Creates Task Force to Address Short and Long Term Challenges at Penn Station
Challenges MTA to Modernize the Subway System and Expand the Number of Trains at Peak Periods and Calls for Innovative Strategies with “MTA Transit Genius Challenge”
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced an aggressive action plan to address New York’s transportation challenges starting with the near-term crisis at Penn Station and the ripple effect it will have on the entire transit system. With derailments and cancellations at Penn Station resulting in costly delays for millions of travelers, the Governor’s plan provides both short and long-term solutions to address the chronic failures at the station which sits at the heart of the region’s transit infrastructure. Each workday, more than 600,000 people travel through Penn Station, which is owned by Amtrak and the federal government – more than triple the facility’s designed capacity. Amtrak is proposing repairs that would reduce the number of trains at Penn Station by about 20 percent during peak travel times and as a result, commuters searching for alternative methods of transportation will crush an already overburdened subway system and clog roads and bridges. More information is available here. View the Governor's presentation here.
VIDEO of the remarks is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h264 format) here.
AUDIO of the event is available here.
PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below.
Thank you. Thank you all very, very much. First to Mr. Rick Cotton, who among all his other duties in our office, he oversees for us the MTA and all the capital construction projects. Let's give him a round of applause. It's a pleasure to be at the CUNY Graduate Center because this is a really tough problem. We needed graduate minds to deal with it. I want to recognize the members of the MTA board, the city council board here, my colleagues who are here, the county executives, the comptroller, the council speaker. A special welcome to Senator Flanagan and his colleagues who came down from Albany to be with us today and I thank them very much for their efforts.
You know the issue of Penn Station and the issue of the MTA we often speak about as a New York issue. These really are not New York City or New York State issues. The issue we are talking about today is really about the northeast United States transportation system. That's what this is really about. The Amtrak trains have come up from the south and go north. They all go through New York. The New Jersey transit trains that bring in thousands of commuters who work in New York, all come in through Manhattan. The PATH train comes in through Manhattan. The MTA subway system all comes in to Penn Station and at the heart of all of it is Penn Station. And that's why Penn Station is so critical, because it's not just another terminal. It is the terminal that affects all of these other systems. It affects the entire region and when it struggles, it puts an additional burden on the other systems and in truth, New Jersey Transit, PATH, the MTA, Long Island Rail Road are already stretched to their limits and cannot absorb any additional pressure from the dysfunction at Penn.
A little context on Penn Station. It's owned by Amtrak and the federal government. They assumed operation from Penn Central back in 1971. They've been operating it since. The Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit actually lease space from Amtrak and total payments are about $150 million per year to lease the track space. When you are in Penn, the tracks are divided. Some are for the New Jersey Transit alone, some are for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, some are for Long Island Rail Road and some have mixed use. You have at Penn three independent operators running three separate concourses. So New Jersey Transit runs its concourses, Amtrak runs its concourses and the Long Island Rail Road runs its own concourses. Each is responsible for their own security, their own operations. Each have different protocols and each have different standards. From a security point of view, it is extraordinarily difficult to coordinate what's happening. As we know in these large transportation facilities, security is difficult enough when we only have one force in place. Here you have three separate forces. Very limited communication so from a security point of view it poses real damages.
It's also appropriate at this moment that we recognize what happened in Manchester last night, which is another sobering reminder of the world we live in now and the death and destruction that can be wrought relatively easily, and our hearts and prayers go out to those affected. Penn has been underinvested in the world for 50 years. Big part of the transportation system is just your ability to maintain it and modernize it and Penn has been deteriorating literally for 50 years. I liken it to the catacombs. They don't like when I say that. But they’re old, they’re scary, and it’s crumbling. It’s also packed and crowded. It’s a bad combination. It is especially bad when you consider the number of people who go through Penn.
More people go through Penn than go through Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports combined, believe it or not. Double the number of people going through Penn. We talk about welcoming visitors, we talk about tourism, we talk about the New York welcoming committee, and think about the front door of New York being Penn Station. It is also triple the capacity that Penn was designed for. Penn is the busiest rail in the United States by far. And what has happened recently is Penn has gone from the discomfort, the, the, the physical disabilities of the facility, to a totally, totally different level where we now have operating difficulties and mechanical problems that we didn’t have before. So, it’s extreme discomfort, now meets catastrophic dysfunction. And it’s a bad combination. March 6th, we had a broken switch at an Amtrak malfunction. March 24th an Amtrak train derailed and sideswiped a New Jersey Transit Train. April 3rd, we had another derailment. April 4th, we had a disabled train. April 19th, we had electrical problems in the tunnels. If that wasn’t enough, May 3rd, the heavens opened and sewage literally came from the ceiling right when people were getting on the Long Island Rail Road. The breakdowns and delays have frustrated commuters to no end. Where literally the police describe it as near riot conditions. Now this is not just disgraceful and frustrating, it’s dangerous, and in many ways, the worst is yet to come. Amtrak now says they’ll take 6 weeks to do what they call emergency improvements and repairs on the tracks. For those six weeks to do those repairs, they want to reduce the number of trains in peak hours by about 20 percent. And it would start July 7th.
