North River Tunnels

The North River Tunnels carry Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and New Jersey Transit rail lines under the Hudson River between Weehawken, New Jersey and Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, New York City. Completed in 1910 by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), the tunnels allowed Pennsylvania Railroad trains to reach Manhattan.

Design and construction

Led by Chief Engineer Charles M. Jacobs, the tunnel design team worked between 1902 and 1904. The first task was digging two shafts, one just east of 11th Ave in Manhattan and a larger one a few hundred yards west of the river. The Weehawken Shaft was completed in September 1904 as a concrete-walled rectangular pit, 56 by 116 ft at the bottom and 76 ft deep. The PRR awarded the North River contract to O'Rourke Engineering Construction Company, which began work upon completion of the two shafts. (At the time, "North River Tunnels" referred to the tunnels east of the Weehawken Shaft; in later years the term has come to include the Bergen Hill tunnels as well.) The tunnels were built with drilling and blasting techniques and tunnelling shields, digging west from Manhattan, east and west from Weehawken, and east from the Bergen portals. The two ends of the northern tube under the river met in September 1906; at that time it was the longest underwater tunnel in the world. In 1905 the John Shields Construction Company received the contract to bore through Bergen Hill, the lower Hudson Palisades; William Bradley took over in 1906 and the tunnels to the Hackensack Meadows were completed in April 1908.

The tunnels' western portals are in North Bergen, on the western edge of the New Jersey Palisades near the eastern terminus of Route 3 at U.S. Route 1/9 (40°46′17″N 74°02′31″W / 40.771434°N 74.041892°W / 40.771434; -74.041892). They travel far underground beneath North Bergen, Union City, and Weehawken, to the east portals at the east edge of 10th Avenue at 32nd St in Manhattan. (Since about 1968 the east portals have been hidden beneath that big tan building on the east side of 10th Ave.) When the top of the Weehawken Shaft was covered is a mystery; for all we know the two tracks may have remained open to the sky until catenary was added circa 1932.

Operation

The tunnels operate near 100 percent capacity during peak hours. There are two tubes; trains ordinarily travel west (to New Jersey) through the north tube and east (to Manhattan) through the south. During the morning rush about 24 trains use the south tube in the busiest hour, and the same through the north tube in the afternoon.

New tunnel project

The Access to the Region's Core project to build a set of parallel tunnels began construction in June 2009 to supplement the North River Tunnels, but that project was canceled in October 2010 by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie due to budget constraints. On February 7, 2011, Amtrak announced that it would spend $50-million on preliminary engineering and design work for a new tunnel project called Gateway, estimated to cost $13.5-billion.

Building Activity

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