The return to work after the long weekend did not go well for thousands of commuters who faced hours of subway and Long Island Rail Road delays Tuesday morning. For many, Wednesday wasn’t much better.
Unfortunately, this has become the norm. For months, riders have faced a worsening stream of power problems, track trouble and other delays. Disastrous conditions at Penn Station and throughout the subway system have led to frustration and anger. This spring of madness could turn into “a summer of hell,” as Gov. Andrew Cuomo put it, as Amtrak plans to reduce service by up to 20 percent for emergency repairs.
Now, Cuomo waded into the mess and positioned himself as the fixer. But he needs a strong follow-through. Cuomo wants short-term changes to help commuters, and permanent moves, such as having the state, Port Authority or a private operator take over Penn Station and its tracks from Amtrak. And he wants to remake the subway system with upgraded signals, cars and communication networks.
So far, he formed a task force to address Penn’s problems and encouraged the MTA to establish a competition on modernizing the subway. He needs to put more meat on the bones of that outline by adding specifics, timetables and financial commitments to what is now a set of bullet points. It should include a fare-reduction plan for commuters facing the most severe impacts, practical ways to minimize disruptions and a schedule of service changes.
Cuomo has to extend his leadership to the MTA, and to the subway system. He’s tried to distance himself, but he has more clout over the authority than anyone else. He needs to take responsibility, for the good and the bad.
Amtrak has work to do, too. Amtrak’s board, top officials, and union representatives have to make the Penn project a top priority, and make sure work rules and staffing limitations don’t slow down the work.
In the long term, Cuomo is right to propose alternatives to Amtrak’s leadership of Penn Station and to emphasize larger projects at Penn, the old Farley Post Office and the Gateway tunnel. But first, Cuomo has to navigate around the train trouble just ahead.