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Cross Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel: Real Solutions vs. Doomsday Scenarios


A recent Jewish Press column by Councilman Simcha Felder offered a bunch of doomsday predictions about the impact on Brooklyn and Queens of the proposed Cross Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel. In conjuring up an imaginary crisis, the councilman opposes a necessary solution to real problems.

Thirty thousand 18-wheel tractor-trailers drive through New York City every day, delivering freight to the city and Long Island. Incoming freight – and the trucks delivering it – are expected to increase by 80 percent in the next 20 years. That’s an 80 percent increase in air pollution, congestion, noise, and damage to our streets.

We’ve been warned. Now it’s time for a solution.

Because shipping by rail is cheaper, less polluting, and more reliable than trucking, almost all major American cities receive 40 percent of their goods by rail. But in New York, only 2.8 percent comes in by rail. Why? Because the only place freight trains can cross the Hudson is at a bridge 140 miles north of the city.

To avoid this 280-mile detour, freight trains are unloaded in northern New Jersey, and their contents are trucked into New York. The Cross Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel will enable goods to move by rail directly into New York City. By shifting cargo from truck to rail, the tunnel will remove a staggering one million tractor-trailers annually from city streets.

An additional problem is that, because of height restrictions at various access points, 93 percent of the freight trucks that enter the city use the George Washington Bridge. The diesel engine exhaust from these trucks causes the communities near the bridge to suffer from the highest asthma and infant mortality rates in the country.

And if, because of a structural problem, a terrorist attack, or even the threat of a terrorist attack, the bridge were closed even temporarily, shipping into a region of 12 million people would be crippled. It would be a challenge to prevent starvation. When we face the real possibility of terrorist attacks, we cannot allow ourselves to remain so vulnerable.

The tunnel will introduce a secure redundancy into our freight system, so that we do not remain dependent on one bridge. We need to ensure redundancy like this all across the country in order to reduce our vulnerability to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Because of the Cross Harbor Tunnel’s importance to national security and its environmental and economic benefits, it is important to dispel Councilman Felder’s myths about the project.

Councilman Felder wrote that he can “close my eyes and imagine” the trains causing a disturbance as they move through Brooklyn. This is not a matter of closing our eyes and guessing. This is a carefully planned, carefully engineered project designed with our neighborhoods in mind.

Trains routed through the Cross Harbor Tunnel will move through Brooklyn on the Bay Ridge Rail Line, an existing four-track right-of-way that was built almost 100 years ago. No homes or businesses will be displaced.

Councilman Felder also imagines that taking one million tractor-trailers off our streets won’t improve air quality. He suggests that idling trains might equal the trucks’ exhaust output. That is, quite simply, laughable.

Freight trains are far cleaner than trucks; according to the EPA for every mile, a typical truck emits roughly three times more nitrogen oxides and particulates than a locomotive, and one freight train can typically remove 280 trucks worth of goods from our highways. That arithmetic adds up to much cleaner air, and healthier, more liveable neighborhoods.

What’s more, Councilman Felder ignores the context of this project. A much greater number of trains are going to be using the Bay Ridge Line and coming through Boro Park whether or not the Cross Harbor tunnel is built. The number of trains will increase as “float” activity (barge-transport of rail cars across the Hudson) sharply increases in the near future. It will soon be cheaper for carriers to float portions of the burgeoning freight traffic across the harbor than to compete for dwindling space on increasingly congested regional highways.

About the Author: Jerrold Nadler represents the 10th Congressional District of New York and is ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.


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