U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand released a public letter to Amtrak and the MTA today pushing the two agencies to quickly advance efforts to create a new Metro North service to connect East, South Bronx and Westchester directly to Penn Station. The new Penn Access plan would establish four new stations and a new route featuring one-seat rides to Manhattan’s West Side. The senators said the new line would also reduce travel time, boost economic growth, help workers and reverse commuters and create resiliency within the existing commuter system. The senators’ letter makes the case for getting the project going, without delay, to provide increased Metro-North access for the people of East and South Bronx and parts of Westchester.
Their letter, which appears below, also urges Amtrak and MTA to continue their ongoing work with the East Side Access program and on the badly damaged East River Tunnels, through which this new line would travel.
November 2, 2018
Richard H. Anderson
President and Chief Executive Officer
National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK)
1 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Joseph L. Lhota
Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)
New York, NY 10004
Dear Mr. Anderson and Mr. Lhota:
I write to express support for increased Metro-North access for the people of East and South Bronx and urge your agencies to continue to accelerate your work together to develop a reasonable timeline for launching this new commuter service with all due speed. It is critical, of course, that this new service not be designed or implemented in a way that diminishes any existing mass transit, regional or intercity rail service. As you know, MTA’s plans for starting new Metro-North commuter rail service and four new proposed stations on Amtrak’s Hell Gate Line – at Hunts Point, Parkchester/Van Nest, Morris Park and Co-op City – would create a one-seat train ride for East and South Bronx and parts of Westchester which will substantially reduce travel time, link communities to job markets, enhance economic development and offer vital system resiliency. It is the history of New York, and especially the Bronx, that transit development is linked to job and community development, and expanding Metro-North to the East and South Bronx will increase service to areas that lack adequate mass transportation connections into Manhattan as well as into Westchester and Connecticut. I believe expanding mass transit options can spark job growth and will reduce commute times and benefit the whole region.
Given the interdependencies of Amtrak’s and MTA’s ongoing work with the East Side Access program and the East River Tunnel repairs, as well as the enormous complexity of operations at Penn Station, it is imperative your entities work together to develop an acceptable design, realistic schedule, appropriate cost-sharing and feasible work plan that allows for the completion of ongoing projects – as well as the necessary construction activities to support the introduction of this rail service serving the East and South Bronx as soon as possible. I expect MTA and Amtrak to work together in good faith and consistent with federal law to forge an agreement for all necessary infrastructure to implement this vital service, including the stations and necessary track and Pelham Bay Bridge work.
We have seen – and hundreds of thousands of New York commuters have directly experienced – what can happen when the transit agencies in charge of this infrastructure cannot or do not stay on
top of needed investments and repairs. Superstorm Sandy badly damaged the tunnels serving Penn Station, including the East River Tunnels, with approximately 14 million gallons of floodwaters. It is of utmost urgency to the commuters of Long Island, and beyond, that the East River Tunnels be repaired and upgraded – as has already occurred on a number of vital vehicle and mass transit tunnels. According to Amtrak reports, corrosive damage from the storm continue to impact the East River Tunnels and will likely lead to an increase in delays and equipment breakdowns, with these problems growing worse as time goes on if repairs are not made as soon as possible. This is why I fought so hard to pass the original $64 billion Sandy relief Bill, and later fought to prevent certain transit money from this legislation from being spent in projects outside of New York – so that, instead, these funds could be spent to repair the East River Tunnels. As I understand it, the timeline for the East River Tunnel repairs is dependent on the completion of the East Side Access program and both projects must be completed, in conjunction with the construction of infrastructure and capacity elements identified under the Penn Access Project, in order for the new East Bronx service launch to be successful.
As mentioned, after considerable effort, I secured $432 million in Sandy relief funds that can be used by the MTA for the vital repairs to the East River Tunnels and these funds specifically seek to supplement funds that Amtrak has received from insurance settlements for this work. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released these funds to the MTA at my urging. It is my expectation that the MTA will make the full financial commitment needed to advance the East River Tunnel Repairs and work with Amtrak to develop a schedule for this work and related operations that permits it to advance quickly.
I cannot overstate the importance of each of these projects and the need to advance them quickly. Given the hundreds of thousands of commuters who depend on this link, and its central relationship to the health of the regional economy, failure is not an option. While I am sensitive to the wide variety of other issues facing both Amtrak and the MTA, the completion of all aspects of the East Side Access program, the repairs to the East River Tunnels, the launch of a new East Bronx service, and the continued management of the complex operations at Penn Station all require tight, constant and professional coordination between your agencies. I continue to ask you articulate a clear plan for the commencement and completion of these projects; that you reach agreement on the necessary commercial and access terms for use of Amtrak’s property, set ambitious deadlines to get the work done; and share these plans with the riding public. I am confident that, working together, you can create a reasonable timeline and work plan that provides the necessary investments, repairs, and benefits New York commuter deserve.
I appreciate your attention to this issue, should you need further information please do not hesitate to contact my office.