on Fri Apr 27 19:03:09 2012
NJ Transit spends $408M on locomotives built specially for scuttled tunnel
Thursday April 12, 2012, 12:33 AMGovernor Christie killed the Hudson River rail tunnel nearly two years ago, but New Jersey taxpayers will still pay more than $408 million for locomotives built specially for the project.
BY KAREN ROUSE | STAFF WRITER | The Record
NJ Transit purchased 26 of the locomotives in 2008 — and nine more in July 2010, just months before Christie scuttled the project. Eight of the engines, the first of their kind in the United States, have already been delivered.
The ability of the dual-mode locomotives, specially designed by Canadian manufacturer Bombardier, to operate seamlessly on both diesel and electric rail lines was a key selling point of the tunnel project: It would allow Main, Bergen and Pascack Valley line commuters to ride directly into Manhattan without having to transfer.
The engines, about double the cost of a diesel locomotive, are another example of the costs that linger when a project of this size is canceled. Also paid for are land deals on each side of the Hudson River totaling more than $100 million — including $95 million paid upfront by the Port Authority for a 10-year lease on a Manhattan waterfront parcel deemed critical to the project.
And the locomotives, at $8.5 million to $10.2 million a pop, have some questioning why the agency isn’t cutting its losses.
“The last nine have not been built yet. That’s why we’re hoping they would cancel them,” said Jack May, vice-president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, which advocates for stable fares and transit use. “These locomotives cost an awful lot of money.”
NJ Transit officials, however, made it clear at Wednesday’s board meeting that all 35 locomotives will be delivered.
NJ Transit Spokesman John Durso said the first 26 locomotives cost $10.2 million each, while the last nine cost $8.5 million each. A diesel locomotive is about $5.3 million, he said.
The 35 locomotives were capital budget purchases paid for with a mix of funds from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund and federal dollars, Durso said. Those figures do not include an additional $13.8 million in engineering assistance on the locomotive order.
Executive Director Jim Weinstein said that while the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel may have been the impetus for the multimillion-dollar purchase, users on the Montclair-Boonton, Raritan Valley and North Jersey Coast lines will benefit when all 35 locomotives are operating in May 2013.
But not riders from North Jersey.
When the tunnel project was canceled, so was the construction of a rail loop that would have allowed the new locomotives to run on diesel in Bergen County and switch to electric for the trip through the tunnel, eliminating the need for a transfer at Secaucus Junction or Hoboken.
Diesel trains cannot operate in the tunnel because the fumes create a hazard.
Kevin O’Connor, vice-president and general manager of rail at NJ Transit, said 60 percent of NJ Transit’s system is diesel, including the Main, Bergen, Pascack Valley and Raritan lines.
O’Connor said the agency currently has 90 diesel locomotives. Of those, 33 are new PL42 models purchased in 2005. The remaining 57 are older locomotives that have been built and rebuilt since the 1980s and 1990s, he said.
“They’re pretty much beyond their useful life,” he said.
The new dual-mode locomotives will replace 35 of those older diesels and be used on the Montclair-Boonton, North Jersey Coast and the Raritan Valley lines, O’Connor said.
ARC was more than 15 years in the planning and a year into construction when Christie abruptly shut it down in October 2010. With NJ Transit rail service into New York operating at capacity, the project offered hope of relief with the construction of a new pair of rail tunnels under the Hudson River that would have doubled the number of NJ Transit trains that could carry commuters into New York. But Christie claimed estimates showed the project had ballooned as much as $5 billion over its $8.7 billion budget.
A report released Tuesday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows estimates had actually fluctuated and Christie relied on the higher numbers in making his decision.
Ironically, some of the biggest critics of Christie’s decision to kill the mass transit tunnel agree the locomotives should stay.
David Widawsky, a former Port Authority employee and one of the original 1995 officials behind the ARC project, said, “the only reason NJ Transit even pursued the concept of dual-mode locomotive was ARC. … The whole purpose was to give people a one-seat ride,” he said.
The only alternative would be to convert the entire system to electric, something that is too costly, he said.
He said it makes sense for NJ Transit to hold onto the nine additional dual-mode locomotives because the agency has to constantly replace aging equipment. The contract allowed for up to 63 more to be purchased.
“To their credit, they have found some usefulness on the Coast Line, the Montclair-Boonton.”
Martin Robins, director emeritus at the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers and one of the original planners of the tunnel project, said the dual-mode locomotives “would have been put to the best use with ARC” but that “they can have independent utility.”