move forward on the first phase, which involves building two new tunnels. In the second phase, the two existing tunnels will be repaired. Those tunnels, built in the early 1900s, were flooded by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Their systems are being corroded by saltwater. The repair work will begin once the two new tunnels are built. 

Work is slated to begin in the summer of 2023 and is expected to be completed by 2035.

The Gateway Program, which received strong support from the Obama administration, was expected to launch in the late 2010s but was blocked by the Trump administration. The program focuses on repairing and upgrading a 10-mile stretch that is one of the most heavily used rail corridors in the nation, handling roughly 200,000 riders and 450 trains each day, pre-pandemic. The $30 billion program will receive substantial funding from the infrastructure bill passed by Congress last month, which includes billions in potential funding streams for the project. 

The Hudson Tunnel and broader Gateway projects are key to Amtrak’s near-term plans. Both will help resolve the bottlenecks that frequently delay trains throughout the NEC.

Amtrak will implement new Acela trainsets that can run 160 mph in the NEC next spring, as part of a broad expansion and upgrade of its services over the next few years. But the deteriorating Hudson River tunnels have become a serious choke point in the system. 

The new Acela vehicles can accommodate nearly 400 passengers, or about a fourth more than older Acela models. The NEC—which encompasses eight states plus Washington, D.C.—handled more than 2,000 trains and 800,000 passenger trips daily, pre-pandemic.