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paulrivera

MTA: Amtrak demands stalling Metro-North plan to open Manhattan's West Side to Westchester

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MTA: Amtrak demands stalling Metro-North plan to open Manhattan's West Side to Westchester

Thomas C. Zambito, Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Published 6:00 a.m. ET Oct. 24, 2018 | Updated 8:39 a.m. ET Oct. 24, 2018

New MTA line could save Manhattan commuters 40 minutes a day. Frank Esposito, fesposito@lohud.com

A top-ranking MTA official says Amtrak's 'unreasonable' demands have stalled plans for a $1B rail project that would link Manhattan's West Side to Westchester

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

A top ranking MTA official says Amtrak is stalling plans for a $1B rail project that would link Westchester to Manhattan's West Side

Amtrak wants the MTA to pick up the bulk of the cost to replace the Pelham Bay Bridge

Amtrak owns the property on which the MTA wants to build

Westchester County leaders say the plan could shave time off the commute of folks living in the Sound Shore towns of Mamaroneck, Larchmont, New Rochelle, Rye, Port Chester and Harrison

Amtrak's 11th-hour demands have stalled plans for a rail project that would deliver Metro-North commuters to Manhattan’s West Side for the first time and open a new path to jobs in Westchester County, a top-ranking Metropolitan Transportation Authority official says.

Negotiations between Amtrak, the government-run passenger rail, and the MTA have broken down in recent months, delaying by at least six months the opening of bids for design of the Penn Station Access Project, according to Janno Lieber, the chief development officer for the MTA, Metro-North’s parent agency.

“The MTA is going to build this,” Lieber said in his first interview on the subject. “The MTA is going to pay for it. Amtrak is getting a new railroad ... They’re getting all this for free and we need a commitment that they will allow us not just to build them a new railroad but to operate on that once we’re done."

After two decades of on-again, off-again discussions, the $1 billion plan to transform Amtrak's existing right of way into a thoroughfare for tens of thousands of daily commuters appeared to gain momentum this year only to be bogged down during the current round of talks.

Proponents hope the latest hurdles can soon be cleared for a project that comes with a promise to transform the daily commute for residents of Westchester County and points north by eliminating the cross-town trek to the West Side after they disembark at Metro-North's Grand Central Terminal hub.

They include Noam Bramson, the mayor of New Rochelle, where residents would, for the first time, have a one-seat ride to Manhattan's West Side.

“Frankly I think it’s not on the typical person’s radar but when you speak to someone their eyes light up,” Bramson said. “If you’ve got an office on the West Side it shaves 20 minutes off your commute. That’s 40 minutes a day. That’s a big chunk out of your life.”

A few highlights of the MTA's plan:

After New Rochelle, New Haven Line trains would split, with some taking the existing route to Grand Central and others taking a new route along the Hell Gate Line to Penn Station.

Six Sound Shore towns -- New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Rye, Port Chester and Harrison -- would be able to access the route to Penn Station.

Four new stations would be built in the Bronx in Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point.

The project would come online in the years after the East Side of Manhattan is opened to Long Island Rail Road trains, which currently use Penn Station as their Manhattan hub.

An old bridge, a new problem

Amtrak owns much of the property on which the project will be built, including the Hell Gate right of way, which the railroad currently uses to get into and out of Penn Station. The same approach would be used to deliver New Haven Line trains to Penn Station.

And that's where much of the tension between the two sides has been centered.

Amtrak wants to collect access fees for use of the Hell Gate, in addition to what the MTA has already agreed to pay as part of a federally-mandated cost-sharing deal, Lieber said.

And the MTA balked at Amtrak’s recent demand that the authority pay for the bulk of the cost to replace the Pelham Bay Bridge, a 111-year-old Amtrak-owned span that crosses the Hutchinson River in the Bronx. 

Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief development officer, is overseeing plans for the Penn Station Access Project. He says Amtrak's 11th hour demands will delay the commuter plan by at least six months, causing Metro North New Haven Line users to wait for access to New York City's Penn Station. (Photo: Submitted)

At a September MTA meeting, Lieber estimated the cost of replacing the bridge at between $400 million and $600 million, plus millions more in access fees. He considers both demands deal breakers.

“We are concerned that the commuter population in New York State especially is being held ransom for some unreasonable demands,” he added.

Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said the railroad has been cooperating with the MTA’s efforts to expand its service into Penn Station, run by Amtrak.

In a statement, Abrams said Amtrak wants "to ensure that the proposed expansion of Metro-North service does not adversely impact Amtrak intercity passenger rail operation, which will see a significant expansion in 2021 with the introduction of expanded Acela service between New York and Boston.”

The MTA hopes the project, estimated to take three to five years, can break ground soon after work is completed on the MTA’s East Side Access Project.

That project will give Long Island Rail Road trains access to Grand Central Terminal by way of a station being built in the basement of the landmark terminal.

Lieber estimates that work will be done by 2022.

If all goes as planned, the Penn Station project would dovetail with the completion of the Moynihan Station development on the site of the Farley Post Office building west of Eighth Avenue as well as planned upgrades at Penn Station located beneath Madison Square Garden. Both projects are being financed largely by the state of New York.

Abrams said Amtrak is trying to coordinate plans for the Penn Station project with the Moynihan project as well as East Side Access, while trying to accommodate four passenger railroads at Penn Station.

In addition to Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road, NJ Transit uses Penn Station. The four railroads would have to share ticketing space and platforms in Penn Station and Moynihan Station. 

Costs for the Penn Station Access Project are being shared by the state of New York and the MTA. The Cuomo Administration dedicated $250 million in state assistance for the Penn Station Access project in 2016. In its 2015-19 capital plan the MTA budgeted nearly $700 million, which includes the state funds.  

Trouble with Amtrak

Lieber said the MTA’s experience working with Amtrak on the East Side Access project has heightened the authority’s concerns over the recent stalemate. He said Amtrak’s reluctance to assist with work on its property contributed to months of delays and cost overruns.

“We had terrible problems with Amtrak not providing the work force so we could get that work done,” he said. “There’s a history of Amtrak treating the MTA with a lack of sensitivity to issues of fairness and equity for New York commuters.”

In an effort to enlist support for the project, MTA officials have in recent months conducted briefings for political leaders from the Bronx and Westchester whose constituents stand to benefit.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer has lent his support for the project.

“The realities of commuting into the city is why Westchester is what it is,” Latimer said. “If we were not next door to New York City and had easy access into the city we wouldn’t have the residential population. Our economic structure is primarily based on the fact that we’re adjacent to New York City. Once you appreciate that you realize that access into New York City is the key.”

And with the West Side of Manhattan becoming home to more and more major developments – the Hudson Yards Redevelopment among them – getting commuters there has become a priority.

“You’re going to open up the East Side to Long Island with the East Side Access project that is being completed,” Latimer said. “So Long Island will get the benefit now of having a way to get to the East Side and the West Side. So Westchester and to that extension Fairfield and the Bronx, deserve that equivalent benefit.”

How the plan would work

Under the plan, the New Haven Line would split in two directions after New Rochelle, with trains heading either to Penn Station or Grand Central.

While the Sound Shore towns will gain access to Penn Station, commuters from stations south of New Rochelle – Mount Vernon and Pelham – would continue going only to Grand Central.

In addition, four new stations will be built in the Bronx – at Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point.

Reverse commute attraction

Those stations will give workers heading north from the Bronx an easier route to jobs in Westchester, officials say.

“The largest and fastest growing piece of our entire commuter rail system regionally is reverse commuting,” Lieber said. “Why? Because there are great jobs in the suburbs and they’re having trouble finding workers. There are great businesses that want to hire people and they can’t get people there.”

