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Penn Station overhaul sparks feud between MTA and Amtrak

The MTA’s $7 billion plan to renovate Penn Station got off to a rocky start last month when the agency’s top officials boxed Amtrak executives out of a closed door meeting on the new design of the Midtown train hub, according to an internal letter from an Amtrak leader.

The July 17 letter was sent to Amtrak leaders by Jennie Kwon, the national railroad’s vice president for capital delivery. The memo details a meeting MTA officials held with a firm hired to consult on the station’s redesign.

The letter — which was obtained by Gothamist through a source — states the July 6 “kickoff” meeting was not attended by or approved by Amtrak, which owns Penn Station.

Kwon wrote that she raised the issue with Jamie Torres-Springer, the MTA’s president of construction and development, the week after the meeting. The MTA executive responded by calling Kwon’s concerns “silly,” according to the letter.

Kwon wrote that Torres-Springer’s response had the effect of “further eroding my confidence in the MTA’s commitment to acting in the best interest of all railroads rather than exclusively their own.”

The MTA is leading the reconstruction project, despite not owning Penn Station. The work will affect areas used by Amtrak and NJ Transit.

MTA spokesperson John McCarthy dismissed questions about turmoil between the two transit agencies.

“We share a crowded space in Midtown Manhattan, and like many roommates we had a disagreement – and then we made up,” McCarthy wrote in a statement.

The letter says MTA Chief Development Officer Mark Roche “acknowledged the error” a day after the exchange between Kwon and Torres-Springer. But Kwon wrote she remained concerned about the MTA making “unilateral decisions” about Penn Station, and argued the agency is required to include Amtrak officials on all emails and letters regarding the planned renovations to the train hub.

Amtrak spokesperson W. Kyle Anderson said the agency is “working closely with our partners on a daily basis to establish the level of collaboration required to jointly progress our preliminary engineering work to design a better Penn Station for all three railroads.”

The MTA earlier this year released preliminary plans for the overhaul of Penn Station that include raised ceilings, more natural light and additional entrances.

The MTA held the July 6 meeting with the design firm the same day officials announced the federal government promised to put up $6.88 billion for two new rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River. The tunnels are part of the Gateway Program, which also includes plans to expand Penn Station by razing a Midtown block south of West 31st Street.

It also came less than two weeks after MTA and Amtrak officials held a joint press conference to celebrate both the Gateway Program and the planned renovation of Penn Station.

“Talk about Penn Station and its reconstruction, it’s part of a much broader initiative to rebuild the infrastructure that would create a modern transportation network for New York City,” said Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia at the June 26 press conference.

MTA officials have said they want to complete the overhaul to the existing station by 2027, when work is slated to finish on the agency’s Penn Access project that will allow Metro-North trains to run into Penn Station.

New York officials said they also want to move quickly on the station’s renovations so they can tap into funds made available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal signed by President Joe Biden in 2021.

The feud documented in the letter is far from the first time in recent years that MTA and Amtrak officials clashed.

In January, the MTA blamed the national railroad for holding up work on the Hell Gate Bridge, which — like Penn Station — is owned by Amtrak. The MTA plans to use the bridge to run Metro-North trains between the Bronx and Queens so they can run through East River tunnels to Penn Station. MTA officials said Amtrak caused the work schedule to slip by six months.

The MTA has also said Amtrak delayed the agency’s long-stalled East Side Access project, which finished more than a decade behind schedule this year and now brings LIRR trains into the new Grand Central Madison terminal.


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