The MTA plans to run as many as 10 Metro-North Railroad trains an hour into Penn Station during the morning rush by 2019, potentially squeezing out some Long Island Rail Road commuters.
But the proposal, which has been discussed with few specifics for more than a dozen years, faces opposition from Long Island officials.
State Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), who heads the Senate Transportation Committee, which would have to approve state funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said that unless he is assured that the LIRR will not be harmed by the Penn Station plan, he will oppose it.
Supporters say Penn will be able to accommodate Metro-North because the move would coincide with the LIRR gaining access to a second Manhattan terminal, Grand Central, where many customers would go instead.
The LIRR currently runs 37 trains during the busiest 60-minute interval in the morning into Penn, the busiest railroad station in the country.
'A working concept'
Under the Penn Station Access project, Metro-North would run between six and 10 trains an hour to Penn during the morning peak period, which lasts from 6 to 10. There would be trains to Penn every 20 to 30 minutes on the New Haven line, according to new documents from a presentation the MTA gave to Connecticut officials this month.
It was the first time the MTA detailed the number of Metro-North trains that could use Penn.
Four Metro-North trains an hour would run from Penn Station to Connecticut during the morning rush to accommodate reverse commuters. Two New Haven line trains would run to and from Penn during off-peak periods and on weekends. No information was provided on how many trains Metro-North would operate at Penn during the 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. evening rush.
MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said the numbers in the presentation represented "a working concept, a basis for discussion, not a policy decision."
The MTA has held informational meetings about the plan and will host another next month for riders' advocates, including the LIRR Commuter Council.
An environmental assessment, which would be the basis for federal funding, is expected to be finished by the end of 2013, Anders said.
The MTA wants to start construction on the project by 2015.
Because Metro-North trains would use existing Amtrak tracks along the Hudson River and across the Hell Gate Bridge, most of the work would involve building new stations along Manhattan's West Side and in the Bronx. A 2008 state comptroller's report estimated the cost at $1.2 billion. The State Legislature has to approve funding for the MTA's five-year capital plan, which will eventually include the Penn Station project.
The project's targeted 2019 opening date would coincide with the LIRR gaining access to Grand Central Terminal from the East Side Access project. The MTA is building a new terminal deep under Grand Central to accommodate up to 24 trains per hour without cutting into Metro-North service.
Giving Metro-North trains access to Penn Station has long faced opposition on Long Island, including from eight state senators. They have said that accommodating a fourth railroad at Penn, which also houses Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, could force LIRR to run fewer trains and contribute to already-crowded conditions.
Desmond Ryan, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, said the goal of East Side Access was never simply to divert some existing Penn Station commuters to Grand Central, but to attract new commuters.
"This Metro-North plan would ensure that the daily chaos of Penn Station not only continues for generations to come but will get worse," Ryan said. "If this happens, those new commuters trying to get through Penn will curse forever those who came up with this scheme."
But supporters of the plan, including interim MTA chairman Fernando Ferrer, have said the LIRR will be able to spare some of its track assignments and time slots at Penn by 2019 because many of its commuters will be going to Grand Central.
Ferrer called the Penn project, which would include four new Metro-North stations in the Bronx, "enormously appealing" because it would create a regional rail network stretching from Long Island to Connecticut.
"It adds additional service to get more vehicles and cars off the road, to give people more transportation options not only to get to Manhattan but to get to more places in the region," said Ferrer, a former Bronx borough president. "There's enormous support for that and the job creation potential is huge."
LIRR president Helena Williams and Metro-North president Howard Permut declined to be interviewed.
MTA board member Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, said he believes there's a way to fit Metro-North into Penn Station without further crowding the transit hub, and without forcing the LIRR to scale back.
Pally cited a study looking at ways to expand capacity at Penn Station, including infrastructure improvements such as signal and switching systems that would allow trains to clear out of the station more quickly so others can come in. The study is expected to be completed this year.
"We have to figure out a way to make this happen so that everybody can access Penn Station in a meaningful way," Pally said.
Morning trains per hour:
34: LIRR trains to Penn Station
54: Metro-North trains to Grand Central Station
24: Anticipated LIRR trains to Grand Central
6 to 10: Anticipated Metro-North trains to Penn