Amtrak Prize Contract for Penn Station Railroad Extension

Nearly everyone agrees that something must be done to resolve the chaos at Pennsylvania Station in New York City, the nation’s busiest transit hub. Now comes the hard part of coming up with an argument-free solution.

Amtrak, the national rail company that owns the station and the tracks that run through it, is working on a plan to expand the station at an estimated cost of $12 billion. That plan is expected to destroy the entire Midtown neighborhood, home to a 151-year-old church.

On Thursday, Amtrak awarded a contract to design the station extension, which is expected to take two years and raise $73 million.

But that effort comes only when a plan to renovate the existing station by New York State has faced resistance from community leaders.

The Amtrak expansion is part of a comprehensive rail infrastructure improvement program known as the Gateway. At the heart of the Gateway will be a pair of new monorail tunnels under the Hudson River between Penn Station and New Jersey.

The new tunnels will complement a pair of parallel tunnels that were built more than 110 years ago and are still damaged by flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Eventually, the Gateway could double its throughput capacity. Hudson, with the goal of making city commutes more efficient and reliable for New Jersey Transit and Amtrak train riders.

But Penn Station’s 21 tracks and platforms were already overloaded before the pandemic. For the Gateway to serve its purpose, the station would have to have more rails. Finding a place to put them in the middle of Manhattan was the challenge that Amtrak assigned to a group of companies led by Arup, an engineering and design firm.

“The station was operating at levels of intensity far beyond what it was designed to support,” said Stephen J. Gardner, chief executive officer of Amtrak. He added, “We’re going to double the width of the pipe, but Penn Station, because the tank receives water from the pipe, is full.”

Any disruption to service at Penn will have to stop for at least a few years, when extensive construction will begin. The Gateway is not expected to be completed for another decade.

As for the state’s renovation project, it will be the focus of a hearing in Manhattan on Friday, at which state lawmakers will take testimony from state officials who support and oppose the plan. by Governor Kathy Hochul to fund an overhaul of the station by allowing developers to fill the neighborhood around it with office towers and other high-rises. The state will use payments from those developers to cover its share of the $7 billion cost of renovating the station.

The renovation aims to replace the cramped corridors of Penn Station, which Ms. Hochul calls a “hell hole”, with a spacious, sunlit train lobby that she says will “lift people’s spirits”. People”. But community leaders have questioned whether a plan to require commercial developers to pay for the station’s renovations and subsequent expansions is viable.

Under the Hochul plan, the towers around the station will largely consist of office space, whose demand has plummeted during the pandemic. The towers will be built within the next 20 to 30 years.

A report released by the city’s Independent Budget Office last month concluded that the state had provided too little information about the funding plan to determine whether it was viable, or whether applicants Taxes may incur some costs. Those questions prompted three state senators from the city — Liz Krueger, Leroy Comrie and Luis R. Sepulveda — to convene an oversight hearing Friday. Ms. Krueger and Mr. Comrie were among the group of 15 senators who sent Letters to state officials in March, asking them to “pause the Penn Station plan until these answers are provided.”

But instead, Ms. Hochul pushed for the station’s renovation. Last week, she announced a request for a redesign, even though that project was planned to follow the Amtrak expansion of the station.

Mr. Gardner and Tony Coscia, Amtrak’s president, said the extension’s designers would consider a range of alternatives, including the addition of routes south of Penn Station, below. 30 West block, is the old house of St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church. “It’s something that Amtrak has been discussing for a long time and we believe is possible,” Mr. Gardner said.

According to the National Historic Landmark Preservation Organization strongly oppose plans to “tear down several city blocks” around Penn Station because they contain certain structures, including churches, that are either already on the National Register of Historic Places or are eligible to be put on it.

Coordination of the various parts of the Gateway and plans for Penn Station was complicated due to the number of agencies involved. Amtrak owns most of the infrastructure, but Penn Station’s biggest users are Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit. LIRR plans to begin shifting some of its lines to Grand Central Terminal later this year; A few years later, another New York commuter service, Metro-North Railroad, plans to start running some trains to and from Penn.

Amtrak is taking the lead, in partnership with NJ Transit, in expansion planning. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates LIRR and Metro-North, is overseeing the renovation.

“There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen and a lot of unanswered questions,” said Layla Law-Gisiko, chair of the Community Board 5 land use committee and a critic of Governor Hochul’s plan.

Amtrak officials hope to confront public opposition that could derail the expansion plan. “We have to completely, fully broadcast and communicate all the different options,” says Mr. Gardner, “to get an outcome that is useful to the community. ”

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