By Larry Penner
There is more to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent $5.6 billion Long Island Rail Road transformation announcement (“LIRR Improvements Will Increace Capacity,” by Mark Hallum, July 28).
Most of the projects he referenced have already been under way since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s original $29 billion Five-Year Capital Plan (2015-2019) was approved in May 2016. There is little new besides $1.95 billion for Main Line Third Track.
What Cuomo overlooked is important to riders and taxpayers who have to pick up the tab. No comment about the status of the $5.8 billion he still owes toward fully funding the $32 billion MTA Five-Year Capital Plan. Add an additional $1 billion he pledged in response to recent NYC Transit subway and LIRR Penn Station problems.
Construction costs for the Gateway Tunnel is $29 billion. Cuomo committed contributing 25 percent of the total cost, but has yet to identify the source of his $7.25 billion.
The MTA $29 billion Five-Year Capital Plan was increased by a $3 billion amendment to $32 billion. This amendment added $1.6 billion in MTA long-term debt. If costs grow, who will pay for the shortfall? MTA LIRR failed to follow federal NEPA environmental guidelines forfeiting any opportunity for Federal Transit Administration funding. The original cost of this project grew from $600 million ten years ago to $1 billion two years ago, then $1.5 billion last year. Today, it’s at $2 billion. Tommorow, who knows?
Completion of double tracking for the Ronkokoma branch will cost $387 million. Double tracking from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma was part of the original scope of work for electrification of the Ronkonkoma branch. It was completed in December 1987. To save the project, in jeopardy due to insufficient funding, double tracking was dropped in favor of single track electrification and passing sidings. The project will not be completed 16 months early, as Cuomo boasts, but rather 31 years late! There will be no increase in rush-hour service.
Without finishing Main Line Third Track by 2021, along with East Side Access by 2023, there is no Penn Station capacity for additional Ronkonkoma rush-hour service. Penn Station has been operating at 100 percent capacity for decades. Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Metro North also have long-term plans to increase Penn Station service.
Missing from the $300 million Penn Station West End Concourse opening in June was a seating area and rest rooms (Was someone afraid of the homeless invading this new facility?). There are only three new ticket vending machines, which do not accept cash.
Next is $1.6 billion for the Penn Farley Complex, including the Moynihan Train Station. Partial financing comes from a $500 million federal loan, which is to be paid back by revenues generated from private sector investments with shortfalls covered by the MTA. This project adds no new tracks or platforms and primarily benefits Amtrak, not LIRR riders.
Mid Suffolk Yard for $125 million is good news, but why no funding for a new Port Jefferson yard branch east of Huntington?
No reference to the cost of additional rolling stock, expansion of storage capacity at other yards and funding source to support increasing the LIRR overall fleet by several hundred new cars. This is needed to support promises of “an 81 percent increase in ridership capacity during the evening rush hour and 67 percent increase in the morning rush hour.”
Planned Jamaica Station signal, track and infrastructure improvements — for $375 million — has issues. Riders will miss the old, simple switch/walking across the platform between tracks 1 and 2, or 2 and 3, to the desired Penn Station or Atlantic Terminal bound train. Now, they will have to walk over to new tracks 9 and 10 with travel time for Atlantic Terminal-bound riders increasing. Thousands of riders who once had a one-seat ride will lose this benefit with everyone having to change at Jamaica.
There is no allocation of $150 million to reopen the old Penn Station Hilton Corridor also known as Gimbels Passageway. This once provided a direct underground route to Herald Square, including connections to the Broadway N, R, Q & W and 6th Avenue B, D, F & M subway lines, along with the PATH system.
Cuomo was silent about delays in spending $432 million available under a Federal Transit Administration Super Storm Sandy grant for repairs to Penn Station East River Tunnels. Amtrak has said they will not be able to begin work until 2020! MTA, on behalf of the LIRR, which was awarded the federal funding, has not committed to spending these dollars on this critical tunnel work.
When it comes to paying for all his promises, Cuomo reminds me of Wimpy, who famously said “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” Stand by for higher fares and taxes in coming years to cover the costs.