Veteran Bronx political leaders who've been advocating for the project for years have been critical of Amtrak. 

Among them is the MTA’s vice chairman, Fernando Ferrer, who served 14 years as Bronx Borough President.

At a September meeting, Ferrer sounded skeptical as Lieber described how Amtrak’s demand that the MTA pay for most of the Pelham Bay Bridge replacement project had become a sticking point.

"That’s the bridge they use all the time and it’s never appeared before in their list of needs that they would seek funding for but now that we’re close enough and our back pocket is close enough,” Ferrer said. “They would like us to pick up $600 million for the replacement of that bridge. Wrong?”

“It seems like a cost shift that’s not entirely equitable,” Lieber said.

Edited by paulrivera

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Not a surprise.  Everyone thinks you can throw a few trains on the tracks and they will get from point a to point b on their own.  Who ever though there aren't going to be distractions to the end game are delusional.

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Is Penn Station the main issue? If they don't have the slots/space I mean that's something you can't get around it is what it is. But anything else Amtrak seems to be getting the better part of the deal new infrastructure, tracks, overhead what else is there?

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Penn Station is still the main issue. All other cost responsibility bullshitting aside, sending Metro-North to NYP isn't going to happen until after ESA is opened.

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41 minutes ago, Fan Railer said:

Penn Station is still the main issue. All other cost responsibility bullshitting aside, sending Metro-North to NYP isn't going to happen until after ESA is opened.

I was under the impression ESA having to happen was already accounted for after all Penn Access is based on that assumption. My query is after ESA is there room?

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2 minutes ago, RailRunRob said:

I was under the impression ESA having to happen was already accounted for after all Penn Access is based on that assumption. My query is after ESA is there room?

I haven't seen first hand the reports on how much LIRR service is being diverted to GCT, or how much growth of either NJT or LIRR service into NYP after ESA opens will occur, but I'd believe that fitting in 6 trains an hour (3 trains either way) for Metro-North service isn't going to be the biggest scheduling issue post ESA.

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1 minute ago, Fan Railer said:

I haven't seen first hand the reports on how much LIRR service is being diverted to GCT, or how much growth of either NJT or LIRR service into NYP after ESA opens will occur, but I'd believe that fitting in 6 trains an hour (3 trains either way) for Metro-North service isn't going to be the biggest scheduling issue post ESA.

So Amtrak is playing hard to get it seems. 

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1 hour ago, RailRunRob said:

So Amtrak is playing hard to get it seems. 

Pretty much yeah, and Penn Station itself isn't even the heart of the issue. Amtrak wants the (MTA) to pay to repair one of their bridges and an "access fee" on top of building the 4 stations and (I believe) 2 miles of new track in the Bronx and about a mile of 3rd rail in Queens that the MTA is already paying for (some $500 million.)

if the MTA elects to bow to Amtrak's demands it would balloon Metro-North's PSA budget by at least double.

Plus, it takes about 3 years after groundbreaking to build a single modern-day Metro-North station, let alone the four they need to build so time is ticking.

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58 minutes ago, paulrivera said:

Amtrak wants the (MTA) to pay to repair one of their bridges and an "access fee" on top of building the 4 stations and (I believe) 2 miles of new track in the Bronx and about a mile of 3rd rail in Queens that the MTA is already paying for (some $500 million.)

Access fee? Isn't Amtrak using MTA/CDOT trackage on the Hudson and New Haven lines? Is the MTA also charging for that?

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Yes they are. Between New Haven and New Rochelle and between Poughkeepsie and Spuyten Duyvil, Amtrak runs on trackage owned by ConnDOT or the MTA and operated by Metro North. I would think MTA charges Amtrak some sort of “tenancy” fee. They certainly seem to be giving priority to Metro North New Haven and Hudson Line trains over Amtrak, given my own personal experience riding both Metro North and Amtrak over both corridors. 

