Penn Station upgrades planned after NJ Transit repays Amtrak $182M
NEW YORK – NJ Transit has repaid Amtrak nearly $182 million that had been withheld over a 16-month period, and the two agencies have agreed how the monthly payments will be used on improvements related to the Northeast Corridor line, including at New York Penn Station.
The payments began to be withheld in March 2017, when then-Gov. Chris Christie cited a pair of train derailments as evidence Amtrak didn’t care about the safety of NJ Transit, its tenant on the Northeast Corridor. They didn’t pick up again until last summer.
Gov. Phil Murphy said the payments – which include $44.5 million in withheld operating payments and $137.4 million in capital contributions and are required under federal law – fully resolve the issue.
“NJ Transit and Amtrak are now squared up and can move forward together in a stronger partnership,” Murphy said.
“This agreement to us represents a clean slate and an opportunity to begin a new era in our partnership with Amtrak,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett, who said NJ Transit will have “more input and coordination” on prioritizing maintenance projects.
“New Jersey Transit and Amtrak had a relationship for quite a few years where basically the entire exercise was about how quickly to blame the other one for something that had happened,” said Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia. “You know, the truth is that I don’t think riders really cared about all of that.”
“It’s extraordinary given how embedded these organizations are with each other that the relationship was allowed to be as dysfunctional as it was,” Murphy said.
The money could be used as part of Amtrak’s match for the $600 million New Jersey has offered to contribute toward rebuilding the Portal Bridge, a project crucial to the Gateway Tunnel project for upgrading and repairing train service under the Hudson River.
It will also be used to update the ticket and waiting room at New York Penn Station, which should get underway soon and be completed by 2021, and improving platform access and street-level entrances. The agencies will also work on a complete redesign of the station’s 8th Avenue concourse, targeted for after Amtrak shifts much of its traffic to Moynihan Train Hall in 2021.
Nearly 50 million NJ Transit passenger trips come through New York Penn Station each year.
“These are long overdue improvements needed to alleviate overcrowding on the concourse,” Murphy said. “They will make commuting to and from New York Penn easier and hopefully more comfortable.”
NJ Transit and Amtrak are also working together to build a new $70 million train station in Elizabeth that may open next year, as well as a $370 million project for a yard near New Brunswick and North Brunswick on a 14-acre parcel now owned by Amtrak. That will be used for enhanced maintenance and inspection facilities for NJ Transit.
Going forward, NJ Transit will pay Amtrak about $10 million a month, approximately $3 million for operating expenses and $7 million in capital expenses.
“So, there is a significant amount of money that is now flowing, but it is flowing into an investment in the system which underscores our need as partners to invest that money correctly,” Coscia said. “But the money’s not going anywhere. It’s basically going right back into something that hopefully will benefit the average rider.”
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, said the Northeast Corridor projects are “appropriate and should be applauded” but that “it is appalling” that rail services suspended since September, including the entire Atlantic City Rail Line, remain closed.
Corbett said he can’t yet commit to a specific date for the return of the Atlantic City Rail Line, beyond saying it will be between April and June, in part because the positive train control system installed on the trains for that line are still being tested and need repairs.
“There are anomalies. So we’re working through some bugs,” Corbett said. “We did a lot of rush to get all that equipment installed by December, so now we’re working out some of the bugs on some of the ones that are coming back – particularly the diesels, which we need for Atlantic City.”