If the first segment of Manhattan’s Second Avenue subway opens on schedule in 2016, New Yorkers will be reminded that it was once “the line that time forgot” — a project more than 75 years in the making, with no end in sight. It should be remembered for another failing as well: It will be one of the most expensive subways in the world.
Tunneling in any dense urban environment is an expensive proposition, but the $5 billion price tag for just the first two miles of the Second Avenue subway cannot be explained by engineering difficulties. The segment runs mainly beneath a single broad avenue, unimpeded by rivers, super-tall skyscraper foundations or other subway lines.
American taxpayers will shell out many times what their counterparts in developed cities in Europe and Asia would pay. In the case of the Second Avenue line and other new rail infrastructure in New York City, they may have to pay five times as much.
Amtrak is just as bad. Its $151 billion master plan for basic high-speed rail service in the Northeast corridor is more expensive than Japan’s planned magnetic levitating train line between Tokyo and Osaka, most of which is to be buried deep underground, with tunnels through the Japan Alps and beneath its densest cities.
The numbers for California’s proposed high-speed rail system are similarly shocking.