Amtrak has selected Richard Anderson, 62, as its new permanent CEO; Anderson had retired as Delta Airlines' CEO in 2016.  The railroad has been headed since last year by veteran freight railroad executive Charles Moorman, 65, who took over the throttle as a transitional leader.  Anderson assumes his new post on July 12, just days after Amtrak begins its summer work program at New York Penn Station which will inconvenience thousands of Penn Station users; the work program was initiated by outgoing CEO Moorman. Moorman will continue as co-CEO through a transitional period, until December 12. Anderson had previously worked at Delta predecessor Northwest Airlines, and also served as an executive with United Healthcare. He is credited with leading Delta through a bankruptcy and to its current status as one of the most successful airlines. It is expected that a major task for Anderson will be to pursue new tunnels under the Hudson River and other components of what Amtrak calls its "Gateway" project to improve and expand services at New York Penn. Anderson will receive only a token salary; Moorman also declined to be compensated for his work at Amtrak. The Anderson story is widely reported, including by Larry Higgs and Jonathan D. Salant for NJ Advance Media, and Patrick McGeehan for the New York Times.

Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman, interviewed June 16 on the Brian Lehrer show on the New York public radio station WNYC, explained and defended Amtrak's plans to fix the infrastructure at New York's Penn Station. Amtrak's planned intensive work program in July and August has caused service changes in July and August which will inconvenience thousands of local and long-distance riders; see story below.

History explained

Moorman's introductory statement noted that Penn Station today is at capacity; it was designed in 1910 mostly for long distance travelers, not commuters, with narrow platforms not well suited for high-capacity suburban trains; and the capacity has not increased since the original design. Moorman said the infrastruture is good, but needs "renewal," which is a difficult job: Moorman said that in his 40 years of experience on freight railroads, he had not encountered the difficult working conditions in the restricted areas at NY Penn.  Moorman said that while Amtrak had "taken the lead" in renewing the infrastructure, the traditional program of doing the work on weekends has been insufficient; "we need to move aggressively to get the work done."  Hence, Amtrak has scheduled the intensive work program which will cause service disruptions in July and August.  Moorman noted that there has been "a substantial period of underinvestment" in Penn Station, not only by Amtrak but also by the commuter railroads (NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road) that use Penn Station.

Who should pay?

Host Brian Lehrer noted that New York Gov. Cuomo has said that taxpayers ought not to have to pay for the repairs, and while their use of the station is restricted during the work, should not have to pay the normal fees that Amtrak collects from the commuter railroads. Moorman reviewed how the users of Penn Station, and the Northeast Corridor tracks, contribute to the costs of running the system.  He said that historically, the fees paid to Amtrak were not sufficient; a 2008 law corrected this, and since 2015 the increased fees that Amtak is collecting have put the system on a better footing. Moorman noted that more than 40% of the traffic at New York Penn is from the Long Island Rail Road, with NJT's traffic almost as much, so Amtrak's usage is only a small portion of the total.  Nonetheless, Moorman said, Amtrak has funded about 70% of the capital improvements; in any case, he said, "the last thing to do is to take money out of Penn Station."

Will the work be finished on time?

Moorman said that the infrastructure work program will definitely be finished by the September completion date.

Should management of Penn Station change?

NY Gov. Cuomo has proposed that management of Penn Station should be taken out of Amtrak's hands, and entrusted to an independent organization, perhaps the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Moorman did not agree, but repeated a plan he has previously proposed, in which the management of the passenger concourses could be taken over by an independent organization; he likened this to airports in which an authority runs facilities used in common by a number of airlines. In this case, Amtrak, NJT, and LIRR would be like the individual airlilnes.

Amtrak's Future and the White House Budget

WNYC's host Brian Lehrer noted that the proposed White House budget would slash Amtrak's long-distance funding and funding for the Gateway capital improvement program, which would expand Penn Station and build new tunnels under the Hudson.  Moorman said that the final decisions are up to Congress, and emphasized Amtrak's good relationship with both political parties; he said that while ideological differences exist, he doesn't see that as a problem.  As for Gateway, Moorman said it's essential to add capacity at New York Penn and to build the new tunnels, and expressed confidence that the funding for Gateway would be secured.

