The gloves have come off in the verbal jousting over the city’s transit meltdown.
As LIRR commuters from Queens and Long Island endured 90-minute delays getting into Penn Station this week, the recorded announcements from the MTA blamed Amtrak outright for a power problem in the East River tunnel.
Thousands of LIRR riders had their morning rituals interrupted yet again in an ongoing saga that finally dragged Gov. Andrew Cuomo into the debate over what must be done to tackle the railroad and subway crisis.
The governor was uncharacteristically quiet as two recent derailments at Penn Station were followed by more minor incidents disrupted LIRR service. As head of the MTA, he is responsible for both systems but is not getting any help from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said it was Cuomo’s job to fix the subway even as delays and breakdowns escalated. But the howls of irate riders and frustrated straphangers reached Albany, at last.
In a speech in Manhattan last week, Cuomo predicted a “summer of hell” for LIRR riders when Amtrak repairs the broken rails in the station and performs other critical maintenance put off for years. About 20 percent of LIRR trains are expected to be canceled during the six-week period. Unhappy with Amtrak, which owns Penn Station and maintains the tracks, Cuomo proposed having New York state take over the station to make the trains run on time. The LIRR has been critical of Amtrak for years due to frequent outages in the tunnels.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has lambasted Amtrak as untrustworthy because its infrastructure failures have created nightmarish commutes for New Jersey Transit riders, who share Penn Station.
Cuomo set up an international contest to give out $1 million for the best ideas to improve the city’s subway service. In mid-May he announced a $20 million transit plan to buy 300 new subway cars, reduce bottlenecks as passengers enter and leave trains and to step up subway maintenance operations.
But when the MTA approved a $32.5 billion, five-year capital plan last week, spending favored new projects, such as electronic tolling. Funding for the subways remained essentially flat.
Cuomo has asked Queens-born President Donald Trump to fund alternative routes for LIRR riders during the Penn Station repairs, but where does that leave straphangers?
Despite being at odds on just about every issue, Cuomo and de Blasio must work together to rescue the subway system from years of neglect and plain old age. Failure to restore the vital lifeblood of this city could derail the governor’s political future nationally and tarnish de Blasio’s ambitions.