There’s no question Penn Station is in trouble.
For weeks, Long Islanders have experienced horrific commutes. Derailments, signal troubles and other service disruptions have led to cancellations, massive delays and plenty of frustration.
This spring of madness could easily turn into “a summer of hell,” as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo put it, as Amtrak prepares to reduce service by up to 20 percent in July and August to complete emergency repairs.
Now, six weeks before the work is to start, Cuomo has waded into the mess and positioned himself as the fixer. But to pull off this rescue, he needs a strong follow-through.
Cuomo is talking about short-term fixes for Long Island Rail Road commuters, such as coach buses in the Long Island Expressway’s HOV lane and high-speed ferries from the Island to Manhattan. He’s also proposed more permanent changes, such as having either the state, the Port Authority or a private operator run Penn Station and its beleaguered tracks. So far, he’s formed a task force to address Penn’s problems and also has encouraged the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to establish a competition on modernizing the city subway system.
He needs to put more meat on the bones of that outline. That means adding specifics, timetables and financial commitments to what is now a set of bullet points. Cuomo and the MTA should develop a fare-reduction plan for the thousands of Long Island commuters who will face the most severe impacts, come up with practical ways to minimize expected disruptions and release a schedule of service changes in a timely manner. And Cuomo has to extend his leadership to the MTA. He’s tried to distance himself, but in board and executive appointments, and even day-to-day oversight, he has more clout over the authority than anyone else.
Amtrak has work to do, too. Amtrak officials acknowledge they face staffing difficulties due to union work rules and the specialized tasks involved. To shoulder their share of responsibility, union representatives should make sure rules and staffing limitations don’t slow down the work. And Amtrak’s board and top officials must prioritize this project, set deadlines for every stage and regularly report on progress and delays.
In the long term, Cuomo is right to propose alternatives to Amtrak’s leadership of Penn Station and to emphasize the larger work to be done. He suggests connecting the pieces of a bigger infrastructure effort — Penn, the old Farley Post Office and the new Gateway tunnel. That would require a commitment of steady federal funding and perhaps a broad public-private partnership. It’s worth a look.
But first, Cuomo has to navigate around the train trouble just ahead.
— The editorial board