Amtrak report says effort to transform their section of Moynihan Train Hall delayed and over budget

A view of the proposed Farley Post Office redevelopment, from the new train hall. Courtesy Office of the Governor.

A report from Amtrak claims they have not held up their end of the bargain renovating the Farley Building – soon to be the Moynihan Train Hall – and the project is fraught with cost overruns and delays.

The situation is so far gone, the company’s Office of Inspector General does not have faith that the project will meet Governor Andrew Cuomo’s December 2020 completion deadline – a central facet in his 2020 state of the state address.

The $1.6 billion project included $106 million from Amtrak and allowed them to design their own space in Moynihan, designed to be a pressure release valve to the well over capacity Penn Station. The largest transit hub in the nation, Penn sees about 650,000 travelers on a daily basis on the subways, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and the Amtrak. Each has their own stake, but Amtrak may be the only one with delays.

The company attributes the misfortunes befalling the project to a lack of oversight and insufficient experience from staff, which began in 2017 after the backlogs in the station’s state of good repair became apparent and led to what Cuomo dubbed the “summer of hell.”

“We have previously reported on the company’s challenges delivering large, complex programs on time and within budget and recommended that the company incorporate best practices into its company-wide program management oversight policies and procedures,” the report explains. “The company has taken significant steps to remedy early program management deficiencies on the Moynihan program. It did not, however, take these actions soon enough to avoid cost increases and ensure that it can complete its entire station relocation by the scheduled opening date at the end of 2020. These ongoing cost and schedule risks are the result of ineffective executive oversight coupled with inexperienced staff during the program’s first two years, and a failure to follow the company’s program management standards.”

According to Amtrak, certain functions that may not be on line by December is passenger information displays or other spaces used for station operations and employees until March 2021. Whether or not this is expected to affect the larger spectrum of services within the train hall was not expressed, but Amtrak believes the real damage could be their own through “cost and reputation impacts.”

“A key contributor to the lack of schedule cushion is that until June 2020 with only six months remaining on the program the program team did not have a reliable schedule for planning and management,” the report details.

A spokesman for Governor Cuomo said the Amtrak portion of the station only equals about a tenth of the project scope, or 100,000 square feet, saying that even if Amtrak is not on time the rest of the 1.5 million square foot project will be.

“Amtrak’s project is a subcomponent of the larger train hall, representing less than ten percent of the overall project, and it would be a mistake to draw broad-based conclusions from this narrowly-focused report,” said Eric Gertler, CEO-Designate of Empire State Development. “The Moynihan Train Hall will be complete by the end of this year, on budget and ahead of schedule, and Amtrak leadership have assured us they will meet that timeline. Once completed, it will provide New Yorkers with the modern transit hub they deserve, while honoring the legacy of the original Penn Station. From the Kosciuszko Bridge to the Albany Airport to the new Rochester Rail Station, this administration has a history of delivering major infrastructure projects on time and on budget — and after 30 years of delays, we will do the same at Moynihan Train Hall.” 

Regardless of Amtrak’s lag time in getting the facility up and running on the larger timeline, the Moynihan Train Hall is coming alive.

Two weeks ago, Facebook announced it had agreed to become a primary tenant in the building once its transformation was complete. With the Farley Building being annexed into the larger Penn Station network much earlier, Cuomo hopes to expand south of where the station currently stands for an additional 40 percent capacity or up to eight new tracks.

“We thank the OIG for their review of the Moynihan Train Hall Project and for acknowledging recent program management actions have had a positive impact on the program,” Amtrak statement read. “While we don’t agree on all of the findings, we have already taken significant steps to improve project management of the Moynihan Train Hall Project, including firmly controlling overspend and current budget, reviewing all potential change orders and providing executive oversight governance. We are on track to complete the program by the end of the year.”

This expansion has been called the Empire Station Complex with pre-COVID-19 plans of using value capture to fund the project.