It’s not often nowadays that I have the opportunity to fillet so much dishonest and fact-free nonsense about HS2 in the media nowadays, but I’ve been given the rare threat thanks to two people who’ve been writing trash about HS2 for years. Yesterday it was Andrew ‘transcription error’ Gilligan, one of the Tories client journalists who for many years was embedded in the heart of the Tory party as one of Boris Johnson’s coterie.
Today it’s the turn of the dyspeptic Simon Jenkins, whose penned his latest fact-free polemic in the Guardian, which you can find here. It’s up to his usual standard, loads of assertions with no facts to back it up and made-up numbers for the ‘true’ cost of HS2. I’ve examined Jenkins troubled relationship with facts before in this blog.
However, Jenkin’s goes one further than Gilligan and claims that ALL of HS2 should be cancelled immediately – even Phase 1 where construction is well advanced. To support his claim, Jenkins says this;
“A New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, famously halted a rail tunnel under the Hudson river by simply ordering the contractors to fill in the hole”.
There just one teeny problem with this claim. It’s complete and utter bollocks. Jenkins has made it up, and the reality shows Jenkins example of the ARC demonstrates that his idea is short-sighted and stupid in the extreme.
Here’s the reality. Chris Christie does exist. He was the Republican Governer of New Jersey between 2010 and 2018 when he lost to his Democrat challenger. He’d put his hat in the ring for his party’s Presidential nomination, he got nowhere, but Donald Trump did, Christie endorsed him and joined his team, and the rest, as they say, is history.
But what about this tunnel? That didn’t exist. There *were* plans to build one (there still are). Known as ‘Access to the Regions Core’ (ARC) the plan was to build two new tunnels from New Jersey to Manhattan and a new railway station next to Penn Station which was at capacity. The original cost of the project was estimated at $8.7bn. Preparations for building the tunnels began in 2009 with a completion date of 2018, but in 2010 Christie effectively cancelled the project by withdrawing his part of the funding, citing ‘concerns’ about cost overruns. By the time the project was cancelled in October 2010 all that was built was the Palisades ‘tunnel’, an underpass under Tonnelle Ave in North Bergen. Contracts *had* been let for tunnelling, Skanska had won the design and build contract for the full Palisades Tunnel on May 5, 2010, just 5 months earlier but tunnelling proper hadn’t even begun.
That wasn’t the end of the story. The decision was controversial and Christie became embroiled in a series of legal actions over where the money went – especially Federal funding towards the project. The federal government demanded repayment of funding received by New Jersey Transit for the project. After litigation, an agreement was reached where part of the funds were returned while other monies were used on transit-related projects.
That wasn’t the end of the story. Christie’s administration was later investigated and fined $400,00 for diverting funds from the project to subsidise various roads projects. Plus, some of New Jersey’s funds earmarked for ARC were eventually diverted to the state transportation trust, normally funded by a gasoline tax, one of the lowest in the United States. This was believed by many to be a cynical attempt to subsidise motoring by avoiding raising gas tax,
In March 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal agency, published a report entitled Commuter Rail Potential Impacts and Cost Estimates for the Cancelled Hudson River Tunnel Project, which concluded that Christie’s basis for cancellation was a misrepresentation and that he misstated the estimated costs, cost over-runs, and New Jersey’s obligation to pay them (see link)
So, was anything ‘filled in’ as Jenkins claims? No, because the project never really died because it was still needed. This need became ever more evident after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy caused damage to the existing 100 year old rail tunnels which led to flooding of the New York subway. It’s estimated $5bn damage was caused to the rail systems. Some of the completed design and engineering work has been used by Amtrak to develop the Gateway Programme, which will build yes – you’ve guessed it – new tunnels under the Hudson! The Gateway Project was unveiled on February 7, 2011, just 4 months after Christie cancelled ARC.
So, the project Jenkins cites isn’t dead at all. Nothing was filled in and the delays and political shenanigans have cost taxpayers dearly! The original ARC project was budgeted at $10 billion and was due to open in 2018-20. The Gateway programme’s 2022 projected cost of the tunnels and related projects is $16.1 billion.
What Jenkins completely fails to mention is cancelling a project where no main construction works and no Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) were running is a very different kettle of fish to HS2, where the Chiltern tunnels are already over 8 miles long, the Long Itchington Tunnel has one of the 1-mile-long tunnels completed and at West Rusilip there are two more TBMs already boring East into London. Oh, and that’s without the 3.5km long Colne Valley viaduct which is already well underway! Add in all the other civil engineering work along the phase 1 route and we’re talking of 10s of billions already spent or committed. To claim this can just be cancelled or ‘filled in’ is nothing more than idiocy. But then when did Jenkins ever deal in reality when it comes to HS2? The most amusing thing about Jenkins using the Hudson tunnels as an example of how you could scrap HS2 (apart from the fact it was bollocks) is it’s exactly the opposite. It’s a classic example of why you shouldn’t cancel these vital projects and how doing so comes back to bite you on the arse!
I’ve a small favour to ask…
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