As NJT commuters brace for a summer of diverted trains and longer commutes (see story below), service continues to deteriorate in advance of Amtrak's plans to fix infrastructure problems at New York Penn Station.  Pending the repair work, Amtrak required trains using the west end of Penn Station -- including all NJT trains serving New York -- to observe a reduced speed limit of 10 mph, down from the usual 15 mph. This, NJT said, was one factor in delays at NY Penn; the railroad continued to warn riders of possible delays for all trains into and out of the busy station. In May, according to reporting by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media (and printed in the Star-Ledger, June 16), only 46% of NJT trains into Penn in the morning were on time, which, according to Higgs, may be the worst performance in NJT's history.  NJT Executive Director Steve Santoro blamed the Amtrak infrastructure problems, saying "I don't believe it's been that low for an extended time. The obvious reason is the performance is based on the Amtrak repairs that are ongoing at Penn Station."  The performance was better in the evening rush; Santoro said that's because the trains are more spaced out in the evening.  NJT has requested that Amtrak remove the speed reduction, but so far Amtrak has only done so for the eastern approaches to the station, which NJT only uses for some empty trains.

By now you know this summer will be difficult for you, our riders, as track work at Penn Station will send most of our weekday trains to Hoboken.  We know this will make your trip more difficult, especially if you currently commute to Penn Station, New York on Midtown Direct trains.

We will continue to do everything we can to make the summer as painless as possible for you.  We have been fighting for you concerning this summer's service changes since we first learned about them. 

John Bobsin has been working hard to keep you informed on this web site, and we commend him for this much-needed and very valuable effort.  We will be glad to share whatever information we have that will take some of the pain out of your summer trips and commuting.  We will do the best we can to keep you informed in a manner that will improve your transit experience.  Please continue to check with us here on this site, and read our newsletter, the Railgram.

We thank you for your interest, and we hope you will join the Lackawanna Coalition, so you can help us to advocate for better transit for YOU.

 

DAVID PETER ALAN, Chair

Update as of June 9: NJT released detailed schedules for the Amtrak work program beginning July 9.  As previously announced, all Morristown Line and Gladstone Line trains running to New York Penn will be redirected to Hoboken, except for four trains on the Morristown Line arriving New York before 7 a.m.  Trains running between New York and Montclair State University will continue to run, but in peak hours will not stop at Newark Broad Street -- where they would no doubt be unable to accommodate the thousands of M&E riders who would try to use them.  Outside of peak hours, those trains will stop at Newark, allowing  those who normally connect at Broad Street to continue to travel to and from New York.  Other M&E riders can also use them, although connections have not been scheduled with this in mind.

Riders will find reduced prices during this period; monthly and weekly riders should buy Hoboken tickets, which will be at a reduced price.  Before the work begins July 9, M&E July  monthlies to Hoboken will be honored to New York Penn.  Reduced single-trip tickets will also be available starting July 9; these will only be valid on M&E lines, and only for the duration of the work. NJT Hoboken tickets will be honored on PATH at Hoboken, 33 St, and World Trade Center, and there will be cross-honoring arrangements with bus and ferry lines as well.  Peak hour ferry service between Hoboken and West 39 St. will also be offered.

According to plans released by NJ Transit, during the Amtrak work program at New York's Penn Station nearly all weekday trains on the Morristown and Gladstone lines will be rerouted from New York to Hoboken from July 10 through September 1. The plan was first announced by Gov. Chris Christie, and eventually in a customer notice posted in an obscure corner of the NJT website. Weekend service would not be affected. Media reports on May 31 say that trains "before 7 a.m." would continue to run to New York; there are just three trains on the Morristown line that arrive in New York before 7 a.m. On May 31 an NJT official told the Lackawanna Coalition that the possibility of running midday trains to New York was being considered.

Meanwhile, there is some hope that service might improve before the July 10 work begins. Trains using Penn Station have been handicapped by a speed restriction to 10 mph imposed by Amtrak; on June 5, Larry Higgs reported for NJ Advance Media that Amtrak intends to lift the speed restriction; the restriction has apparently already been lifted on the east side of the station, which has little effect on NJT, but Amtrak said it would be lifting the remaining restrictions too.

