Joseph Lhota at a City Hall news conference. (May 23,...

Joseph Lhota at a City Hall news conference. (May 23, 2000) Credit: AP

Pennsylvania Station has enough room for Metro-North to operate there, too, even if the Long Island Rail Road has no track space to spare, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Thursday.

Joseph Lhota, fielding questions from transit advocates at a meeting of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said he disagrees with opponents of the Penn Station Access plan, including those who are Long Island state lawmakers.

"I can't accept something never happening," Lhota said. "We're examining it . . . You just can't close doors."

The MTA is studying the plan, which proponents said aims to bring Metro-North into Penn using Amtrak tracks. That would happen by about 2018, the same time the LIRR is scheduled to complete its $7.3-billion East Side Access linkage to Grand Central Terminal.

Detractors of bringing Metro-North into Penn say it could further crowd the station and force the LIRR to decrease service to make room for its sister railroad.

Lhota said there is "probably not" enough room in the LIRR section to add Metro-North. But he said he would negotiate with the other railroads operating there to see if they could help accommodate a fourth railroad.

Though the LIRR runs most of the trains into and out of Penn, the station is also used by Amtrak, which owns the station, and NJ Transit. Officials with Amtrak and NJ Transit have both said it is too early to comment on the plan.

"Penn Station, no question, is very, very constrained," Lhota said. He noted, however, that bringing in Metro-North would allow the MTA to better serve the region and to build a new Metro-North station in the Co-Op City section of the Bronx, saying, "I want it to happen."

Mark Epstein, chairman of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council, pressed Lhota on what Epstein said is the most pressing issue the LIRR faces -- insufficient capacity for riders. He said LIRR riders believe they have not been given the same priority in recent years as other users of the MTA's system.

Lhota said a plan to build a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma is his "number one priority" for the LIRR. He also reiterated support for a controversial plan to build a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville. That project, which would require the LIRR to take over some private property, has been slowed by community and political opposition.

"The third track, as you know, has as many friends as enemies," Lhota said. "I'm not affected by friends and enemies. I do believe it's necessary."

He pledged to try to sell opponents on why the third track is "a good thing and why it's an important thing."

Lhota had both good and bad news in response to complaints about LIRR policies enacted last year that shortened the time for which tickets are valid to 14 days and instituted a $10 processing fee for ticket refunds.

He said he is working on lengthening the time span for which one-way and round-trip tickets are valid, calling the new limit "very much too short." The $10 fee probably will not change, Lhota said.

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