Metro North, Amtrak MOU Gives Green Light To Long-Delayed Penn Station Access Project

John Jordan | January 2019

NEW YORK—It looks as if the much sought after first phase of the Penn Station Access project may finally be arriving at the station.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Jan. 22 that Metro North and Amtrak signed a memorandum of understanding concerning scheduling on an underutilized rail line in the east Bronx to allow the project that will involve the development of four new Metro North Railroad stations— Hunts Point, Parkchester/Van Nest, Morris Park and Co-op City—with access to Penn Station to proceed.

New York State, Bronx and Westchester County officials praised the agreement that will allow the transformative project to move forward, providing a much-needed transit option and dramatically reducing commute times for many Bronx residents and easier access to Penn Station for Southern Westchester commuters.

Empire State Development Corporation is going to work with the MTA to conduct the planning and expedition of the project. As part of the agreement, Amtrak and MTA will jointly study the feasibility of Amtrak running several trains daily from Long Island to Penn Station and continuing either north to Boston or south to Washington.

“Too many residents of the Bronx have been without reliable transit, which is why I proposed these new stations,” Gov. Cuomo said. “With a reconstructed Moynihan Station currently underway, these four stations not only will connect the east Bronx to Manhattan’s West Side, but also build upon our ongoing efforts to fully transform our state’s transportation infrastructure. I want to thank the Empire State Development Corporation for their assistance in the expedition of this project to unleash a new generation of economic development in the Bronx. I also want to thank Amtrak for their agreement.”

Acting MTA Chairman Fernando Ferrer said of the MOU, “Bringing Metro-North service to the east Bronx is a game changer for the borough, and we have all been eager to get started. This project will significantly reduce travel times for east Bronx residents and help area businesses and institutions attract employees. This is a long-held dream of mine and hundreds of thousands of Bronxites. Needless to say, we salute Governor Cuomo’s leadership with Amtrak to let the MTA get this project moving.”

The MTA Board’s Metro-North Committee on Jan. 22 approved a $35-million contract with HNTB New York Engineering and Architecture for preliminary engineering and design of the project, known as Metro-North’s Penn Station Access project. The full MTA Board was scheduled to consider the contract at its session on Thursday, Jan. 24. The MTA Board’s action is contingent on a similar approval by the Amtrak Board.

The new service will bring Metro-North trains over the Hell Gate Bridge into Queens, where they will merge with the Long Island Rail Road’s route, proceeding through the East River Tunnels into Manhattan and west to Penn Station. In addition to the new stations, the project includes new tracks and switches, as well as power, signal, communication and infrastructure upgrades.

The MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Program contains the initial investment of $695 million towards the project, including $250 million in state resources that will be provided through ESD. The MTA is seeking additional funding for the project in the 2020-2024 Capital Program to complete the project.

HNTB will advance the preliminary design, while developing project schedule and construction strategies. Work will also include analysis of options for train operations along the line, finalization of track alignments, and community outreach work. In addition to the preliminary design services, the contract contains options for different construction methods.

In addition to dramatically reducing commute times of East Bronx residents, bringing Metro-North trains to Penn Station will substantially expand the labor pool for employers in the east Bronx, such as the medical complexes in the Morris Park area, and will also provide commuting opportunities for Bronx residents to work in Westchester County and Connecticut.

The MTA expects to issue a “Notice to Proceed” to HNTB within weeks, at which point work on contract services will begin. A more specific schedule for the project will be developed as design work progresses, state officials reported.

The prospect of the Penn Station Access project moving forward drew praise from local politicians and business leaders.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. said, “Amtrak’s willingness to negotiate with the MTA will put the East Bronx Metro-North expansion back on schedule and bring us one step closer to expanded commuter rail options in the communities that need them the most. This agreement would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of my borough’s partners in elected office, including Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Charles Schumer, as well as the thousands of Bronx residents and commuters across the region who spoke up in recent months to demand delays cease and negotiations resume.”

His counterpart to the north, Westchester County Executive George Latimer said, “For those who live in Westchester along the Sound Shore and commute to the Bronx or parts of Manhattan for work and for businesses here in Westchester whose workforce commutes from the Bronx, this agreement between Amtrak and the MTA is a major victory with the creation of a one-seat ride into Penn Station from Westchester for the first time ever.”

New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson noted that the announcement by the governor focuses on the project’s benefits to the Bronx, “this is of great significance to Westchester, too—and especially New Rochelle, which will have the closest station to Manhattan with direct access to the east and west sides.”

Marsha Gordon, president and CEO of The Business Council of Westchester, also applauded the agreement between Metro North and Amtrak. “Opening up easy rail access between Westchester County and Manhattan’s West Side will be a game changer for economic and community development in the county,” said Gordon said. “New opportunities for commuting provide mobility and accessibility for businesses, and increased access opens up new routes for talent to access Westchester’s growing businesses. In addition, this new West Side access will make the new multi-residential communities being built in our urban centers even more attractive for those who want to live in Westchester County and still have access to all areas New York City. This is tremendous news for commuters, businesses and residents of Westchester County.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth