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Amtrak Pact Puts MTA’s Penn Station Access Megaproject Back on Schedule

MTA crews will get needed access to Amtrak’s tracks crossing the Hell Gate Bridge, but Amtrak passengers potentially face months of service impacts.

SHARE Amtrak Pact Puts MTA’s Penn Station Access Megaproject Back on Schedule

An Amtrak train rolls over the the Hell Gate Bridge, which will be used to facilitate construction of new Metro-North lines from Westchester County into Penn Station.

Courtesy of Amtrak

Amtrak has agreed to add what MTA officials called “the missing ingredient” in their plan to connect Metro-North commuters to Penn Station — a project facing delays and cost overruns because of a lack of coordination between the two sides.

The federally funded passenger railroad this week pledged to open the tracks along the Hell Gate Line to MTA construction crews and contractors working on the Penn Station Access project. It aims to add four new Metro-North stations in The Bronx by 2027 and create a terminal on Manhattan’s West Side for a commuter railroad that serves the northern suburbs.

The commitment around the work on the proposed suburban rail link to Penn Station comes as the MTA’s new Long Island Rail Road hub beneath Grand Central Terminal goes through growing pains of its own, with many commuters unhappy over new schedules and added travel time.

But the work on Penn Station Access likely will slow service for several months for travelers on the New Haven Line.

THE CITY reported in January that the $2.8 billion mega-project faced six to nine months of delays after MTA executives accused Amtrak of limiting access to the tracks that cross the Hell Gate Bridge. The bridge currently is used by Amtrak trains traveling along its Northeast Corridor route, as well as some freight trains.

MTA officials said Friday the agreement with Amtrak could now potentially put Penn Station Access back on track to make its targeted opening — after previously saying the agency had a “short window” to complete the project because of planned structural work at Penn Station.

“Amtrak has worked through challenges and has agreed to a long-term single-track outage that affords us an opportunity to recover lost time,” Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Construction and Development, said in a statement to THE CITY. “We are continuing to work with Amtrak to reduce the delays incurred to date, and the expected completion date of the project continues to be in 2027.”

But from this Monday through October, the construction likely will come with a daily cost for Northeast Corridor travelers riding between New Haven and New York.

“Amtrak needs to take one track out of service at a time to conduct the work,” Amtrak said in a statement. “Since the Hell Gate Line currently features only two tracks in most places, removing one from service will result in northbound and southbound trains having to take turns operating on a single track on this segment.”

Sharing the Rails

Once the Penn Station Access project is completed, some Metro-North trains will eventually be able to travel from New Rochelle in Westchester County, through the East Bronx via the Hell Gate Line, before terminating at Penn Station. In December, officials broke ground on the Penn Station Access project in The Bronx, where Metro-North will add stations in Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point.

Randy Glucksman, who represents Metro-North riders on the MTA board, said Penn Station Access is a key project for expanding regional transit.

“It will open up a world of reverse commuting options and economic opportunity across our region,” Glucksman told THE CITY. “An agreement that shaves time off delays and speeds up construction is certainly welcome, and we’re glad the parties came together for the benefit of the riding public. “

Grand Central Terminal is currently the last stop for Metro-North trains in Manhattan.

But the path to Penn Station Access construction has been hampered by flareups between Amtrak, which owns the tracks along the Hell Gate Line, and the MTA.

MTA officials in January blamed Amtrak for some of the delays and cost overruns accompanying the project to bring the Long Island Rail Road to the recently opened Grand Central Madison complex built 150 feet beneath Grand Central Terminal.

“The missing ingredient is the outages and the support from our sister railroad, who owns the railroad,” Janno Lieber, MTA chairperson and CEO, said at the agency’s January board meeting. “This is the dynamic that got East Side Access into the hole.”

In 2018, MTA officials blamed Amtrak for a $955 million cost overrun, saying the agency had not received enough help in rebuilding the Harold Interlocking in Sunnyside.

“The problems of East Side Access, a lot of them stem from the fact that we were required to rebuild all of Harold Interlocking, the biggest railroad intersection in the United States, eight or 900 trains a day, and we couldn’t get the time to work on the track,” Lieber said in January.

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