NEW YORK, NY — January 24, 2019 — There are fatal flaws in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement of new Metro North service from Westchester and the East Bronx via the Hell Gate Bridge and Sunnyside Queens to Penn Station. There is only $695 million currently available toward the $1.5 billion needed to fully fund this project. The MTA will have to find $805 million under the next Five Year 2020 – 2024 Capital Program for completion of work. Service implementation is dependent upon the LIRR giving up Penn Station rush hour track space. What about the need for mid-day storage at either the LIRR West Side or Amtrak/NJ Transit Sunnyside Yards? Currently no such agreements exist for either arrangement. Cuomo has promised many other new commuter rail services besides the Metro North Penn Station Access project that are competing for the same non-existent Penn Station capacity.
Metro North also has future plans ($200 million) to run additional service from Poughkeepsie via Amtrak Empire Corridor Hudson Line down the Manhattan West Side. The LIRR invested $450 million to complete double tracking on the Ronkonkoma branch. Once Main Line Third Track is completed at a cost of $2.6 billion, the LIRR has plans to expand Ronkonkoma branch rush hour Penn Station service. There are also promised increased reverse commuter rush hour service for all eight LIRR branches. Cuomo wants frequent direct LIRR service on the Port Washington branch between Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal and Mets Willets Point station to support his $1.5 billion LaGuardia Air Train. This will require six trains per hour in each direction to support ten minute headways. It is needed to fulfill his promised 30 minute travel time from LaGaurdia Airport to midtown Manhattan. Cuomo wants a “One Seat Ride” from Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal to Kennedy Airport. Also needed is LIRR establishment of frequent service from Penn Station to the new Belmont Park Islanders Arena by 2021 to coincide with the facility opening. Some Queens residents want restoration of LIRR service on the old Rockaway Beach branch, which suspended service in 1962. (Today NYC Transit runs the A subway along a significant portion of the old LIRR right of way.) Amtrak (Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston along with Empire Service north to Albany & Buffalo) and NJ Transit have future Penn Station service expansion plans.
Neither the $29 billion Hudson River Gateway Tunnel (two additional tracks connecting New Jersey to Penn Station) and the $1.6 billion Moynihan Station Train Hall projects add any new additional Penn Station tracks or platforms. This results in no capacity increase for any additional rush hour Amtrak, NJ Transit, LIRR or Metro North Penn Station service.
The LIRR may begin access into Grand Central Terminal in December 2022. Much of the promised 24 peak hour train service will be either new trains or those which previously terminated at Atlantic Terminal Brooklyn. Few will be diverted from Penn Station. There is no commitment by the LIRR to give up any current peak hour service train slots at Penn Station, when expanding operations into Grand Central Terminal.
Amtrak continues to delay the decades overdue major repairs to the four East River tunnels, until after the LIRR begins service into Grand Central Terminal in December 2022. Delaying the start of work by six years from 2019 to 2025 will increase costs by 300% to $1 billion. Continued deterioration of the East River Tunnels over this time period could result in an increased scope of work. and accompanying service disruptions. Only one of four East River tunnels can be taken out of service at a time for reconstruction. It will take one to two years to finish work on each tunnel. As a result, this project may not be completed until 2032. Until this work is over, the LIRR will be canceling and combining rush hour trains. It will be impossible to increase rush hour Penn Station capacity during this time period. There will continue to be a three way competition between Amtrak, LIRR, and NJ Transit for rush hour access to Penn Station. Metro North will also be looking for rush hour access resulting in a four way competition. There may be no changes to level of Penn Station rush hour service until 2032. No other transit operator is prepared to give up rush hour slots to accommodate any new Penn Station Metro North service. We will all have to wait and see the new Amtrak, LIRR, New Jersey Transit Penn Station operating agreement to see what capacity Metro North will be offered.