Local towns along the M&E lines were quick to object to the summer plans, according to earlier reporting by Larry Higgs  (and printed in the Star-Ledger on May 31). Only M&E riders would suffer, which Gov. Christie said would spare other riders any impact. But local officials want to know why just M&E riders are affected; Maplewood Mayor Victor De Luca echoed their concerns, saying "The commuters don't understand why it's just M&E passengers that will be affected; it's not an easy lift to go through Hoboken (and transfer to PATH trains or ferries) and do it day after day." NJT defended its plan, saying technical experts had devised it in the interest of all passengers. Local officials and state assemblymen tried to get a meeting with NJT officials, but were rebuffed.

In compensation for the inconvenience, NJT announced that "M&E customers will receive about a 50 percent discount off the Hoboken fare." Examples of discounts were provided, but all the examples were for monthly commutation tickets, raising the possibility that single-trip riders might not get a reduction; it appeared after a public meeting on May 31 that it is likely that only monthly pass buyers would get a reduction, on their July and August tickets.  Further muddying the waters, NJT's notice says that the discount would be off of Hoboken fares, but the examples given show discounts applied to New York monthly passes. NJT also said that riders using Hoboken would enjoy cross-honoring of their tickets on PATH and ferry services; some stories emphasized that the cross-honoring would only apply to M&E riders, not to others using the Hoboken terminal.

According to the Wall Street Journal, NJT said they would release by June 9 detailed schedules for the service changes. Some reports said that such schedules were made available on May 31, but as of June 1  had not appeared on the NJT website. The online trip planner continued to show normal schedules for July 10.

The plans as announced raised several questions. NJT made it clear that Montclair Line Midtown Direct trains running to New York would continue to operate, albeit with some timing adjustments. Almost all of these trains stop at Newark Broad Street, where riders from the Morristown and Gladstone lines could transfer, if the stops are maintained, leading to the possibility of hundreds of transferees trying to board the Montclair trains.

With the rerouting of M&E Midtown Direct trains, NJT said that riders on other lines would see little impact from the Amtrak work program, although some trains would have altered schedules and riders connecting at Secaucus might have to alter their schedule slightly.

Amtrak, which will be performing the work on its tracks, announced schedule changes as well, Amtrak insisting that it would bear a heavier burden than the other carriers, according to reporting by Patrick McGeehan in the New York Times (May 31). Amtrak said that three New York-Washington regional trains would be suspended during the work, and that some Harrisburg trains would terminate at Philadelphia or Newark. The Crescent train to New Orleans would not operate north of Washington during the work. According to the article, some Amtrak trains from upstate New York might be rerouted to Grand Central Terminal; and the Long Island Rail Road, the third carrier using Penn Station, had not announced what schedule changes might be necessary.

In three years or so, if schedules are to be believed, a sparkling addition will open to the crowded subterranean rabbit warren that is today's Penn Station in Manhattan. It's the Moynihan Station (or "Train Hall"), created from the underutilized post office across 8th Avenue from today's Penn Station, which is actually the basement of Madison Square Garden, the original station having been razed in the 1960s to make way for the Garden. The Moynihan addition will boast wide open spaces, sunlight from above, sparlking train announcement boards, and an array of shops and businesses.  Artists' renderings of the new space include train announcement boards showing departures for Washington, Boston, Ronkonkoma, Chicago, Port Washington . . .

What's missing? Any indication that NJ Transit has any connection to Penn Station at all, despite the fact that nearly half the trains using the station are operated by NJT. Most of the platforms used by NJT are directly accessible from the new Moynihan annex, which will be convenient to the housing being built and many new jobs in the Hudson Yards area between Moynihan and the Hudson River, so many NJT riders could be expected to take advantage of the new facility.

Why is NJT conspicuously absent in the design of Moynihan? It turns out that there are two platforms in Penn Station, used almost exclusively by NJT, which are not long enough to allow stairways to reach the Moynihan facility: these platforms serve tracks 1 through 4.  At one time there was a plan to extend these platforms, which would allow NJT to use the platform for 10-car trains, which now are restricted to longer platforms; but the plan has fallen by the wayside. It's impossible to connect the existing, shorter platforms to Moynihan, as the 8th Avenue subway tracks cross overhead at the end of the platorms, so no stairs or escalators can be built there. Extending the platforms might be expensive, as reconstruction of the access tracks would be necessary.

