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Amtrak is working to keep the NYC rail tunnel open until the completion of its Gateway project

Amtrak’s $12.3 billion plan to build a new commuter rail line between New Jersey and Manhattan under the Hudson River will take more than a decade to complete. Meanwhile, it is striving to keep the current tunnel open.

The train operator, which owns the existing North River Tunnel, will describe a series of intermediate projects in a report due out this week. The work entails removing water from the tunnel that causes signal failures and corrosion, as well as repairing the tunnel’s drainage system, which is still ongoing and will take more than two years.

Leak mitigation will enhance overall safety within the tunnels, according to the report. Track workers and the traveling public will be less exposed to safety hazards caused by falling concrete, formation of icicles, and slippery walkway surfaces.

During a tour of the tunnel this week, Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said the repairs will cost roughly $150 million. He said the repair, which will be done on weeknights and weekends to minimize the impact on riders, is “intended to address the most problematic areas of train delays.”

The North River Tunnel, which was completed in 1910, is vital for commuters on New Jersey Transit’s and Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor line. The tunnel was flooded with seawater by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, causing catastrophic damage to its infrastructure. The original tunnel tracks were made up of corroded rock ballast and timber ties.

The tunnel is safe to use, according to Amtrak, but it is in bad condition. Other tasks include replacing rusted cables that are more than 80 years old.

Track system-related failures, especially in the North Tube, typically are a result of constant infiltration and ineffective track drainage, the study said.

The far larger Gateway tunnel project received construction permits, but it still requires $5.6 billion of government funding. New York, New Jersey, and the bistate Port Authority will each pay $1.4 billion, for a total of $6.1 billion.

Each of the North River tunnel’s tubes will need to be closed for more than a year for reconstruction once Gateway is completed. Closing one tube of the existing tunnel without a new rail crossing would decrease the number of trains that could serve Penn Station to a quarter of what it is now.

If you ever lose one of the other tunnels to the next big storm it’s going to cut back the number of trains, Howard Cure, director of Municipal Bond Research for Evercore Wealth Management said in an interview. It will be a real financial burden for the region.

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