What the long-promised proposed T train (which is slated someday to run from 125th Street, down Second Avenue, to Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan) is for the rest of New York, the similarly ambitious and wistful notion of a direct rail connection between the World Trade Center and Newark Airport is for Downtown residents. The key difference between the two proposals is that for the phase of the Second Avenue Subway slated to reach Lower Manhattan, no funds have yet been allocated, and no start date for construction has been announced. But the so-called “one-seat ride” between Lower Manhattan and Newark is now funded and may actually become a reality in the foreseeable future — perhaps within a decade.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates both the PATH train system, which runs transit lines out of the World Trade Center complex, and Newark Airport. Earlier this year, that agency allocated $1.7 billion to extend existing PATH tracks 2.4 miles, from Penn Station (in the city of Newark) to a new train station, on the outskirts of Newark Airport, where riders could board the AirTrain monorail system that circles the airport. (That monorail, which opened in 1996, is already operating beyond its design capacity and is slated for replacement, although no date for construction has been announced and no funds have been allocated to this project.)
And this month, the Port Authority released $57 million of those funds for preliminary design work, along with an environmental study. The agency is now conducting public hearings in New Jersey (this week and next), at which residents of the neighborhoods through which these new tracks will run can share their opinions. The current schedule calls for construction to begin in 2020, and for the entire plan to be completed by 2026.
Currently, Lower Manhattan residents traveling to or from Newark Airport face Scylla-and-Charybdis choice. A cab ride can take more than a hour and cost in excess of $70, when tolls and a tip are added. Getting there by mass transit involves taking the subway to Penn Station in Midtown, then switching to NJ Transit. This can take more than two hours, and NJ Transit’s service shuts down entirely overnight. A PATH train ride from the World Trade Center to Newark, by contrast, would cost only $2.75 and take less than half the time of a taxi ride.
And more than wasted time or unnecessary expense may be at stake. When the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio in October proposed Lower Manhattan as one of four possible locations for Amazon’s planned HQ2 headquarters, among the criteria they strove to satisfy was the e-commerce giant’s requirement that any location it consider be within 45 minute’s travel time of a major airport. Newark is the closest to Downtown of the area’s three major hubs, but getting there in less than an hour at any time outside of the window between midnight and sunrise is a questionable proposition. A rail connection from the World Trade Center to the airport, however, would make such a goal easily achievable.
The Downtown Alliance, which operates the business improvement district, or BID, covering the area south of Chambers Street, has been persistently advocating for a direct rail link between Lower Manhattan and Newark Airport for more than 20 years. “A one seat ride to a major international airport is a game changer for residents, workers and businesses alike,” said Jessica Lappin, president of the Alliance. “It will be much more than a convenience. It will help us draw global companies, like Spotify, who depend on access to a premier airport. It’s gratifying to the Alliance, and to the many people throughout Lower Manhattan who have worked for a generation to see this idea come closer to fruition.”