Why won't NJT be mentioned in the Moynihan "train hall?" A facile explanation might be that Moynihan is a project of Amtrak and New York State, neither of which can be expected to protect the interest of New Jersey train riders. There is a technical explanation, too: if riders come to Moynihan expecting to depart on NJT trains, and if their trains are announced for tracks 1 through 4, they will have no easy way to get to those tracks. They would be faced with a long underground detour, eventually  through the Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak portions of Penn Station, possibly as much as 1000 feet of hoofing before reaching their train, if they can make the journey at all in time to catch it.  The bulk of NJT trains could be easily reached from Moynihan, but the inaccessibility of these two platforms give Moynihan designers an excuse to exclude NJT completely.

The Lackawanna Coalition believe that this situation is inexcusable, and resolved at its May 22, 2017 meeting to call on NJT and NJ state legislators to include the extension of the two platforms in the Fiscal Year 2018 capital budget; to complete the project by 2020; and to work with the developers of Moynihan to "make certain that all the  needs of NJ Transit customers are included in the Moynihan Train Hall."

The candidates for governor in this year's election cycle in New Jersey have a wide array of ideas about how to improve transit in the Garden State, according to reporting by Claude Brodesser-Akner in the Star-Ledger (May 22).

There are five Republican candidates:

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno promised to conduct an audit of the state's transportation fund, to end what she called the "mayhem" at NJ Transit. She said what the state needs is an "evidence-based" transportation funding formula, saying that present policy is "the worst public policy to come out of Trenton in a generation." She'd like a new Penn Station and bus terminal in Manhattan; complete the Gateway trans-Hudson tunnel; added ferry service; and new express trains.

Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli  said the state should immediately target a "significant portion" of revenues from the recent gas tax increase to "address the NJ Transit crisis," and vowed to stop raiding NJT's capital budget to cover operating expenses. He also focused on cutting expenses by combining state agencies and, like Guadagno, wants to build Gateway, saying as she did, it should be done with federal funding. Ciattarelli also wants to renegotiate income tax rules with New York State, so that New Jersey residents who work in New York would pay income taxes to New Jersey, not New York.

Nutley town commissioner Steve Rogers promised a management study of NJ Transit, and to hold NJT supervisors responsible for the system's performance. He also would like to see innovative options like monorails, light rail, waterways, and air transport.

Hirsch Singh, also running for the Republican nomination, says his engineering background qualifies him to address inefficiencies in the state's transportation fund; but he'd also repeal the recently-passed gas tax hike and focus on legalized marijuana as a new source of infrastructure funding.

Six Democratic candidates also weighed in:

Phil Murphy, the Democratic front-runner, said the state needs a mutli-hundred-million-dollar proposal to fix NJT, and didn't rule out new taxes to accomplish this.  He called for an emergency manager, and an audit, and said that until Penn Station's problems get fixed there should be "indefinite" cross-honoring of tickets with PATH, ferries, and buses. Murphy too supports the federally-funded Gateway project.

Former US Treasury undersecretary Jim Johnson wants to end political appointees at NJT and says he has  "unified vision" for NJT.  He advocates better maintenance programs, including "predictive maintenance," and better data sharing among state agencies, and rail service to Glassboro in South Jersey.

Activist Bill Brennan called for new taxes to support transit, including taxes on marijuana sales and on high-salaried executives. He wants to focus on "green" infrastructure, and converting Madison Square Garden to an inegrated bus and train terminal.

Assemblyman John Wiesniewski, chair of the Assembly's transportation committee, emphasized the need to eliminate patronage appointments at NJT and at the Port Authority, and to focus the Port Authority on transportation.  He wants better transit for working-class people, saying the state should improve transit from affordable housing to employment hubs for a population sector that disproportionately depends on transit.

State Senator Raymond Lesniak advocates more citizen participation and public control over NJT, saying riders deserve a direct voice in NJT operations.

Tenafly Councilman Mark Zinna vowed to "reinvigorate" NJT with a unified fare system, ending raiding capital funds for operations, and infrastructure improvements including extending the No. 7 subway line from Manhattan to New Jersey, and the A Train subway line over the George Washington Bridge and as far as Paterson He said he would hold President Trump to his infrastructure campaign promises, and would include Amtrak's Gateway in the package.

The primary election on June 6 will, presumably, reduce the race to single candidates for each party, and thereafter the debate about transit will no doubt become a bit sharper.