I would really hate for us to have to give up a project that could significantly improve the commute of many Bronxites who head up north for “access fees.” It certainly can come down to that. To be fair though, we’ve already got a shitload of trains terminating in Penn (LIRR, NJT as well as Amtrak) on top of all the Amtrak service that operates through there. There really is a delicate balance that has to be maintained for the whole place not to go to shit (which it often does anyway) every day. East Side Access certainly needs to happen before we make Penn Station into even more of a “Penn Central Terminal” than it already is. 

Edited by T to Dyre Avenue

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Honestly, I see nothing wrong with Amtrak asking for the money. The LIRR already complains about how delays in Amtrak service, some of which are caused by this bridge, have bad effects on LIRR service. And what the MTA is asking for is a massive increase in services across the bridge in question. If you want to drive the bridge into the ground further, you have to pay for it.

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5 hours ago, bobtehpanda said:

Honestly, I see nothing wrong with Amtrak asking for the money. The LIRR already complains about how delays in Amtrak service, some of which are caused by this bridge, have bad effects on LIRR service. And what the MTA is asking for is a massive increase in services across the bridge in question. If you want to drive the bridge into the ground further, you have to pay for it.

I don't think the argument is in paying for infrastructure that's a given Pelham bridge, track Realignment ect.. The MTA should and is willing to pay for that. Im just wondering about the extra toll on top?  MTBA, MARC, SEPTA is this access fee standard for them.. And is Amtrak also paying CDOT and MTA in return for usage?

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2 hours ago, RailRunRob said:

I don't think the argument is in paying for infrastructure that's a given Pelham bridge, track Realignment ect.. The MTA should and is willing to pay for that. Im just wondering about the extra toll on top?  MTBA, MARC, SEPTA is this access fee standard for them.. And is Amtrak also paying CDOT and MTA in return for usage?

The (MTA) charges Amtrak pennies on the dollar on their territory I believe. CDOT also has a separate (unrelated) agreement because Amtrak operates Shore Line East.

On the flip side, Amtrak does charge NJTransit an access fee and recently began charging the MBTA access fees also.

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1 hour ago, paulrivera said:

The (MTA) charges Amtrak pennies on the dollar on their territory I believe. CDOT also has a separate (unrelated) agreement because Amtrak operates Shore Line East.

On the flip side, Amtrak does charge NJTransit an access fee and recently began charging the MBTA access fees also.

The (MTA) seems to have a different relationship somewhat and correct me if I'm wrong. The MTA is the only agency that owns trackage that Amtrak uses and doesn't have operations agreement like the SLE and MARC. That should count for something in access fee negotiations.   

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11 hours ago, paulrivera said:

The (MTA) charges Amtrak pennies on the dollar on their territory I believe. CDOT also has a separate (unrelated) agreement because Amtrak operates Shore Line East.

On the flip side, Amtrak does charge NJTransit an access fee and recently began charging the MBTA access fees also.

The Massachusetts section of the Corridor is owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through the MBTA. However, Amtrak maintains and dispatches it in exchange for free access. At least that’s what I gathered from reading that Boston Globe article. It sounds like Amtrak originally paid for maintenance and dispatching entirely out of their own budget in exchange for not paying access fees to the MBTA. Now it seems the T will be contributing an additional $20 Million for capital improvements.

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On 10/25/2018 at 1:06 PM, paulrivera said:

Pretty much yeah, and Penn Station itself isn't even the heart of the issue. Amtrak wants the (MTA) to pay to repair one of their bridges and an "access fee" on top of building the 4 stations and (I believe) 2 miles of new track in the Bronx and about a mile of 3rd rail in Queens that the MTA is already paying for (some $500 million.)

if the MTA elects to bow to Amtrak's demands it would balloon Metro-North's PSA budget by at least double.

Plus, it takes about 3 years after groundbreaking to build a single modern-day Metro-North station, let alone the four they need to build so time is ticking.

I thought it was 3 stations, when did they increase it to 4?

