Transit expert looks past summer repairs to need for Gateway Tunnel

July 10, 2017 | Transportation

There’s arguably no one who knows more about NJ Transit and its troubles than former Former Deputy Executive Director Martin Robins. He’s also the Founding Director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center.

Williams: Why do you think that NJ Transit went so smoothly today?

Robins: Well, I think NJ Transit had a straight forward plan and they executed it very well. They had a certain number of trains they had to move from the Penn Station and they moved them to the Hoboken Terminal and it was the right number of trains and taking the Morris and Essex Line and short-circuiting here in Hoboken as opposed as going to the city.

Williams: Basically they went back to their 1990 plan.

Robins: 1995. Midtown Direct.

Williams: Wick Moorman says that he’s confident this is going to be done by Labor Day. Are you?

Robins: Well, I know he cares a lot about it, he says this many times. Amtrak’s performance is not always perfect when it comes to capital improvements and timetables, but let’s cross our finger and hope that that’s the way it goes.

Williams: When it’s all perfect, it’s not the end of transit troubles here. What’s ahead? Take about Gateway.

Robins: Gateway is so many issues. The tunnels won’t be built until 2026 at the earliest. That means we sort of have this Damocles hanging over our head that the deterioration from Superstorm Sandy is going to cause some terrific outage. And everyday people in the transit business in New Jersey are going to say their prayers that nothing bad happens.

Williams: I know you were on the team that was designing the original ARC tunnel that did not get built, but would have been done last year so full disclosure. But is Gateway, which recent reports say is coming in at $13 billion it’s not clear where all that money is coming from. Is that realistic, do you think?

Robins: Thirteen billion dollars? Well, it’s the latest estimate and I gather that they were instructed to take a very honest look at what the price is going to be so they delivered a price that was significantly higher than the last time engineers gave an estimate.

Williams: Is Amtrak right in expediting this track work right now?

Robins: Yes, oh yes. We just had that derailment on Thursday or Friday night. That proves that this is a very complex and deteriorated infrastructure right at the mouth of the tunnel as it enters Penn Station and it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Williams: Quick, your advice for commuters going forward for the next eight weeks.

Robins: I think the PATH and the ferries here in Hoboken that things are going to work out pretty well.  I hope things work out well at Secaucus transfer where there may be a few times when there’s not going to be enough seats.