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Cuomo declares state of emergency for MTA to speed work

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at an MTA

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks at an MTA Genius Transit Challenge on Thursday, June 29, 2017, in New York. Credit: Louis Lanzano

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared an MTA state of emergency Thursday as Long Island Rail Road riders were hit by yet another round of service disruptions, including the loss of power to 12 tracks at Penn Station during the peak of the evening rush hour.

Cuomo, speaking at an MTA conference in Manhattan, pledged the state would “commit an additional $1 billion” in capital spending to expedite improvements to the region’s aging transit system.

“Change and improvement must come, and it must come now,” Cuomo said at a forum focused on modernizing the region’s transit system.

The emergency order comes as LIRR commuters brace for what the governor has dubbed a “summer of hell” that will result from track closures and long needed repairs at Penn Station starting July 10.

Thursday provided a preview of what may be in store for LIRR passengers as power malfunctions along the East River Tunnel tracks that are operated by Amtrak caused morning and evening rush-hour delays.

During the evening rush, hundreds of customers stared up at screens at Penn Station, waiting for news of their train. Announcements for canceled trains peppered the busy commuter hub in Manhattan.

Bellmore resident Chris Suschinsky said two of his Long Island Rail Road trains were canceled, on top of a 15-minute delay getting to work Thursday morning.

“This is an ongoing thing now, it’s tedious,” said Suschinsky, 33. “After a while — all the money I pay to ride the train and I can’t even get to and from work.”

He said he tried to get the 5:19 train to Wantagh and the 5:38 to Seaford, both of which were canceled. And he doubted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority state of emergency declared Thursday by would help.

“It hasn’t helped so far,” he said. “It’s not going to help today, it’s not going to help tomorrow.”

“It’s embarrassing,” he added. “You have millions of dollars — pay for something, pay to update the system.”

Peter Eisenstadt, 60, of Merrick, works for a bank and his 5:40 p.m. train to Seaford from Penn had just been canceled.

“We’re used to it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want it to get better. It’s ridiculous,’’ he said. ‘‘Do you know what’s it like to just be standing here for an hour? And then they call the train three minutes before it leaves and it’s like a madhouse as people rush to get aboard.... I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like this summer. It’ll be at least twice as bad.”

Rockville Centre resident Janet Bernard, 46, was trying to head to Bellmore to visit her parents Thursday evening. She stared at the red lettering on her screen — her train was canceled.

She was trying to take the 6:05 to Wantagh.

“It’s very frustrating,” she said. “I’ve been through worse here, but the summer is going to be much worse.

“I shouldn’t have been surprised because this morning was bad, but I try to give them the benefit of the doubt,” she added.

“I’m a big believer in where’s the money going to come from?” she said about Cuomo’s state of emergency declaration. “I think they’re mismanaging it and they have been for years. We have to keep throwing money at them ”

Ron Harris, 69, waited to hear if his train — the 6:14 — was canceled as he expected it to be. At the last minute he found out it was going to leave after all and rushed over to the track.

“If I have to take a subway out to Jamaica, I’ll just kill myself,” he said. “I haven’t had a problem in 39 years until the last four or five months.

“I think it’s awful how Amtrak could let this happen. This is crazy,” he added. “It’s not like they haven’t had practice. New York is the greatest city in the world. This type of transportation boggles the mind, it shouldn’t happen.”

Ryan Moore, 32, of Rockville Centre, works in finance and his

6:40 Babylon train was delayed.

“It’s definitely a pain, I’ve quite a few times when we’re just stuck sitting there on a train. And what makes it worse is you get delayed on a train coming in, and then you hop on a subway and get delayed there too. It’s like the worst of both worlds.

‘‘Just this morning we were rerouted to Jamaica Center. It’s a massive headache, and you deal with this sort of thing every week. But it’s going to be so much worse this summer; I don’t even know how we’re gonna deal.”

New York City subway riders have also been dealing with widespread delays and power outages, and earlier this week dozens of passengers were injured when a train derailed in Harlem.

Cuomo said the state of emergency would help speed up the MTA’s slow-moving contracting process in order to expedite repair work and system upgrades.

“We need new cars and we have months, not years, to get them,” Cuomo said, noting that it often takes up to five years to secure new subway cars.

The governor announced other orders aimed at improving service, including ordering newly appointed MTA chairman Joseph Lhota to conduct a 60-day review of the MTA’s capital plan to identify upgrade priorities.

Cuomo said he would task the Public Service Commission, MTA and Con Edison to conduct a joint investigation into the power outages that have led to some of the subway system’s most recent problems. The governor said that if Con Edison is found to be at fault for some of the outages, the utility would get fined.

Lhota, speaking at the event, said he and interim executive director Veronique Hakim have already started a “top to bottom” 30-day audit of the MTA and planned on issuing a “subway recovery and transformation plan” to the governor and public in the next 60 days.

“New Yorkers expect better and they are rightfully disappointed,” Lhota said.

Cuomo administration officials said the $1 billion in additional funding to the MTA’s five-year capital improvement plan must first be approved by state lawmakers, who would likely take up the issue during next year’s budget negotiations.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), in a statement, indicated his support for Cuomo’s spending proposal.

“Making the necessary investments in the LIRR and maintaining a high quality of service must be our state’s top priority,” Kaminsky said.

Sen. Elaine Phillips, (R-Flower Hill) called Cuomo’s declaration a positive step.

However, she said, ‘‘The governor should also prioritize greater investments to improve the LIRR infrastructure between Jamaica Station and the East River Tunnels. This is the biggest choke point for the country’s largest commuter railroad.’’

Queens state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has introduced legislation that would institute a millionaires’ tax to fund the MTA, was skeptical about how far Cuomo’s plans would stretch.

“Today’s announcement by Governor Cuomo is an encouraging first step,” Gianaris said in a statement, “but significant questions remain regarding the source of this new capital funding and the continuing budget hole of several billions dollars beyond the amount announced today.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking to reporters at a city hall news conference called Cuomo’s emergency order a “smart move.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Schumer, citing Thursday’s LIRR service delays, called on MTA and Amtrak officials to prioritize the repair of Amtrak’s East River Tunnel.

“The MTA and Amtrak need to stop squabbling, and hitting the snooze button for the tenth time and instead start repairing the rapidly deteriorating East River Tunnels with the $430 million in federal Sandy dollars that I secured,” Schumer (D-New York) said in a statement to Newsday.

Also Thursday:

  • An LIRR commuter watchdog group asked the federal government to help cover the cost of the LIRR’s plan to transport customers this summer during Amtrak’s planned service outages at Penn Station.

The LIRR Commuter Council on Thursday sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking for funding “to allow the MTA and LIRR to defray these costs without placing an undue burden on either LIRR riders or New York taxpayers.”

MTA officials have said they will deploy express buses and ferries to shuttle passengers impacted by the expected services delays.

  • Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, a Democratic candidate for county executive, announced he would audit the MTA over the county’s annual $28.5 million payment for local LIRR station operation and maintenance.

Maragos acknowledged that his office had limited power to probe the MTA. But he said the review into how the agency is spending county money meant for station upkeep would still provide “immense insight” into the MTA’s wider practices.

“Is the money being diverted for other purposes, how effectively is it being used?” said Maragos said at a news conference in Mineola.

With William Murphy, Vin Barone, Alfonso Castillo, Paul LaRocco, Alison Fox and Alex Bazeley.

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