US transportation agency New Jersey (NJ) Transit has awarded the first of three tunnelling contracts for the planned $8.7bn Mass Transit Tunnel, a project that will double the capacity of NJ-New York commuter rail.

The $583m contract for a one-mile rail tunnel between NJ and Manhattan has been awarded to a joint venture between Barnard and Judlau Contracting.

Work is expected to begin in 2010 and continue until late 2013, and will include building a 160ft-diameter access shaft on the western edge of Manhattan.

The overall project also involves building two new single-track commuter rail tunnels under the Hudson River to increase the line’s capacity to 48 trains per hour during peak periods, from 23 trains.

The project is expected to take nearly 22,000 vehicles off the roads daily.

The second Palisades tunnel segment is expected to be tendered shortly, followed by the third and final Hudson River segment.