Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked President Donald Trump to consider Penn Station’s crumbling infrastructure an “emergency situation” and to provide federal funding to help Amtrak make critical repairs.
Ahead of major planned outages this summer, Cuomo on Sunday penned a letter to Trump, likening Penn’s dire circumstances to a natural disaster.
“While this is not a hurricane or flood, it will affect as many people and businesses with dire consequences,” Cuomo wrote in the letter.
Cuomo requested the federal government allocate “funding for the short-term Penn construction and transportation alternatives and facilitation of a long-term resolution for Penn Station.” It was not immediately clear how much that would cost.
The governor, who is also facing heat for a crumbling subway system plagued by delays and service outages, repeated his calls for the private sector to take over Penn Station from Amtrak. But he also suggested a Port Authority takeover could be feasible, giving the bi-state agency control over the massive, $20 billion Gateway Tunnel project to expand rail capacity under the Hudson River.
“We could consider the Port Authority taking over Penn Station and including it in the operation and construction of the Gateway Tunnel which — as your Department of Transportation Secretary recently noted — is an urgent necessity,” Cuomo said.
Amtrak in a statement praised the governor’s calls for more federal funding, but said the current problems plaguing Penn Station don’t stem from management issues, but from systemic underfunding.
“We agree that the heart of the problem is years of under investment and the overloading of an infrastructure and station designed to meet the needs of last century, not this one,” Amtrak said.
It added that, “changes in management and private-sector expertise can’t make up for the billions that should have been invested to create the basic capacity and performance that commuters deserve. … Amtrak is stepping up to do everything we can to improve our part of this situation.”
The Trump administration was not immediately available for comment. But Cuomo referenced comments from Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who, during a U.S. Senate committee hearing earlier this month, assured lawmakers that Gateway and solving the near-routine level of rail delays in the region was an “absolute priority” for the Trump administration as it crafts its $1 trillion infrastructure plan.
“Please be assured that Gateway is an absolute priority, in terms of what is happening there,” Chao said at the hearing.
The letter comes as commuters await Amtrak’s final plan to replace aging track infrastructure at Penn Station, where several recent service disruptions originated. Details of the project, which would significantly impact Long Island Rail Road service this summer, are expected soon.
There are two potential options under consideration to get Long Island commuters into the city during the repairs, according to Cuomo: a new, “advanced park and ride system” with private coaches and a bus-only HOV lane on the Long Island Expressway; and ferry shuttle service from Long Island to the city.
Long Island State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who has sharply criticized Amtrak and the Penn delays, said he felt Cuomo’s concerns were “absolutely right.”
“As Penn Station is a major rail hub and a critical part of the Northeast U.S. economy, it certainly behooves the federal government to get involved immediately,” Kaminsky said.
Congress agreed earlier this month to boost funding for Amtrak by $105 million, bringing federal support to $1.495 billion for the coming fiscal year — the highest total since 2010.
Commuters on Sunday agreed there needs to be some sort of shake up with Penn operations, but didn’t have confidence that Trump would throw support behind mass transit funding in New York, despite his ties.
“I don’t think this is a big priority for Trump,” said Katherine Ng of Forest Hills.(with ivan pereira)