Report: Crumbling Northeast Corridor rail tunnel could collapse economy if it fails

Lawmakers and local officials in New York and New Jersey have said that a vital underground rail link in the area is in danger of failing, and if that happens, it could derail the U.S. economy and cause a years-long recession.

The Northeast Corridor rail line is the backbone of a system that links to the regions and eventually leads into New York’s Penn Station. A $30 billion project called Gateway would provide the necessary repairs and upgrades to the vital infrastructure.

The Obama administration had reportedly worked out an arrangement with state and local governments to fund half the project, but it’s not clear that the Trump administration will follow through, despite initial enthusiasm for the project from the president. [source]

One U.S. media source described the impact of the rail line:

The Northeast accounts for 30 percent of all jobs in the U.S. and contributes $3 trillion annually to the U.S. economy. It’s home to 51 million people—one in 7 Americans—a figure expected to hit 58 million by 2040.

The Northeast Corridor is its backbone. It’s the most heavily used passenger rail line in the U.S, both in ridership and service frequency. It extends 457 miles from Union Station in Washington to South Station in Boston, carrying more than 2,200 trains daily. On the high-speed Acela Express between those cities, more than 75 percent are business travelers—the biggest such population, by far, on any Amtrak line. In 2016 those 3.48 million riders spent $593.7 million on seats, for more than 25 percent of Amtrak’s ticket revenue. [source]

“We don’t build this, and these tunnels fail, the whole economy will collapse,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in late 2016. “There will be a deep recession in the New York metropolitan area and a recession probably in the whole country.” [source]

Analysis: If you needed a better example of how political partisanship, taken to its extreme, can be extremely damaging in a very literal sense to the country, this is it. Schumer has been one of Trump’s staunchest critics. The state of New York, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has threatened to oppose the Trump administration on everything from climate change to immigration policies (and Trump is from New York). One of New York’s senators, Kirsten Gillibrand, has said Trump should resign because he’s a serial sexual abuser. The other, Chuck Schumer, has called Trump “really dumb” and a “racist” (the latter just last week). One of New Jersey’s U.S. senators, Cory Booker, essentially called Trump a racist over comments he allegedly made about poorer countries. And so forth.

I don’t believe for a moment that a U.S. president would intentionally tank the American economy, but if Trump somehow cannot be convinced to either sign off on this project or cultivate another way to pay for it (due to all the political hostility he gets from that part of the country) then it sounds as though it’s possible the line could fail at some point in the future.

Bottom line: If this project is as vital as it sounds, then it’ll be funded because it sounds just like the kind of project that fits into Trump’s national infrastructure rebuilding plan. But you can see how intentionally cantankerous politics could lead to disaster in our hyper-polarized political and social environment.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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