OP-ED: Proposed $105b #Boston-#NYC #Amtrak High-Speed #Railways has Problems

By Larri Penner

Many Amtrak, NY MTA and LIRR customers desire safe and reliable service on existing routes before system expansion projects proceed.


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Advocates for the North Atlantic Rail high-speed rail, which would run from New York City to Boston via the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)  Main Line Third Track and tunnel under Long Island Sound to Connecticut anticipate it would cost $105 billion and be completed within 20 years. Future completion of any planning study to justify this project is only the first step. There needs to be complete environmental reviews, design and engineering, easement rights, business relocation, land acquisition, agreements with owners of underground utilities including water, sewer, gas, electric, steam and cable, before being ready years later to commence construction.

The scope of work might also include construction of/or improvements to existing tracks, sidings, signals, power, power substations, sidings, stations, commuter parking, land acquisition, business relocations, utility, water or sewer relocation agreements, local feeder bus services and operating agreements with other freight and transit operators They might need to purchase additional rolling stock and modifications to existing or construction of new rail yards for maintenance and storage of equipment.

Is the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and LIRR constructing the $2.6 billion Long Island Main Line Third Track to accommodate Amtrak high speeds of up to 200 miles per hour? Would residents alongside the tracks especially at street level grade crossings be happy with trains traveling at such speeds?

Cost estimates would have to be refined as progress proceeds beyond the planning and environmental phases into real and final design efforts. History has shown that estimated costs for construction usually trend upwards as projects mature toward 100 percent final design. Progression of final design refines the detailed scope of work necessary to support construction. The anticipated final potential cost would never be known until completion. Costs would be further refined by award of construction contracts followed by any unforeseen site conditions and change orders to the base contracts during the course of construction. This will be followed by beneficial use, completion of inspection, acceptance and contract punch list items, receipt of asset maintenance plans, followed by release of retainage and final payment to the contractor(s).

Past transit history for projects of this size and cost tell us that they are never completed on time or within budget based on the original forecasted schedule and budget. Take the NY MTA’s ongoing LIRR Eastside Access to Grand Central Terminal. Since 2001, the total direct cost for MTA LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal has grown from $3.5 billion to $11.2 billion today. This does not include $4 billion more for indirect costs known as “readiness projects” carried off line from the official project budget. These are the $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track, $450 million Jamaica Capacity, $387 million Ronkonkoma Double Track, $120 million Ronkonkoma Yard Expansion, $44 million Great Neck Pocket Track, just to name a few that support direct implementation for East Side Access. We will not know the true final cost until service begins in 2022 followed by contract and project closeout, which could take several years. contractor.

The promised opening service date has slipped on numerous occasions from 2009 to December 2022. The NY MTA has repeatedly increased the budget by billions and pushed back the first day of service by thirteen years.

Advocates for the North Atlantic Rail high-speed rail anticipate it would cost $105 billion and be completed within 20 years. There is no way of knowing if the final cost could double or triple to $210 billion or $315 billion. The time needed for completion could easily take years if not several decades more.

Both Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road have higher priorities, such as reaching a state of good repair, before proceeding with any system expansion projects. Categories for each agency include such assets as existing rail fleets, stations including elevators to meet Americans with Disabilities Act and escalators, track including switches, signals and interlockings, communications, line structures including painting, protective netting on elevated structures and bridges, line equipment including tunnel lighting and pump rooms, traction power including power substations, yards and shops and supervisory vehicles. Both Amtrak, the NY MTA and LIRR have five and 20-year Capital Needs Assessment Plans. They document that it will take years if not several decades before both agencies reach a state of good repair for all system assets. Many Amtrak, NY MTA and LIRR customers desire safe and reliable service on existing routes before system expansion projects such as this proceed.


Larry PennerLarry PennerLarry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions of dollars in grants which provided funding for capital projects and programs to the NY MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, NYC DOT, NJ Transit and more than 30 transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.

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