Amtrak, Senators Announce NY-NJ Rail Tunnels Plan

Amtrak announced plans on Monday for a $13.5 billion commuter rail project connecting New York City and New Jersey, reviving an idea rejected late last year by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as too expensive.

Amtrak, the U.S.' largest passenger rail service, said in a joint statement with U.S. senators from the two states, it would spend $50 million to "begin preliminary engineering and design" on two rail tunnels under the Hudson River.

Additional funding would come from local, regional and state governments in New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and from private investors, the statement said.

The project, dubbed the Gateway Tunnel, could be completed by 2020, it said.

"The two new trans-Hudson tunnels envisioned under this plan will provide long-sought, peak-period operational capacity and is an investment that will improve transportation flexibility and reliability for decades to come," Tony Coscia, a member of Amtrak's Board of Directors, said in the statement.

Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman called the project a "critical first step" to bringing new high-speed service to the critical Northeast corridor.

Christie canceled a similar $8.7 billion tunnel project last October, which was to be the largest public works project in the United States, citing billions of dollars in projected cost overruns that would be borne by the state.

A rising star in the Republican party, Christie inherited the project from his Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine.

The project became a lightning rod in the run-up to the November 2010 election, pitting those calling for more federal infrastructure spending against those who said such projects were too costly.

The U.S. Federal Transit Administration has demanded the state repay $271 million in federal funds meant for tunnel construction, but Christie contends New Jersey has no legal obligation to pay it back.

Christie had no immediate reaction to Amtrak's plans.