Metro-North is forging ahead with an $8.6 million project to prevent washouts and rock slides from knocking out service on the Hudson Line as it tries to boost ridership along a critical commuter route along the Hudson River.
Metro-North workers have begun drilling rows of 45-foot-deep shafts into bedrock north of Peekskill in the Hudson Highlands that will be used to link up stabilizing concrete panels that measure 114 feet.
"The type of work we are doing here is similar to several projects soon to be undertaken elsewhere along the right of way," Metro-North President Howard Permut said. "This kind of reinforcement is critical to protect the tracks from future storm-related erosion."
Once the shafts are dug out, rings filled with concrete will be inserted into the bedrock along the riverbank so that the tracks above it can be stabilized.
The bank stabilization project was in the planning stages long before superstorm Sandy flooded 30 miles of Hudson Line track last year, damaging right-of-ways and washing out track for miles.
Under current conditions, rock underneath the tracks falls off into the river after heavy rainfall. Once that happens, an alarm that gauges geologic shifts summons track crews to the riverbank to add stone to shore up the tracks.
Difficult terrain in the highlands has forced Metro-North to do most of the stabilization work from barges positioned in the river.
The work will be done mostly on weekdays during off-peak hours to avoid slowdowns during the morning and evening rush hours, railroad officials said.
The project, which is being done by Kiewit Infrastructure of Woodcliff Lake, N.J., will be completed in the fall, officials said.
It comes at a critical moment in the Hudson Line's history.
Last month, Metro-North added 85 weekday and 22 weekend trains to the Hudson Line as it tries to reduce wait times at its busy Spuyten Duyvil, Riverdale and Irvington stations.
Last year, Hudson Line ridership ticked upward by .3 percent to 15.9 million, a total officials said would have been higher if Sandy had not knocked out service for several days in late October.
The Hudson Line was Metro-North's third-busiest line last year behind the New Haven Line, which set a record with 38.8 million riders, and the Harlem Line, which tallied 26.6 million riders. Overall, Metro-North had 83 million riders last year, the second-highest total in the commuter rail's 30-year history.
In the years to come, Metro-North hopes to give Hudson Line riders access to Manhattan's West Side for the first time, with plans to expand service to Penn Station by 2019.
The project, which is not yet funded, calls for linking Hudson Line tracks to ones currently used by Amtrak on its Empire Connection Line. Stations would be added near Columbia University and the Upper West Side.