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Cuomo: ‘Amtrak must pay’ for LIRR summer service disruption

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at One World Trade Center

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at One World Trade Center building on Jan. 9, 2017. Credit: AP / Richard Drew

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is urging the MTA to go after Amtrak for the costs of the LIRR’s plan to move tens of thousands of commuters with three fewer tracks at Penn Station this summer, even if that means having to pass a law.

Cuomo on Thursday “strongly” urged the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — the LIRR’s parent agency — to recover the costs of its summer service plan. The strategy includes adding trains, operating private buses and ferries, and deploying additional police and other personnel to help move commuters affected by Amtrak’s plan to take three tracks out of service during July and August.

“The resulting question is — who pays for all of this? My answer is clear and simple — Amtrak must pay,” Cuomo said in a statement. “. . . As the tracks are not available due to Amtrak’s actions, they are liable for the resulting damages.”

Following several infrastructure failures that led to major service disruptions for the LIRR, Amtrak proposed the summerlong project to replace aging track components.

The MTA has not calculated the cost of its summer plan, but Cuomo urged the authority to withhold the $50 million it pays Amtrak, which owns Penn, for leasing space there. Cuomo said if the MTA chooses to continue paying Amtrak, he will “seek a state law to stop them.”

Amtrak officials said Thursday that while they understand Cuomo’s frustration, the rush hour track outages are necessary to address “the collective lack of investment by all users” of Penn.

“We all have a responsibility for taking the necessary steps to improve Penn Station and the funding that LIRR pays Amtrak for their proportional share of operating, maintenance and capital costs is required to keep the station operating reliably and safely into the future,” Amtrak said. “Withholding such investments will only mean less work accomplished and more delay and impacts for riders.”

Cuomo’s recommendation follows similar calls from commuters, advocates and state lawmakers, including Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Manhasset) who authored a bill passed in the Senate directing the MTA to withhold payments from Amtrak until conditions at Penn improve.

Phillips and Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) applauded Cuomo’s statement. Kaminsky said any money recouped from Amtrak should be returned to “beleaguered” LIRR commuters.

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