People seem to be captivated by the unused stretch of the Staten Island Railroad along the North Shore of the island. It makes sense to do something with it, because it's the part of Staten Island with the poorest population and the lowest car ownership. But the whole discussion is pathetic, ranging from the sorta reasonable (restore the Staten Island Railroad passenger service to Arlington) to the mildly faddish (light rail!) to the moronic (bus rapid transit!). For some reason, people love the idea of extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail over the Bayonne Bridge and connecting it to either the North Shore line or the West Shore line.
Hardly anyone looks west across the Arthur Kill to Elizabeth. That makes some sense, because I'm guessing that most of the people who are commuting outside the borough are going to jobs in Manhattan. But it's short-sighted, because it ignores the fact that there's a railroad bridge that was restored to full functionality in 2007.
Back in 2008 I talked about running the trains to connect to the Northeast Corridor in Elizabeth or Newark, but then you're still only in Elizabeth or Newark and you have to change trains. Fortunately, there's another train to connect to, and a right-of-way with plenty of room to connect them.
Right now there are PATH trains from 33rd Street to Hoboken, from the World Trade Center to Hoboken, and from the World Trade Center to Newark. But the train from 33rd Street west stops at Journal Square, presumably because there isn't enough ridership to run the trains all the way to Newark.
This train can be extended to Staten Island - or else it can be extended to Newark, and the trains from the World Trade Center can be extended to Staten Island. How would they get there? On the Chemical Coast.
The Chemical Coast Line is a freight railroad with a wonderfully evocative name, originally part of the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Like the Arthur Kill Lift Bridge, it is lightly used. We wouldn't want the PATH trains to share tracks with chemical tank cars, but there is plenty of room in the right-of-way and on adjacent properties for two tracks of dedicated passenger service.
The single-track Arthur Kill Lift Bridge sees three freight trains a day. The main concern is how often the bridge would need to be raised to allow ships to pass under it. The current PATH train to Newark runs every four minutes during rush hours and every fifteen minutes off-peak.
The key is that the trains would go express for the nine miles from Journal Square to the Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabethport, just like they currently do for the five miles from Journal Square to Harrison. Given that it takes 25 minutes to get from the World Trade Center to Newark, it would probably take at most 35 to get to Elizabethport, and under an hour to Saint George. Compare that to the time it takes to ride a bus to the ferry and walk to the office, or to sit in an express bus on the Gowanus Expressway.
In terms of capital costs, we're talking about rebuilding the North Shore rail line and making it flood-resistant - part of it washed away during Hurricane Sandy. Then we would probably have to build a new connection with the Chemical Coast line and run new track up to Port Newark. From Newark we would probably have to build some new track, a new bridge over the Passaic River and a new junction with the existing PATH line. I don't know how much all that would cost, but could it be more than the billion and a half that the Port Authority wants to spend on the useless extension to Newark Airport?