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Penn’d In: MTA’s Second Rail Mega-Project Stuck in Mire

Transit agency officials said the plans to connect Metro-North trains to Penn Station will likely face delays of six to nine months — while pointing fingers at a familiar impediment.

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The entrance to Penn Station at West 31st Street, Jan. 6, 2020.

Jose Martinez/THE CITY

The MTA’s plans  to bring Metro-North trains to Penn Station and build four new stations in The Bronx are expected to be delayed by at least six to nine months, agency officials said Monday — blaming Amtrak, again.

The slowdown on the $2.8 billion Penn Access mega-project was revealed just days after a mammoth Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) hub opened deep beneath Grand Central Terminal. The MTA also partially blamed that project’s delays and cost overruns on the federally funded national rail service.

“This is the dynamic that got East Side Access [the LIRR project] into the hole,” Janno Lieber, MTA chairperson and CEO said Monday during a meeting of the transit agency’s board members. “There’s probably a billion dollars of extra costs in East Side Access, maybe more, from the problems that that project had.”

Workers were seen at the LIRR train station below Grand Central Terminal on Friday.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

The Penn Station Access project will, for the first time, link Metro-North’s New Haven Line to the transit hub on Manhattan’s West Side by running the commuter railroad’s trains over the Amtrak-owned Hell Gate Line. Currently, the New Haven line ends at Grand Central Terminal. 

The project will also provide new Bronx stations at Co-op City, Parkchester, Morris Park and Hunts Point, along with 20 miles of track work and bridge rehabilitations.

MTA officials said Monday that the plan has run into “significant construction delays” because of “limited access” onto Amtrak-owned property, but said they still are hoping to meet a March 2027 “substantial completion date” with additional support from Amtrak and CSX, the freight railroad company.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us,” said Thomas McGuinness, senior vice president at MTA Construction and Development. “But if we are successful and Amtrak provides the access and support that is needed, the project team believes the delays experienced to date can be mitigated to bring the project back to the original schedule.”

Blame It on the Train

In 2018, the MTA blamed Amtrak for a $955 million cost overrun on East Side Access, saying the railroad had, for several years, not provided enough help in the rebuilding of the Harold Interlocking in Queens, the largest rail intersection in the United States.

More than 800 trains pass daily through the Sunnyside junction, which serves LIRR and Amtrak trains and which links to Grand Central Terminal.

The Sunnyside Yards in in Queens, Nov. 25, 2019.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

LIRR riders began arriving last week at Grand Central Madison, the deep rail terminal more than 15 stories beneath Grand Central. Construction on the hub began in 2001, but completion of this largest MTA project ever ran into repeated delays.

Now there are delays in plans to create a new path for the MTA’s other commuter railroad, Metro-North, which serves riders in the northern suburbs and Connecticut. MTA documents note that the project has also been slowed by the need to gain approval for entry into Con Edison facilities. 

Lieber said overcoming the delays is central to the larger reconstruction of Penn Station.

“This is the mega-project we are engaged in right now, Penn Access, and it is the linchpin of the plan to create a truly integrated regional railroad system,” Lieber said.

MTA officials said the agency signed maintenance agreements last year with Amtrak and CSX that should improve access to the tracks and provide additional support, such as flaggers, track supervisors and electrical traction workers.

“They have been unable to live up to this agreement to date, and we have ensured that they have been on notice of that,” said Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Construction and Development. “The good news is that Amtrak acknowledges these problems.”

Amtrak did not immediately respond to a request for comment from THE CITY.

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