The building of the river tunnel hasn’t begun either. Both projects lack funding.
In this era of failing infrastructure and political gridlock, the two-block long caverns, known as the Hudson Yards right of way project, are a rarity for the region: largely completed and funded rail infrastructure work.
And as commuters around the region endure the disruptions caused by the decrepit rail conditions at Penn Station and watch as the Trump administration and Congress play political football with funding for the Hudson tunnel, the two tubes under Hudson Yards are viewed as another argument for the need to move forward with the project.
“We can’t afford to punt any longer,” Mr. Gottheimer said repeatedly as he toured the area. “That’s frankly why I’m here. You see what’s going on in the ‘summer of hell.’ People are experiencing what’s going to go on when you have 100-year-old tunnels and equipment breaking.”
The box tunnels are the first completed phase of the Gateway project, an ambitious multibillion-dollar project to bring new rail tunnels under the Hudson River, rebuild key bridges and expand the track capacity at Penn Station. It is considered one of the most vital infrastructure projects in the country.
Construction of the Hudson Yard tunnels began over four years ago when Amtrak sought to preserve a right of way under the Hudson Yards project to ensure that the railroad would be able to connect the proposed new rail tunnels under the river with the existing track infrastructure at Penn Station.
One of the developers of Hudson Yards, the Related Companies, initially believed that any new rail lines would run just north of its development. But after Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey abruptly canceled an earlier proposed Hudson tunnel, which would have run along 34th street, Amtrak and Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, worked to quickly preserve other pathways to Penn Station along western Manhattan.
The only remaining viable path was under the Hudson Yards project.
Through Mr. Schumer’s office, funding was quickly secured from money that had been set aside for recovery after Hurricane Sandy and work began in August 2013.
“The fact that everybody pulled together, public sector, private sector, Amtrak, federal government, state government, to make sure that the box tunnel was built so that we could do Gateway is a good metaphor,” Mr. Schumer said. “When they understand how important Gateway is, they’re willing to work together for the common good. So the box tunnel hopefully is a metaphor for the rest of Gateway, because when it started it wasn’t easy.”
Now, four years and $250 million later, the first and second sections of the casing are complete and are ready for the Hudson tunnels. A third is fully designed but needs funding to advance to construction.
It could be a long wait.
A recent report, which estimated that the new Hudson River tunnels will cost nearly $13 billion, significantly higher than earlier estimates of about $7.7 billion, laid out a best-case scenario in which construction could begin by fall 2019, and the tunnel could open in spring 2026. But that is predicated on Congress funding the project fairly quickly.
Amtrak insists that it is moving forward with as much of the Gateway project as it can.
“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes,” Mr. Schulz said, referring to environmental reports and engineering tests. “There’s not a lot of dirt flying, there’s not a lot of construction happening, but we’re getting closer and closer every day.”