Op-ed: In rail transport, here’s what London got right that New York keeps getting wrong 

(CRAINS) Layla Law-Gisiko, June 23, 2022

London underground made the buzz May 24, when the brand-new Elizabeth line opened to the public. The new railway includes 26 miles of deep tunnels under central London. It connects Heathrow Airport to Canary Warf and Shenfield to the east, and it’s fully integrated with London’s existing commuter rail network.

If you were to superimpose this glorious piece of infrastructure over the New York region, you would connect John F. Kennedy International Airport to New Brunswick with direct one-seat service while you served multiple stations in Queens, Manhattan, Newark and beyond.

The Elizabeth line cost $23 billion. That’s a steep price tag, but when you consider what you’re getting for your money, you realize that it’s actually a pretty good deal: London got 60 miles of track; 26 miles of new tunnels; and 10 brand-new stations, including numerous new stations in Central London. Oh, and did I mention that no building needed to be bulldozed to bring this to life?

By comparison, the railways in New York have been designing  Gateway, a new 4.2-mile tunnel under the Hudson River, a  refurbished Penn Station , and eight new tracks that would require bulldozing six city blocks, with no added connectivity. The current price tag on this project: from $30 billion to $40 billion, almost double London’s cost.

What London got right that New York keeps getting wrong is that the Elizabeth line is not designed as a terminus railway into Central London but as a through-running line connecting faraway points from the east and the west to areas of importance (airport, financial center and business district).

When an NJ Transit train comes into Penn Station at rush hour, instead of going back empty to New Jersey, it proceeds to Sunnyside Yard in Queens, across the East River, to park.

These trains could continue eastbound to other parts of Long Island. With through-running trains, towns and cities that have been in danger of being left out and left behind would be back in the game.

Breaking down silos

There are challenges to be worked out. Locomotives run by NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road don’t speak the same language. Some trains are powered by catenary; others run on diesel or are powered by the third rail. To be interconnected, they would have to adopt a common language.

Source: Crains