Harmonizing Heavy Rail in New Jersey

Posted on January 1, 2001 by Caroline Casey, Assistant Editor

Making sense of New Jersey Transit’s (NJT) unwieldy rail network is a primary goal of the new Secaucus Transfer. Currently under construction, the $450 million project is the lynchpin of the system’s urban core program, intended to simplify commuter rail options and improve access to destinations within the state and in New York. NJT expects the Secaucus Transfer to increase system ridership by 20,700 passengers daily. About 2,700 existing riders will have their travel times to Manhattan reduced by 15 minutes in each direction. NJT officials say they anticipate a 12,000-trip drop in peak hour automobile traffic. The anticipated ridership gains associated with the project are predicated on streamlined and integrated rail service. After the station’s completion, riders will be able to transfer from the Main, Bergen County, Pascack Valley and Port Jervis lines to the Northeast Corridor, Morris and Essex and New Jersey Coast lines via the Midtown Direct. To that end, NJT is realigning the Main and Bergen County lines and expanding the Northeast Corridor in the vicinity of the station from two to four tracks. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority is also constructing a $250 million interchange to access the station. Groundbreaking on the Secaucus Transfer began in early 1995, with an expected completion date in the fall of 2002. At this stage, the project is more than 70% complete. Once finished, it will include: more than 19,000 linear feet of new track, 123,000 linear feet of new catenary wire, 35 new signal houses, 19 new turnouts (six of which are high speed), four new interlockings, a grade separation, a new signal system to increase hourly capacity from 18 to 26 trains and a new 300,000 square foot station. Construction is divided into seven general contracts, each with associated prime and subcontractors. NJT also obtained more than 30 permits from state, regional and federal agencies and more than 25 easements from private property owners to build the three miles of access road necessary to develop the site. NJT spent $15 million on timber trestles, viaducts and foundations stabilizing the wetland location. Ten work zones were also created to act as staging areas. The Secaucus Transfer is being built around working rail lines used by freight carriers, Amtrak and other passenger carriers. More than 400 trains, traveling at 70 to 80 mph, pass through the construction every day, largely limiting track work to night shifts. “You virtually can’t do any work from 5:30, 6:00 till 9:00 in the morning. In a worst case scenario, you’ve got four minute headways,” says Patrick Dempsey, vice president for Frederick R. Harris Inc. His firm is part of a joint venture with Don Todd Associates (FRH/DTA) performing construction management for the project. According to Rob Edwards, senior program manager of engineering and construction, NJT’s strategy is to finish work on new outer tracks and then shift trains to them, allowing for demolition of existing structures. NJT also negotiated a train fleeting schedule, grouping four to five trains together to create work windows. “Two thirds of the cost of the project was the money we needed to expand the track alignment from two to four tracks,” Edwards says. The heavy traffic through the site also factors into the construction of the station. In order to shield workers from passing trains, plywood barriers were erected along the track adjacent to the platforms. The logistics of the project were also complicated by the presence of up to 20 cranes on the site at one time. When completed, NJT projects the Secaucus Transfer will move 32,000 passengers through the four-story station every day. They will arrive and depart on five platforms, circulate via 32 escalators and six elevators and have access to a variety of vendors and transit services within the station. The concourse level, capped by a glass dome rising 130 feet above the ground, will be almost as large as Grand Central Station, Edwards says. NJT also accommodated for the possibility of private development in and around the site. The station’s roof has exposed columns to support a 40-story office tower or hotel. Allied Junction plans on building a $3 billion, 3.5 million square foot corporate community atop the station, Edwards says. Conrail will also have a 1.2 million square foot presence at the Secaucus Transfer, he says. NJT declined to invest in parking facilities at the site due to residents’ concerns, but private sector firms may pursue projects of that type. Linking lines Like Edwards’ mission statement for the Secaucus Transfer, to “unify the entire fragmented rail system that we inherited,” the Montclair Connection aims to make transit more convenient for New Jersey riders. Among the many services NJT came into possession of in 1983 were the Boonton and Montclair lines. Attempts to link the systems, separated by a mere 1,500 feet in Montclair Township, were contemplated since 1929 but never successfully implemented. NJT began the environmental impact statement for such an undertaking in 1993, was sued by the township in 1995 and came to an agreement to begin work in 1998. Although at $60 million the Montclair Connection is a relatively small project, Fred Schultz, assistant program manager for engineering and construction, says, “what it lacks in size it’s more than made up for in community issues we’ve had to deal with.” The project is divided into two contracts, both of which were awarded to J.H. Reid, a circumstance