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NYT Covers Penn Station Tunnels Anniversary and ARC

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an excellent story to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the completion of the first rail tunnels under the Hudson.

The focus is on the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, an ambitious plan by NJ Transit and the Port Authority to build a second set of trans-Hudson rail tunnels. The original set of tunnels reached peak capacity in 2003, which makes ARC an “urgent necessity” according to transportation officials.

Here is a summary of the plan:

“If federal approval is given this summer and grants are secured later this year, construction will begin in early 2009 and take eight years. Contractors will deploy boring machines the length of football fields to drill through granite, schist and other materials, use laser-guided satellite signals to pinpoint their location, and carve a path under 34th Street so wide that commuters will be able to walk underground to 14 subway lines, and to PATH, Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road trains. The article features an exceptional and informative interactive graphic and analysis of the tunnel boring techniques 100 years vs. today.”

“The sophisticated machinery dwarfs the equipment used a century ago, when legions of sandhogs, or underground construction workers, risked their lives toiling in high-pressurized chambers slopping silt into carts that were hauled away by mules. But in other ways, the techniques for boring through hard rock and under riverbeds and serpentine city streets remain remarkably similar.”

It also includes the views of some critics, the substance of which we have previously covered on this blog:

“These days, critics complain that the project would cost billions of dollars more than is currently projected and would overburden already crowded Midtown streets. Others say that the project is not ambitious enough, and that it should be extended to Grand Central Terminal [see”The Mother of all Train Station Connections]. And critics say that the new annex would be too far underground and not part of other plans to redevelop the area around Pennsylvania Station.”

“Having New Jersey Transit unilaterally place its commuters in a dead-end dungeon, we lose mobility,” said Albert L. Papp Jr., secretary of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. ‘For billions of dollars, we lose access to Penn Station and don’t get access to Grand Central Terminal.'”

penn station new jersey connection map

Later this month we will welcome Jill Jonnes, the author of Conquering Gotham, to the MAS for a lecture and discussion about how lessons from the construction of the first Penn Station can inform the building of Moynihan Station, ARC, and other major civic projects.

Learning From The Past: The Struggle to Build Penn Station

Wednesday, April 23, 6:30–8:00 p.m., at the Municipal Art Society

Jill Jonnes, author of Conquering Gotham: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels, wanted to write about “an American success, about a monumental project that everyone would be familiar with.” That she has done. As Gilbert Taylor wrote in a Book List review, “…New York City’s Pennsylvania Station was the visible manifestation of a titanic subterranean project. Its sweeping story…comes together marvelously in Jonnes’s admiring history of the undertaking.” Jonnes’s presentation will include compelling historic images not featured in her book, which closes with the hope that Moynihan Station will be “…a return to the grandeur of the past.