A stampede at Penn Station this month that injured 16 people has spurred Sen. Chuck Schumer to call for the creation of a joint command center at the busy transit hub aimed at improving communication among various agencies patrolling the station.
“The panic and the chaos that ensued raises disturbing questions,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan rail station. “It makes me wonder just who’s in charge here. So many different agencies, so many jurisdictions . . . it’s imperative that the agencies here, Amtrak above all, get their house in order to not let this happen again.”
Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said a centralized command center would have helped prevent the mass confusion and chaos that erupted at the crowded terminal on April 14 when scores of commuters scrambled to flee the area amid false reports that shots had been fired. In actuality, an Amtrak police officer had used a stun gun on an unruly man.
The incident underscored the need for more training and drills and coordination among the multiple law enforcement agencies overseeing security at the station, Schumer said. They include Amtrak, the National Guard, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NJ Transit and the NYPD, he said.
“Public spaces are a real challenge to law enforcement, and any mishap could prove deadly,” Schumer said.
Schumer also pressed the federal government to boost funding for Amtrak, noting that “Amtrak security funding has dropped 60 percent since 2009.” He also urged the Department of Homeland Security to issue recommendations to keep mass transit hubs “safer in the event of another false shooter scare.”
Schumer said he has reached out to the patchwork of agencies involved and said “they’re very open to the ideas.”
Asked about Schumer’s proposal, Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert called it “an important step forward in our joint efforts to put safety first at Penn Station.”
Tolbert said Amtrak last week hosted a meeting “with more than 50 law enforcement officers, first responders and area stakeholders of New York Penn Station to review the crowd incident that occurred,” and that a task force is working on developing recommendations to “help improve preparedness and enhance the safety of the station for all.”
Last year, Schumer pressed for the creation of a command station at Kennedy Airport in response to a similar stampede incident in August triggered by false reports of a shooting. A temporary command station had since been established, with the agencies working on the construction of a permanent office, Schumer said.
Shortly after Schumer wrapped up his remarks an Amtrak train bound for Albany broke down and got stuck in the Hudson River tunnel just outside the station for more than an hour.
Amtrak Police Capt. Rose Noll said there were no injuries reported among the more than 230 passengers on board. A rescue train was dispatched to pull the train back to Penn Station, authorities said.