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MTA, Amtrak at odds over Penn Station renovation plans

This concourse at the Farley Post Office Building

This concourse at the Farley Post Office Building in Manhattan connects to Long Island Rail Road tracks at Penn Station. Credit: Craig Ruttle

MTA and state leaders are accusing Amtrak of making plans to redevelop parts of Penn Station without input from other agencies, including the Long Island Rail Road, that use the Manhattan transit hub.

Amtrak, which owns Penn Station, disputed the assertion, saying it remains committed to working with all its partners on reimagining the century-old station — the nation’s busiest.

In a joint statement Friday, Metropolitan Transportation Authority president Patrick Foye and Empire State Development Corporation president Howard Zemsky said they had learned of Amtrak’s intention to “unilaterally entrust the future of Penn Station to a private developer, rather than engage in a thoughtful, collaborative planning process.”

Foye and Zemsky suggested such a move would go against plans by the MTA and ESD to work with Amtrak to transform “Penn Station for the safety and benefit of its users, who have had to navigate the decrepit facility for far too long.”

MTA officials said they had learned of Amtrak’s intention to look for bidders to renovate the upper level of Penn Station coinciding with Amtrak’s plan to move most of its operations to the adjacent Farley Post Office building upon the completion there of the Moynihan Train Hall. MTA officials said they expected the plan would involve filling up much of the vacated space with retail properties.

Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said in a statement that the national passenger railroad was “confused” by Foye and Zemsky’s statement, “as we have long shared the goal of improving Penn Station together with our partner railroads, New York State and New York City.”

Leeds said Amtrak recently met with ESD, LIRR and MTA staff “to seek collaboration on various improvement strategies” for Penn, including a proposal made by Amtrak last summer to hire a private firm to operate Penn Station’s customer concourses, with oversight from all of the station’s transportation providers, including the LIRR and NJ Transit.

“We’re glad to hear they remain committed to working with us and stand ready to continue our discussions,” Leeds said.

Amtrak is expected to largely vacate Penn and move to the 300,000-square-foot train hall being built next door after it’s completed in 2020. The project is being spearheaded and funded by the ESD.

The MTA and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have expressed interest in capitalizing on Amtrak’s move, including by using the freed-up space to disperse customers in the LIRR’s cramped lower level.

Foye and Zemsky, in their statement, also took the opportunity to bring up what they said has been a “continuing string of safety and infrastructure failures at Penn Station.”

“Given this neglect, New York State has prioritized plans to improve the security, accessibility, and customer experience at the transit hub,” they said. “Penn Station is used by more than 600,000 subway and railroad commuters daily — and it is our responsibility to protect their safety.”

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