Amtrak Buys Back in to Farley Station

Yesterday, the New York Times reported:

Amtrak reached a preliminary agreement to move to an annex of Pennsylvania Station planned for the James A. Farley Post Office Building, state, federal and railroad officials announced on Sunday.

It offers this detail behind the progress: “The breakthrough was made possible by the government’s agreeing to Amtrak’s request to share revenue from retail outlets in the expanded station and to make some design changes.” To place this into full context would require quite the essay, but please recall my first post on this topic – in August 2007 – when I noted Amtrak’s statement: “We were belatedly brought to the table in recent months.” The irony in that 2007 comment is that Amtrak had been involved in this effort for three years when I played a minute role in it in 1995, so any suggestion of Amtrak’s lack of involvement has always sounded hollow to me. It was David Gunn who torpedoed Amtrak’s role in the redevelopment, noting with some merit that Amtrak had no money to commit to such a plan. Former Amtrak President and then director of New Jersey Transit George Warrington stepped into the breach, claiming a flagship role which has become less and less appealing to NJT as they commit to the tunnel and associated station in the ARC project. (More on that here.)

Back in March, New York Magazine offered an update on the negotiations (post here) in which an unnamed source was quoted saying:

Amtrak, which would move from Penn to Moynihan, won’t commit until all three elected officials [Bloomberg, Paterson, and Corzine] are onboard. “Amtrak is the trickiest part,” one Moynihan negotiation veteran says. “If it sees even a crack of daylight between the mayor, the governors, and the Port Authority, they’ll drive an Acela right through it and kill this chance.”

Looking again at yesterday’s NYT article, with the above comment fresh in your mind, I cannot help but focus on this statement:

Senator Charles E. Schumer, who has been trying to resuscitate the project, said on Sunday that he and Gov. David A. Paterson had been negotiating with Amtrak for six months and had found the new Amtrak chief, Joseph H. Boardman, formerly the New York State transportation commissioner, “far more helpful” than his predecessor.

Looking back at the last time Schumer made waves over Farley, covered here, it seems his contention then was that Amtrak should be the source of substantial stimulus funds as part of the project. Since Gunn’s time, Amtrak’s contention has been that Amtrak would not be a part of the project. I can only assume that the quid pro quo for Amtrak to secure a share of the retail revenue in exchange for contributing stimulus funds towards the project. Curious, is it not, how easily the New York politicians found it to work with Amtrak’s new New York president to spend Federal dollars on a New York project that will not improve the speed of any of Amtrak’s trains? (Admittedly, it should increase capacity in New York, but that is not nearly as beneficial to Amtrak as it is to NJT and LIRR.) I’m sure there are many Amtrak riders far from the NEC who could have found different ways to spend that money, but no one asked them.

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Should have built it sixteen years ago

A further update to one of the stories I follow around here – New York’s slow, halting efforts to renovate the Farley Post Office into a ‘new’ Penn Station.

The New York Observer reports today:

Plans to expand Pennsylvania Station across the street into the Farley Post Office face fresh hurdles, as a new cost estimate for the project, known as Moynihan Station, leaves a funding gap of up to $1 billion. … The Port Authority of New York and New Jerseycompleted a preliminary cost analysis of an expansion, coming up with a price tag of $1.4 billion… more than twice the construction cost estimate given in 2006, though it includes new underground components that were not previously includeIn the works since it was pushed by Senator Daniel Moynihan in 1992, the planned station has proved repeatedly to be a textbook case of the inability to execute large-scale public projects in New York City. There has long been support from civic groups and key politicians — four governors and three mayors have endorsed it — and even full funding has been lined up on previous occasions (though costs rose). But each plan has successively faltered before a shovel even hit the ground.

If they had committed to the plan as it existed in 1994, at twice the estimate as it stood then, they would have come out ahead and had a fabulous station to serve the city for more than a dozen years. Instead, people continue to scurry through the existing Penn Station, which now serves 600,000 passengers per workday for Amtrak, LIRR, and NJT. What a mess.

penn_station3The irony here is that plans for the original Penn Station were announced by Pennsylvania Railroad president Alexander Cassatt (brother of the painter Mary Cassatt) in December 1901, construction of the tunnels began in June 1903, and the station itself was underway in May 1904. Train service began in November 1910. The $114 million the project cost all come from the Pennsylvania Railroad alone (in 2007 dollars, that represents a $2.5 billion dollar expenditure – such things occurred in an era before corporate taxation.) Depending on the milestones then, the original Penn Station – from train yards to tunnels to the station itself – took nine years from plan to operation. I cannot help but think Cassatt would marvel at modern New York’s inability to get its act together.

