Amtrak Agrees With Governors That ‘Dramatic Action’ Needed At Penn Station

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Amtrak says it agrees with the governors of New York and New Jersey that “dramatic action” is needed at Penn Station.

Amtrak was responding Friday to a letter from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Christie calling for a private operator to take over Penn Station, where recent derailments and other problems have hampered commuters.

But Amtrak insists they have a plan to do it themselves, seemingly dismissing the idea to bring in a private operator, 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reported.

“We agree with the Governors that dramatic action is required at Penn Station and that’s why Amtrak is advancing our renewal plan as well as the creation of a new entity to unify management of the station concourses and leverage the expertise of the private sector with experience in running complex passenger facilities,” it said in a statement.

Amtrak said it wants to work with the governors, LIRR and NJ TRANSIT on these “critical steps” while continuing to take action to improve daily operations.

“Reversing the impacts of years of underinvestment and over-use by all parties will not be quick or easy, but working together, we can restore reliability to Penn Station and develop the station, track and tunnel capacity we all need for the future through the Gateway Program,” the statement said.

In the letter Thursday to Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman, Cuomo and Christie said “the situation at Penn Station has gone from bad to worse to intolerable” and “drastic action must be taken to immediately remedy the situation.”

They said “a professional, qualified, private station operator must be brought in to take over the repairs and manage this entire process going forward.”

The governors said long-term changes in management must go hand in hand with “intense and immediate repairs.” They also want the right to approve any private contractor selected by Amtrak, which owns and operates Penn Station.

A Cuomo administration official said Thursday the private operator would be under the oversight of the three railroads that use the station: NJ TRANSIT, the Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak.

But New Jersey Assemblyman John McKeon doesn’t think a private operator is the answer.

“There wouldn’t be that kind of institutional knowledge certainly concerning the rail portion and the repairs that have to be done,” he told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. He thinks better coordination among the three rail agencies would achieve the same result.

The letter came hours after Moorman spoke to the New York State Assembly about massive track work this summer to help fix aging infrastructure.

“We are clearly going to be starting trains in different locations and they won’t be going through Penn,” he said. “We’re at the mercy of the system.”

He said the nation’s busiest rail station is operating at twice capacity, WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported.

“Truth is that at the track level and the concourse level, the status quo, is no longer sustainable,” Moorman said.

The CEO says work will come in phases. Track outages, meaning tracks out of service, will start July 7 and last 19 days. They pick up again August 4 for 25 days. Then, the third phase will come sometime in 2018.

Rail repairs are expected to cut NJ TRANSIT service by 25 percent this summer, CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported.

As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, lawmakers from New Jersey were shocked by what they saw on their VIP Amtrak led tour aboard a train with a special observation car.

From Trenton to Penn Station, Garden State leaders took it all in, and the experience rattled some.

“There are little crawlspaces with no room to work,” one assemblywoman said.

“As we saw as we went to these tunnels, we need new tunnels, we need the Gateway Project,” New Jersey State Senator Bob Gordon said.

Meanwhile, senators from New York and New Jersey are calling for more federal funding to make permanent repairs.

“We’ve got to keep the heat on so we can get the resources necessary and the execution from critical players to fix the problems with our rail,” said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

Amtrak’s replacement of tracks and other equipment, much of which dates to the 1970s, initially was scheduled to be completed over a two- or three-year period, mainly during off hours. But the recent problems prompted Amtrak to speed up that timetable.

Two derailments in the last several weeks, a power failure, signal problems and other issues at Penn Station have pushed Amtrak to begin replacing aging tracks and other equipment at the station, a critical part of Northeast Corridor travel.

Riders have dealt with three nights of issues this week alone and many say they’re running out of patience.

“We’re delayed every day now and nobody cares, there’s nobody here to say they’re sorry,” said commuter Seldon Clark. “The announcements are horrific and it’s evident it’s going to get worse.”

“I am all for private operations so I think it could be hopeful and if they get a good bid, creativity could improve,” said commuter Kimberley Thornberry.

Moorman said if they do not make repairs this summer, there is an even greater chance for more unplanned disruptions.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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