Monday, May 20, 2013

Passenger Capital Investment: New Jersey

Written by  Douglas John Bowen, Managing Editor
NJT Hoboken Terminal NJT Hoboken Terminal Douglas John Bowen
For New Jersey Transit, keeping current with rail capital needs, following a hurricane, got a whole lot harder. But the corporation has a game plan to both press ahead and play catch-up.

For Hoboken Terminal, spring 2013 is just another season marked by renewal and repair. Scaffolding envelops the landward side of the main building, the latest section of the 106-year-old, copper-clad structure to be addressed in a continuing program now spanning more than a decade, demonstrating NJT’s commitment to its third-busiest rail station and a major passenger intermodal hub, handling rail, light rail, bus, and ferry services.

The work also is symbolic of NJ Transit’s current capital program, a combination of long-planned, ongoing improvements and expansion mixed with addressing substantial damage to rail infrastructure, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy’s visit to the Garden State late last October. Hoboken Terminal, most of it situated over the Hudson River, found itself virtually in the river in the storm’s aftermath, a poster child for the damage inflicted over wide portions of New Jersey and NJ Transit’s rail network—and an indicator that NJ Transit’s capital program would face a severe challenge in calendar year 2013.

NJT Assistant Executive Director, Capital Planning and Programs Steven Santoro says the corporation is up to the challenge. Its $1.2 billion fiscal year 2013 capital program will be augmented by federal funds, including grants funneled through the Federal Transit Administration, to cover hurricane-related damages including track replacement, restored catenary lines, repair of flood-damaged rolling stock, and repositioning of electrical substations inundated by flood waters last October.

FTA funds also will help reimburse the costs of “supplemental services,” including bus and ferry substitutions, put in place while the rail sector worked toward recovery.

Beyond that, Santoro says, “We’re moving forward on everything that was originally planned—normal state-of-good repair work and so forth.” NJT still is accepting delivery of 100 Bombardier MultiLevel cars, “still coming on a normal schedule,” he says. Likewise, “Regular track [repair] is still funded on a normal schedule.”

Needs on the NEC

“Normal” also might include NJ Transit’s ongoing work to increase capacity on the Northeast Corridor, the spine of most NJT rail services, including between New York-Penn Station (NJT’s busiest) and Newark-Penn (second-busiest). While Amtrak slowly proceeds to increase capacity on this stretch with its Gateway Tunnel project, NJT is pressing ahead with a related task, construction of a new Portal Bridge crossing spanning the Hackensack River. A request for proposals for a new, fixed-span structure, dubbed Portal North Bridge, will be “out on the street in the not-too-distant future,” Santoro says, while “some early action work” already has occurred, including utility relocation. As of April 2013, design is complete and construction can begin as soon as funding becomes available; NJ Transit has been the lead agent for most of the work involved.

Further south, NJT will aid Amtrak in upgrading the 24-mile “Jersey Speedway” portion of the NEC, running roughly between Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J. Santoro notes the project offers more than just top train speeds of 160 mph; it also will improve reliability and offer more potential train capacity for Amtrak and NJT alike.

Two Speedway-related projects are moving ahead simultaneously. The “Midline loop project”, located near Monmouth Junction, N.J., “will eliminate a cross-the-plant move at Jersey Avenue (New Brunswick), and allow us to fly over the Northeast Corridor” and allow NJT trains to reverse direction, bolstering inner-zone NJT service. Nearby, NJT seeks to expand capacity at Amtrak’s County Yard to improve storage capacity, also relieving conflicting moves generated by trains entering the NEC at the yard near Jersey Avenue Station. “We’re coordinating design of the two projects,” Santoro says.

Other NEC projects include: improvements to train movements in and near Trenton, particularly northbound (eastbound) toward New York; a redesigned Elizabeth, N.J., station to relieve a bottleneck; and various repairs to Newark Penn Station, including platform work. “We’ve got more than $600 million of NEC-related improvements we’re funding, in coordination with Amtrak, over the next five years,” Santoro says.

Bolstering LRT, DLRT infrastructure

Work already has begun to make most of the NJT rail system able to handle Positive Train Control needs among all players—NJT, Amtrak, and freight rail users—as the federal deadline of Dec. 31, 2015 draws near.

“We’re working with CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Conrail Shared Assets to make sure access is system-wide, except for branches that do not require” PTC coverage, Santoro says. NJT trains in turn also traverses portions of right-of-way owned by freight rail operators, notably on a portion of its Raritan Valley Line service southwest of Newark, overseen by Conrail.

One project due for completion this September is the new Pennsauken Transfer station, offering connections between NJ Transit’s Atlantic City Line rail (east-west) rail passenger service with NJT’s RiverLINE north-south diesel light rail transit (DLRT) line. Along with another planned station to the north in Bordentown, N.J., the RiverLINE is being bolstered by a new backup control center, upgraded signals, and security cameras in each DLRT vehicle. Also on tap: a new wheel truing machine at the RiverLINE’s 36th Street maintenance facility.

Upgrades also are on tap for two Newark Light Rail stations at Davenport Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue, Santoro says, in order to bring both stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and improve access on either side of the two-track LRT route.

Meanwhile, on the nearby Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) system, work continues on environmental reviews for a roughly one-mile extension of the network from West Side Avenue in Jersey City, which Santoro says “is supposed to be finished sometime this year.” Funding for the extension remains uncertain, though political support for the add-on remains healthy.