 

 

Citing a "crisis" and New York's Penn Station, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote President Trump on May 21, asking that the President recognize the situation as an emergency and therefore provide funds to fix the problem. Cuomo wrote, "I request that the federal government treat this as an emergency situation and provide funding for the short-term Penn construction and transportation alternatives and facilitation of a long-term resolution for Penn Station." Cuomo cited the large number of users of Penn Station, noting that more than half of them are New Yorkers using the Long Island Rail Road, the "deplorable condition" of what he called "the state of disrepair," and the projected impact of "emergency" repairs now scheduled by Amtrak. He lamented that "only now" has Amtrak announced the severity of service cuts that will be necessary to undertake the repairs, scheduled for two intervals in July and August, and likely to continue again in 2018. Cuomo said he foresees a "summer of agony." The letter went on to question Amtrak's ability to manage and operate the station, and expressed Cuomo's support for extensive investment in a new, improved station complex, which Cuomo said could be part of what President Trump has proposed as a one-trillion-dollar nationwide infrastructure improvement program.

The letter from Gov. Cuomo can be read here.

Since an inbound NJ Transit train crashed through the bumper block on Track 5 at the railroad's Hoboken terminal on September 29, 2016, a critical pedestrian passage has been closed.  The passageway has now reopened, eliminating a detour that most riders had to endure: a circular trip through the terminal's main waiting room and then through a narrow door that leads to exits to the street, the adjacent bus terminal, and most importantly, to the PATH rapid transit system. NJT had previously announced that the passageway would not reopen until June. The detour route often became clogged in peak hours, even dangerously so when passenger loads swelled during recent incidents when trains were diverted to Hoboken from New York's Penn Station. Now passengers from the bulk of the station's tracks can walk directly to the exits, using the walkway at the end of the tracks rather than the detour.

The accident, which killed a bystander in the station and injured a number of riders on the train, caused extensive damage to the historic terminal's structure. Full repairs wil not be completed for several years, owing to the complexity of repairing the architecturally significant parts of the damaged train shed and terminal building.

Regular users of New York's embattled Penn Station don't need to be told about their daily travails. They might appreciate, but don't need, a behind-the-scenes tour to confirm what they already know. (If you haven't already had a guided behind-the-scenes tour of the station and the decaying Hudson River tunnels, well, you probably aren't a politician.) The latest beneficiaries learning what users already know are a group of New Jersey politicians, who got the royal treatment on Friday, May 12, according to reporting by Larry Higgs (contributions by Jonathan D. Salant and the Associated Press) for NJ Advance Media (and printed in the Star-Ledger, May 13.)  Their tour included riding in a special rail inspection car -- seats guaranteed -- equipped with floodlights to enable guests to observe conditions in the under-the-river tunnels, which were flooded in Hurricane Sandy more than four years ago.

"I call it frightening"

said State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex). "In a regular passenger train you can't see what's surrounding you."  Duh.

"It's amazing that they actually get trains in and out"

said State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen," who went on to propose what she said was a solution: "What's important is Amtrak, NJ Transit, and the Long Island Rail Road come up with a schedule so riders know the dates and times when outages will take place." Presumably, Sen. Weinberg was referring to the planned reduction in service to be caused by Amtrak work beginning July 7, not outages resulting from unpredictable events such as train derailments, flooding, and the like.

"It's not pretty, it's chaotic and disorientating,"

said Sen. Joy Kyrillos (R-Monmouth). "When you get off a train, you don't know where you are." Well, regular riders figure it out, after a few hundred trips at least.

"Frankly, it's ugly and vulnerable, particularly the tunnels,"

said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Bergen), who said "we saw it through the eyes of a commuter."

 

With service disruptions at New York's Penn Station occurring on an almost-daily basis, criticism of station owner Amtrak's operation of the facility has been mounting.  In response, according to reporting by Patrick McGeehan in the New York Times (May 12), Amtrak President Wick Moorman on May 11 proposed that a private company take over Amtrak's management of its portion of the station concourses, and that he hoped that NJT and LIRR would do the same.  Seemingly, Moorman did not mention operation of the vital tracks and platforms beneath the concourses. Moorman said a model for his proposal was airport operation, in which a common operator serves multiple airlines.  This wasn't enough for the governors of New York and New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, who countered in a joint letter the same day, saying that Amtrak should turn over operation of the entire station to a private operator. They wrote, "A professional, qualified, private station operator must be brought in to take over the repairs and manage this entire process going forward. We must have the right to approve any private contractor that Amtrak selects in response to our request and the record of failure causing these problems at Penn Station."