that Schultz says makes the process much easier. Thusfar, demolition of 29 buildings occupying the new right-of-way was completed and catenary poles were installed. The new wiring is not yet electrified and diesel vehicles are running on the previously electric Montclair line until all catenary improvements are complete. The Boonton line already ran diesel trains before the Montclair Connection project was conceived. The unified line will be double tracked and the end of the Boonton line, extending from Montclair Township to Hoboken, will be abandoned. Midday service, not currently available, will be added to the new line and weekend service is also a possibility. There were unexpected environmental difficulties dealing with asbestos in some of the demolished structures as well as contaminated soil under the Montclair line platform. Platform work should be completed shortly, at which point double tracking will commence, Schultz says. To assuage community concerns, NJT is constructing a pedestrian overpass, canopies and additional lanes on local roads for $2.5 million. The total cost of the Montclair Connection is 90% covered by Federal Transit Administration funding, with $9 million from a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant. Upgrading service To accommodate the increase in capacity and the projected increases in ridership, NJT is pursuing a program of rolling stock acquisition and rehabilitation. A new storage facility is being constructed in Morrisville, Pa., and other yards are being refurbished to house the system’s vehicle investments. In addition to the 200 single level cars on order from Adtranz and the design of 200 more bi-level cars, the system is overhauling 116 Comet II coach cars. Purchased in 1982 and 1983 from Bombardier, the cars will be rehabilitated by AAI of Hunt Valley, Md., at a cost of $73 million. The pilot car is expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2001. All the cars will be converted to a high/low design and have new seating, windows and subflooring. The cars will have a Comet IV style communications systems and interior and exterior destination signs. Other modifications include upgrades of HVAC systems, disc brakes and the implementation of all Federal Railroad Administration and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The rehabbed cars, compatible with Comet IIIs and IVs already in service at NJT, could be deployed anywhere in the system. ***************************************** Heavy Rail Rehab Picks Up Like new starts, heavy rail rehab and modernization activity increased in virtually every city with a metro system built prior to 1990. That trend is expected to continue, thanks to federal legislation and the fact that rail modernization funds largely drove the levels of all federal capital assistance in the past several years. Here is a look at some of the projects around the U.S. Atlanta: The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) recently purchased a 120,000 square foot facility in the nearby suburb of Tucker. It will be leased by AnsaldoBreda to do final assembly and test newly built railcars. Boston: The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is currently reconfiguring its Green light rail and Orange heavy rail lines by constructing the new underground “Super Platform” transfer station for them. The new station will feature a convenient new underground walkway to the T’s commuter trains at North Station. Chicago: This past October, the Chicago Transit Authority adopted a five-year Capital Improvement Plan that includes $427 million in projects for 2001. Included are previously announced renovation projects on the Cermak (Douglas) Branch of the Blue Line and capacity expansion on the Brown Line, as well as ongoing initiatives designed to bring the CTA fleet and facilities to a state of good repair. That includes the renovation of 168 railcars and upgrades of the signaling systems. Reconstruction of the Cermak (Douglas) Branch of the Blue will begin early this year and will cost $245 million. Cleveland: Triskett Station, the eighth Red Line Rapid station to undergo a full reconstruction from the ground up, was formally dedicated Nov. 30 by officials of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. The dedication culminated two years of work on the $8.4 million project, which actually opened for revenue service last summer. Philadelphia: The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority’s newly adopted five-year capital budget contains 43 capital projects totaling $485 million. The package includes rehabilitation of three stations on the Broad Street subway, an environmental remediation program, continuation of the Market Street El reconstruction project and reconstruction of the Market-Frankford’s 69th Street Shop. San Francisco: The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District’s 10-year, $1.1 billion System-wide Renovation Program is now roughly half complete. Five years into the project, 16 of 34 original BART stations are now completely renovated. In the renovation of all of BART’s original 439 cars by Adtranz, 112 cars were rebuilt so far. Washington, D.C.: The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is in the throes of a major Infrastructure Renewal Program, which is a long-range, comprehensive program of renewing and reinvesting in the almost 25-year-old Metrorail system. The program encompasses the repair, rehabilitation or replacement of virtually every element of the network. (p align=right> — Cliff Henke

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