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9 hours ago, T to Dyre Avenue said:

It sounds like Amtrak originally paid for maintenance and dispatching entirely out of their own budget in exchange for not paying access fees to the MBTA. Now it seems the T will be contributing an additional $20 Million for capital improvements.

That makes sense they electrified that part of the line for the Acela and regional trains in the late 90’s.

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9 hours ago, Lawrence St said:

I thought it was 3 stations, when did they increase it to 4?

Some of the original plans had almost 10 stops. It’s been 4 stops planned for quite abit now atleast since 2010.

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17 hours ago, Lawrence St said:

I thought it was 3 stations, when did they increase it to 4?

dcp-metro-north-4station-area.jpg

Personally, I think the big missing stops are Pelham Parkway for the Bx12, and E177 St for the Q44 and all the buses at West Farms Square, and move Morris Park to where it crosses Eastchester Road, to connect better to Westchester Square buses.

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20 hours ago, bobtehpanda said:

dcp-metro-north-4station-area.jpg

Personally, I think the big missing stops are Pelham Parkway for the Bx12, and E177 St for the Q44 and all the buses at West Farms Square, and move Morris Park to where it crosses Eastchester Road, to connect better to Westchester Square buses.

Pelham Parkway for sure!! Seems they had in on the plan, in the beginning, I wonder that changed? Funding? 

0rE65S8.png

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On 10/25/2018 at 1:06 PM, paulrivera said:

Pretty much yeah, and Penn Station itself isn't even the heart of the issue. Amtrak wants the (MTA) to pay to repair one of their bridges and an "access fee" on top of building the 4 stations and (I believe) 2 miles of new track in the Bronx and about a mile of 3rd rail in Queens that the MTA is already paying for (some $500 million.)

if the MTA elects to bow to Amtrak's demands it would balloon Metro-North's PSA budget by at least double.

Plus, it takes about 3 years after groundbreaking to build a single modern-day Metro-North station, let alone the four they need to build so time is ticking.

They also want the MTA to pay for the grade-separation of Shell Interlocking, which has been proposed since the '80s. This is an important project, but the MTA shouldn't be paying for the whole thing.

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1 hour ago, RailRunRob said:

Pelham Parkway for sure!! Seems they had in on the plan, in the beginning, I wonder that changed? Funding? 

Those were all of the options examined.

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5 hours ago, Union Tpke said:

They also want the MTA to pay for the grade-separation of Shell Interlocking, which has been proposed since the '80s. This is an important project, but the MTA shouldn't be paying for the whole thing.

They're the ones proposing to run more service through it that the current interlocking can't handle. Let's not act as if the MTA is some poor innocent creature getting railroaded by the big bad Amtrak.

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8 hours ago, Union Tpke said:

They also want the MTA to pay for the grade-separation of Shell Interlocking, which has been proposed since the '80s. This is an important project, but the MTA shouldn't be paying for the whole thing.

Even though northern portion of Shell was already realigned within the last 10-15 years, so that only two tracks can access the Amtrak line coming out of New Rochelle?

Wow...

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18 hours ago, bobtehpanda said:

They're the ones proposing to run more service through it that the current interlocking can't handle. Let's not act as if the MTA is some poor innocent creature getting railroaded by the big bad Amtrak.

Indeed the MTA should pay for infrastructure improvements. From the Board meetings and just talk, I think they're okay with that. I think the Access fees on top of that and possible maintenance fee is where they crossed the line..  In any type of negotiation you really have to watch the ongoing costs beyond the one-time and upfront. I can't say I wouldn't also be asking about access fees myself running that project.. Especially if I'm allowing the other party to use my trackage for little or no access fee already..  That's a bit much if the MTA's already coving upgrades and maintenance. Might as well take the leather glove off (French style) and backhand, someone, lol. Feels a bit like that when hearing access fee. What am I missing?

Edited by RailRunRob

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