The subway isn't the only New York train system that is falling apart due to decades of under-funding and politicians' passion for building roads. The whole Northeast Corridor, comprised of Amtrak and several commuter rail systems, including NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road, is the country's busiest, and at this point parts are basically held together with duct tape.
Yesterday evening, NJ Transit officials went ahead and announced there would be Monday morning delays because of "power issues" and ongoing repairs to overhead electrical lines, beginning the second week of severe disruptions to that portion of the corridor. And given that ridership is growing throughout the region as various pieces of the system threaten to fail further—and state and federal officials dither about funding infrastructure upgrades—the problems look like they can only get worse.
The New York Times offers a rundown of what's ailing the railroad:
- Ridership on the system between Washington, DC and Boston has doubled over the past 30 years, to about 750,000 riders a day. At the same time, according to Regional Plan Association president Thomas Wright, "The system is just too brittle and does not have the ability to withstand heat waves, storms and other incidents."
- The pair of century-old train tunnels under the Hudson River create one of the worst bottlenecks in the country, and sustained serious damage during Hurricane Sandy. Additional tunnels are still just a twinkle in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's eye.
- Portal Bridge, built over the Hackensack River in 1910, connects Kearny and Seacaucus with just two tracks, creating another bottleneck.
- The Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel in Baltimore opened in 1873. Its tight curve and decrepit condition forces trains to crawl along at 30 miles per hour. A local transportation activist compared it to Mount Vesuivius, ready to blow any day now.
- Congestion on Amtrak trackage at Penn Station has caused nearly 1,000 LIRR trains to be late so far this year. Amtrak trains along the Northeast Corridor run on-schedule 76 percent of the time, down from 89 percent of the time three years ago. Delays anywhere along the corridor have a ripple effect, slowing trains up and down the line.
- Amtrak depends on federal funding because, though it makes money in the Northeast, it bleeds cash on long-haul trips across sparsely populated areas elsewhere in the country. It lacks money to upgrade infrastructure, but Republicans in Congress just passed a bill to cut its funding by $250 million, anyhow, accusing executives of mismanaging money. "Amtrak's leadership must reflect and determine how they can better manage their current funding to avoid these types of delays in the future," Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said in a statement.
- Chris Christie blames Amtrak for the transit problems bedeviling his state, accusing the company of "abject neglect" of the tracks it owns. He has called on Attorney General John Hoffman to scrutinize how the $100 million the state gives to Amtrak annually is spent.
Meanwhile, in Albany, the MTA is facing a $9.8 billion hole in its five-year capital budget, down from $14 billion after the agency found some cash between the couch cushions. Gov. Cuomo is saying he has $7.3 billion lined up to fill the gap, but won't say where it's coming from, and he is pressuring Mayor de Blasio to contribute city taxpayer money at levels unprecedented in recent history to make up the difference.