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Relief for Local Rail Woes Is Taking Shape in Concrete by the Hudson

The second phase of the Hudson Yards right-of-way preservation project is a relatively short extension directly below 11th Avenue. Having cleared the earth away, construction crews are now preparing to dig through solid rock. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

There has been a lot of talk lately about the multibillion-dollar Gateway project, which would double the rail capacity into and out of Penn Station by adding a two-track tunnel under the Hudson River, and two bridges over the Hackensack River in New Jersey. But Gateway is more than just talk, as you learn after descending an extension ladder through a hatchway barely big enough to contain you, your safety harness and the ductwork needed to bring fresh air underground.

“Welcome to our cavern,” James McCarron said, his voice resonating down one of the 850-foot-long tubes in a concrete casing underneath the Long Island Rail Road yards on the Far West Side of Manhattan, deep below the platform from which the vast Hudson Yards development is rising. “Impressive, isn’t it?” Mr. McCarron, 60, the director of design support for Amtrak, is a third-generation mechanical engineer who has seen and helped build some impressive projects. He can scarcely conceal his pride in this one, though.

The 11th Avenue end of the south tube. On the other side of this concrete wall, workers are creating a hole where the second leg of the casing will be constructed. Eventually, the tubes will be connected to a trans-Hudson tunnel. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

The tubes, and the casing that envelops them, represent a tangible, $185 million first step in the Gateway project, which is not scheduled to be completed until 2040, at the earliest. So don’t make travel plans just yet. The casing preserves Amtrak’s right of way through the forest of columns beneath Hudson Yards. And it ensures that a clear path to Penn Station will exist for tracks emerging at West 30th Street from the new Gateway tunnel.

Work on the casing began in late 2013. About 68,000 cubic yards of rock and earth were excavated. (Picture a garbage truck with a capacity of 25 cubic yards. Now picture 2,720 trucks that size.) There are 6,500 tons of steel rebar — so many that they created a nearly solid structure of their own before being encased in 30,000 cubic yards of concrete. Though the tubes are walled off, the curvature makes it hard to see either end from the center, so it almost feels as if a train could come around the corner.

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