The lead-up to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s State of the State address feels like a government-backed encore of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Instead of lords a-leaping and swans a-swimming, Cuomo brings infrastructure upgrades a-plenty in his 2016 Agenda.
The governor promised funds to the Gateway and East Side Access tunnels, the Javits Center, new Metro-North stations in the Bronx, the MTA (wi-fi a-comin’!), and an airport on Long Island. Arguably the biggest proposal is the Empire State Complex, a $3 billion redevelopment of New York City’s Penn Station and its surroundings.
Two rail tunnels connecting New Jersey to New York are the main arteries of the regional transit system. Riders usually don’t need to focus on the infrastructure that carries them to their destinations—unless something goes wrong. Each day, 500,000 commuters use mass transit—Amtrak, PATH, and NJ Transit—to travel from New Jersey to New York and back.
After more than one hundred years in service, the rail tunnels are rapidly deteriorating. “Tunnel Trouble,” a new video released by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), warns of the dire consequences for transit on the Eastern seaboard if one of the tunnels were shut down for extensive repairs.
Grimshaw and Beyer Blinder Belle have been tapped by Washington, D.C.’s Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC) to spearhead a master plan to spruce up the city’s iconic train station. The “Master Development Plan for Union Station’s 2nd Century” builds upon the hugely ambitious, $9 billion development plan that Amtrak and developer Akridge unveiled in 2012. As AN wrote at the time: “The 3-million-square-foot project promises to unite the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and NoMa, a former industrial area transformed into a leafy residential neighborhood.”
Among the appeals of train travel is the ability to move between urban city centers easily, but until now, bringing your bike along for the ride was a burdensome venture. Well, good news cyclists. Amtrak is making it a whole lot easier to bring your bike aboard its trains. Gone are the days of having to break down your bike, pack it into a box, and stow it with luggage. The train operator is set to launch new storage cars that include bike racks.
An art installation along Philadelphia’s Northeast Amtrak corridor is adding some color to the travel experience for 34,000 daily riders. Berlin-based artist Katharina Grosse has been commissioned by the city’s Mural Arts Program to transform seven sites alongside the tracks with vibrant (and environmentally friendly) coats of paint: Orange and white streak across a warehouse, green and white do the same on an abandoned brick structure, and hot pink cover brush and boulders.
Amtrak is out with a new promotional video, and it’s targeted right at millennials. As UrbanCincy reported, “On the heels of kicking off their new Writers Residency program, where writers can ride intercity passenger rail for free, Amtrak welcomed 30 prominent new media ‘influencers’ on a long-distance train ride from Los Angeles to SXSW in Austin.”
After years of delays and dashed hopes of development, the plan to extend Penn Station into the Farley Post Office across the street might finally—possibly—be on track. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Empire State Development Corp., the state economic-development agency, is looking for a broker to sell 1.5 million square feet of unused real-estate-development rights attached to the property.”
The hundreds of millions that this could generate would go towards transforming the Post Office into Moynihan Station. The new space would include a grand waiting area for Amtrak inside the building’s main hall. While no concrete plan or timeline is in place, the state’s request could provide significant funds to kick-start construction. Key word: Could.
Although it gets more daily traffic than Midway Airport, Chicago’s main rail hub remains little more than a waypoint for most people—a bustling transit station buried beneath an often empty Beaux Arts volume.
The Metropolitan Planning Council wants to change that. Their new placemaking contest, Activate Union Station, calls on architects, landscape architects, planners and designers of all stripes to submit ideas for a design-build program that will enliven the underused West Loop hub.
Construction on the two-track Gateway project, a new tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan, will commence this summer beneath Related Company’s Hudson Yards redevelopment site. Related Companies and Amtrak will build this 800-foot-long “box tunnel,” which will first serve as a shell for Amtrak’s rail connection linking the Hudson tunnel to Penn Station’s tracks, and, eventually, to the proposed Moynihan Station. The actual Amtrak Gateway Project is still years away, but construction on this first leg of the tunnel is happening now to coordinate with construction on Manhattan’s West Side. The project will be funded by the federal government including some funding from the Hurricane Sandy relief package meant to help mitigate flooding during future storms. It’s estimated to cost between $120 and $150 million.
Midwest train travelers will enjoy a quicker passage, as Amtrak approves a new top speed of 110 mph for a section of its Chicago-St. Louis route. Though trains will only accelerate to the new top speed over a 15-mile segment, officials said another $1.5 billion investment over three years of upgrades will bring the rest of the track up to speed.
The current top speed is 79 mph over most of the route. Instead of 5 and a half hours, future trips could be under 4 hours. Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak tested a new system of triggers for highway crossing gates earlier this year.
Amtrak’s Midwest presence has seen a significant ridership boost, following trends around the country. Transit in general may be enjoying a small renaissance, with the CTA counting 16 months of rail and bus line increases. Despite setting ridership records, Amtrak is losing money and faces an uncertain future.