The project that dare not speak its name…

[I realize it has been a long quiet time around here. I apologize for that. Life is busy, but even more than that, I am of a mixed mind what I want to do with this site. While I ponder that thought, I cannot help but pass on a link to one of the stories I follow around here – New York’s slow, halting efforts to renovate the Farley Post Office into a ‘new’ Penn Station.]

farley_thumbBack in March, the Farley station issue cropped up again as Sen. Schumer suggested Amtrak be compelled, er, encouraged to chip in $100 million in stimulus funds towards the station (which it backed out of when Amtrak was under David Gunn‘s direction, allowing NJT to enter the scene under another former Amtrak president, the late George Warrington), rather than fund the station out of the $21 billion in stimulus funds being directed towards the state of New York. I have not heard another peep about that idea since then, so I was curious to see the following item on the blog of WNYC radio. I am leaving their aside in, as I would have made the same snark, but WNYC has saved me the trouble.

The chiefs of economic development for the city and the state spoke before construction industry executives this morning, trying to reassure them that all was well even in these hard times… New York Times reporter Charles Bagli, one of the moderators, brought up another hibernating project: Moynihan Station – which was first conceived in the early 1990s as a renovation of the Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue, exploded in scope, and has since returned to smaller, but indeterminate, shape. (Bagli called it the project that “none dare call its name.”)

Marisa Lago, the state economic development chief, threw cold water on Senator Schumer’s idea to convince Amtrak to devote $100 million of its stimulus funding to the station, saying officials had not figured out what part of Moynihan could qualify as “shovel ready.”

There you have it: More than 15 years, and three-and-a-half environmental reviews later, Moynihan Station still isn’t shovel ready.

“Amtrak is the trickiest part”

Building on last week’s post about Moynihan Station, as well as the many before that, note the following from Chris Smith in New York Magazine:

Amtrak, which would move from Penn to Moynihan, won’t commit until all three elected officials [Bloomberg, Paterson, and Corzine] are onboard. “Amtrak is the trickiest part,” one Moynihan negotiation veteran says. “If it sees even a crack of daylight between the mayor, the governors, and the Port Authority, they’ll drive an Acela right through it and kill this chance.”

To add some context to Amtrak’s role in this whole byzantine process, make sure you note this, too.

Schumer pokes at the Moynihan Station mess

I have previsouly covered New York’s laborious efforts to convert the James Farley Post Office, across the street from Penn Station, into a new passenger station that would serve as an homage to the original Penn Station. It is a great idea, and somehow only in America could an idea like this, with so much support, manage to languish for so long. To get a sense of where this has been, please see the articles found here.

New York’s Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer gave an interview this weekend in which he offered his opinion that $100 million of stimulus funds should be directed towards finally getting this project underway. As much as I am inclined to agree with him, I find it ironic that he wants to see that money come out of the $1.3 billion set aside for Amtrak or the $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail, and not out of the $21 billion earmarked for the state of New York. Go figure. Curiously, his desire to see Amtrak as the central tenant in the new station ignores the fact that Amtrak, under David Gunn, told New York to take a hike, permitting New Jersey Transit, under former Amtrak President the late George Warrington, to sweep in and secure for itself the central position.

Articles here and here.

[As an aside, NJT hopes to build new tunnels into Manhattan from New Jersey (the first in over 100 years) and plans to do so in a very odd way that seems designed to limit future flexibility. Perhaps the whole Hudson tunnel, New York passenger station, Amtrak/NJT ruckus can be solved but I continue to suggest one not hold one’s breath.]

Never hurry, never worry…

From the New York Sun’s Big Expansion Projects Bring Even Bigger Delays:

A good example of just how long delays can fester sits just a few blocks east of Javits, where the Farley Post Office was supposed to become Moynihan Station years ago. Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit riders have suffered through Penn Station’s dreary and decrepit underbelly since the original facility was torn down in 1963 to make room for Madison Square Garden. Senator Moynihan’s terrific idea was to convert the city’s main post office into a train station.

The New York Times first reported on delays for revamping the nation’s busiest transit hub in this dispatch: “After a delay of a year and a half caused by conflicts over personnel and rising budget estimates, city, state and Federal officials agreed yesterday to move forward with a $315 million project to build a new Amtrak railroad station in the General Post Office at 33d Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.”

That was July 1997. The cost was $455 million. Opening day was to be in 2002.

More than a decade later, there are no shovels in the ground but plenty of ideas for expanding the project. Amtrak wants nothing to do with the new train station in the post office, meaning new renovations for Penn Station. Madison Square Garden wants to move across the street into a portion of the post office, leaving room for new skyscrapers. There’s talk of a huge retail mall, even a new Macy’s. The latest projected cost is $14 billion.

For earlier posts on the Farley issue, see 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

GCT

Photo titled “it’s time…” by JKonig

My PRR heritage always draws me to New York’s Penn Station, but it’s worth noting the other wonderful rail station in New York – Grand Central Terminal. Unlike Penn, this one managed to endure the death of its parent road and, after a long slumber, emerge once again as magnificent landmark for the city.

This picture is part of a whole set of great GCT pictures, which you can find here.