Could L train fix be a model for Hudson River tunnel?

Gateway Project officials are talking about “racking” the cables in the Hudson River train tunnel. It’s the same cutting-edge method New York will use to rehabilitate corroded electrical conduits in its battered Canarsie Tunnel — all while keeping the L subway line in service. But could that work in the century-old Hudson River train tunnel?

“Racking sounds interesting, and it definitely warrants exploration. And we are doing that, frankly, as we speak,” said Jerry Zaro, chair of the Gateway Development Corporation.

“We have an obligation to make sure those tunnels are serviceable as long as possible. Would it create durability that would last for a decade? All of those things we just don’t know. But it’s worth exploring,” said Amtrak Chair and Gateway Development Corporation Vice Chair Anthony Coscia.

While Gateway primarily promotes building a new Hudson train tunnel, it might use racking to buy some time and prolong the old tunnel’s life span. Currently, vulnerable 12,000 volt electrical cables run through eroded concrete bench walls. Instead of ripping out concrete to replace cables, workers would string up new ones along the tunnel wall and avoid lengthy train service interruption. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo consulted with engineers at Columbia and Cornell on the Carnasie Tunnel project.

“It is a design that has not been used in the United States before, to the best of our knowledge,” said Cuomo in January. “It has never been implemented in a tunnel restoration project.”

“We are in fact talking to the academic deans that the governor sort of solicited for input when he was working on the Canarsie Tunnel and we’ve got an active discussion with them, engaging them and getting their insights on it,” said Coscia. “We also have multiple engineering firms that are looking at it, including some of the engineering firms that worked on developing the options available for the Canarsie Tunnel.”

Gateway officials say the Hudson Tunnel’s cable alignment is unique, with lines coming in from transfer stations on either end and reconnecting to the catenary. But one transit watchdog says it’s a fix worth pursuing now.

“It can be done eight years sooner than they plan to repair the tunnels, and it solves the problem of power and signals that often — as was said today, maybe once a month, there’s a problem with that in the tunnels. So I would say fixing something eight to 10 years sooner is a great idea,” said Joseph Clift, former planning director for the Long Island Rail Road.

Officials stressed racking cables in the old tunnel would not obviate the need for a new tunnel — that’s still priority one. It’s all about timing.

“No one is saying the tunnel is going to collapse. That’s not the issue. The question really is the usability day to day of a tunnel that we already, on certainly monthly basis, are experiencing problems with,” said Gateway Development Corporation Trustee Steve Cohen. “And if the answer is that racking won’t really allow these tunnels to be used efficiently and effectively, then we’re going to have to revert back to the plan that was originally proposed.”

Officials are talking to experts now about the options for racking cables in the tunnel. No word on when they might announce an update.