Home News Gateway keeps getting worse: Permanent post-COVID ridership decline proves wasteful Penn South...

Gateway keeps getting worse: Permanent post-COVID ridership decline proves wasteful Penn South will never be needed



It was eight years today, May 29, 2016, that the Daily News ran our first editorial questioning Amtrak’s Gateway project with New York and New Jersey to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson. At the time Barack Obama was president, Andrew Cuomo was the governor of New York and Chris Christie was the governor of New Jersey and the price tag for the full project was $24 billion.

More than 125 editorials later, what’s changed besides the officeholders is that the Gateway boondoggle has gotten astronomically more expensive, the completion date has been pushed back many years (thus our nickname Lateway) and the already limited usefulness to trans-Hudson passengers has dropped to nothingness as no one’s ride will be changed in any way, let alone improved.

Other than that, as they say, everything is going great. We note that most of the problem was not the four-year term of Donald Trump, who tried to stop Gateway because he saw it as a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Our concern in 2016 was Amtrak’s interest in taking over a huge swath of Midtown south of Penn Station, dubbed Penn South or Block 780, for a dead-end terminal for NJTransit trains. Back then the cost for the extraneous Penn South was estimated at $6 billion; the last number we saw was $17 billion and it is still just as useless and just a lot more expensive.

But Amtrak is still insisting that Penn South must happen. Like too much of what Amtrak says, it is just not true. And the reason is that COVID has permanently changed everything with commuting. All over the world, the number of commuters has fallen as remote work has flourished and for those who continue to travel, the frequency and times they took those trips have been forever altered.

Every October, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC), a state government agency, has transit agencies, including NJT collect data on who is traveling into Manhattan how and when. The info is published in NYMTC’s annual Hub Bound Travel report. When it came out in March, we noticed an error, as it said that in the fall of 2022, NJT’s busiest inbound morning hour was at only 37% of the pre-COVID numbers.

We knew that was wrong, that it was closer to 50% and told both NJT and NYMTC. Last month, NYMTC published revised figures which show the 2022 load was about 50% of pre-COVID. In the most recent numbers, from October 2023, NJT carried about 69% of the pre-COVID load.

These numbers matter because Penn South is predicated that we will need 200% of the pre-COVID load, doubling the 2019 capacity. But we will never need that. It would mean that we would have to triple the current load, which no one forecasts.

The current 69% number can be doubled by fixing up Penn Station and designing the new Gateway tunnel to feed entirely into current Penn and not Penn South.

Soon the feds will award a Full Funding Grant Agreement of $6.88 billion for Gateway, which is more than double the largest ever grant, which was the $3.4 billion for the next phase of the Second Ave. subway.

Because so much of Gateway’s first phase is now being paid by Uncle Sam, 73% or $12 billion, thanks to the efforts of Schumer and President “Amtrak Joe” Biden, the interests of the two states to control costs has lessened, but whatever the source of money, it must be spent wisely.

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