Two years ago, Amtrak and the MTA announced that they would conduct a study to look into extending Amtrak service into Long Island. The concept is nothing new. What were the results?
Gov. Cuomo and the accompanying elected officials were more than happy to pose with shovels when announcing the study for an idea that will never reach fruition. The idea of Long Island Amtrak service was already looked at several years earlier under a Federal Rail Road Administration comprehensive plan for Amtrak Northeast Corridor service between Washington and Boston.
This included a proposal for new high-speed rail that would also run between Floral Park and Port Jefferson and on to New Haven via a tunnel under Long Island Sound.
This would have involved building two new tracks adjacent to the $2.6 billion ongoing Main Line Third Track project and existing tracks between Hicksville and Port Jefferson. No one could figure out how to find up to $40 billion to pay for this consultants dream, so it died.
The MTA has a current $51 billion Five Year 2020 – 2024 and Twenty Year Long Range Capital Plans. Both are periodically updated. Amtrak has similar short and long-range capital plans.
These documents clearly outline what capital funding is needed to maintain both a State of Good Repair for existing equipment, facilities and services along with safety, security and any future system expansion projects and programs.
There is no indication that this project has been included in the proposed MTA 2020 – 2040 Twenty Year Capital Needs Assessment Plan. Governor Cuomo and the MTA promised to release this document in December 2019. Fifteen months later, riders, transit advocates, taxpayers, and elected officials are still waiting for this critical document to see the light of day.
The real problem is finding the money to make things happen. All too often funding for many studies would have been better spent on real capital and operating service improvements instead of just lining the pockets of consultants. How many studies end up on the shelf of planners collecting dust?
How many times do we end up with a series of press conferences and news releases designed to provide free publicity for elected officials to assist them in greasing the wheels of future elections? They promise a bright future but leave riders holding an empty bag
Funding for this latest study would be better spent as a down payment toward building a joint Amtrak/LIRR Sunnyside Yard Queens station. Pre-COVID-19 riders could avoid crowded Penn Station and save ten minutes travel time by making connections at this new station. This station was supposed to be built as part of the $11.2 billion MTA LIRR Eastside Access to Grand Central Terminal. It would also serve the future Metro North New Haven line East Bronx service to Penn Station. No contract for the construction of this station has been awarded to date..
Missing from the MTA’s February 23rd Public Hearing for potential Federal Transit Administration funding of their 2021 Program of Projects was money to help pay for the estimated cost of $400 million for construction of the Sunnyside Yard Queens Station.
The FTA will be providing over $1.5 billion under various formulas and competitive discretionary grant programs to the MTA in 2021. This does not include $4 billion in the first round last year, plus another $4 billion this year under a second and $6.5 billion more under a third round of CARE COVID-19 transit relief assistance. Here is the link to the MTA Public Hearing document https://new.mta.info/document/28146.
In the meantime, don’t count riding any Amtrak train originating from or traveling through Long Island in your lifetime. We will all continue to change at the Penn Station Moynihan Train Hall to board Amtrak trains.
Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer wh
o previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office.