Now even if Amtrak could get this done in six weeks, if you reduce trains coming into Penn by 20 percent it will be a summer of hell for commuters. You will have thousands of commuters looking for other ways to get into Manhattan. They will be going to the subway, which will overburden an already overburdened subway. They’ll be getting in their car and they’ll be getting on the Long Island Expressway and going through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, Triborough Bridge etcetera. Already packed situations. We need to find and find immediately, creative alternatives. Such as new park and ride facilities along the Long Island Expressway with incentives that we’ve never tried before, like no tolls if you are a park and ride participant. Or park and ride allows you to go into the HOV lane. We’re looking at providing free coach busses from Nassau and Suffolk to get people to get out of their car and try and mass transportation. And no charge as an incentive for them to do that. New HOV lane restrictions on the Long Island Expressway, which would work with the other alternatives we’re considering. Busses only, park and ride vehicles only, increasing the number of people that have to be in the HOV lanes. We’re also looking at buying high speed ferries to Long Island as an additional alternative to try and get people in. But we have to do something. We cannot allow that reduction in train service, even if it’s 6 weeks. Because it will be a, truly, a disaster area. This will require regional coordination as it overlaps multiple jurisdictions. The last time we needed this kind of regional coordination was during Hurricane Sandy. And all of this is if it actually takes Amtrak six weeks to do it. Of which I am dubious.
Amtrak has had a track record of coming up with a schedule and the actuality has no connection whatsoever to a schedule. And if it's not six weeks and it winds up being 10 weeks, 12 weeks, 18 weeks, 20 weeks, we’re going to have a real problem. This short term will be much longer and we will not be able to sustain that level of decline and service for any period of time. And I believe the issues that we’re looking at are really only a preview of what’s to come. I think this is the future for Penn Station. This is a looming emergency, there’s no doubt that July 7 is only six weeks away. And even more this is exposed the overall deterioration or fragility of our system. Short term we need major renovations at Amtrak, Penn, we need an organization that can actually do them. We need a solution for the summer that provides alternatives and we need the emergency repairs. Long term we need a modernization of Penn and we need a new model of operation and ownership for Penn.
Now earlier this week I wrote a letter to the President and I proposed two options. Option A, let the Port Authority take over Penn Station under this option we would utilized a public private sector partnership and manage the emergency repairs of Penn Station. We would also expand the project scope to deal with the overall network of Penn Station and transform the Farley Penn Gateway into a international transit hub. To appreciate how the system now works, Penn Station is obviously under Madison Square Garden. We are talking about building a new tunnel to New Jersey called the Gateway Tunnel because the current tunnel to New Jersey, especially after Hurricane Sandy are distressed and we need a new tunnel. The new tunnel would run into Penn which is under Madison Square Garden, across the street is the old post office, the old Farley Post Office which we are redoing as we speak into a new reception area for riders coming in. You could come into Farley, buy a ticket, go down stairs and get on the Penn tracks. The Farley Moynihan Train Hall is a project that is already underway by the state, the Long Island Rail Road concourses in Penn are already being rebuilt by this state and the Federal Government, Port Authority New York and New Jersey have agreed to do the gateway tunnel. What we’re saying is let the Port Authority undertake the remaining piece which is the remaining part of Penn, outside of the Long Island Railroad Concourse and do the entire project as one because really that’s the best way and the most intelligent way to plan and do this project.
President Trump has talked about a trillion dollar infrastructure program, what better single project could you have than this project. It would be an international transit hub, it would be the most used transit hub in the United States, it would be transformative for this state and the northeast region and we could get it done for him and we could get it done in real time. Option two to the President was that Amtrak brings in a private operator and a contractor. Most Amtrak terminals in the country are not operated by Amtrak, they’re operated by a private company. I believe a private contractor with incentives would be faster than Amtrak in doing these repairs and I believe that speed matters. We’ve had very good luck by doing design build with private firms offering an incentive for on-time or ahead of time delivery, sanctions if they’re late. That I believe is in dramatic juxtaposition to Amtrak’s ability to build and I do don’t think there’s a comparison. Today besides those two options. We want to offer a new alternative to the President, a third option.
The third option would be New York State takes over Penn Station and uses design-build authorization, in combination with private sector partnership to repair it and operate it and we do it ourselves. We would also combine Gateway, Penn and Farley altogether in one, unified development, so the entire hub worked together. We’re in the midst of redoing Farley which is going to be phenomenal. It is a beautiful, beautiful architectural building and we’ve made great progress already. We’ve spend hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a $1.6 billion project. We’re underway. We’re would coordinate this reception area, which again is across the street from Penn Station, with the overall renovation of Penn. We’re also in the midst of redoing the Long Island Railroad concourses, which will go from Farley into Penn and those concourses are being redone. What’s not being redone are the Amtrak concourses and the New Jersey transit concourses. The best way to do this, if you weren’t dealing with all these levels of bureaucracies, is to do it as one, unified project, one project manager and have the entire project work together. Going back to the overall outline, the piece that is not being done now is the remainder of Penn Station. Let the State, we would do it under Empire State Development Corporation, redo the remainder of Penn. Empire State Development is already doing Moynihan, Penn, Farley. Empire State Development is already doing the Long Island Railroad concourse. This would just be extending their work to the remainder of Penn Station. I’ve spoken with the state Legislative leaders. They understand the situation. They’re supportive and they know that we need to take action because the crisis is looming.
On Penn Station, to work this out, I’m assembling a task force to advise the MTA on working with the federal government to facilitate short term resolution of Penn, Gateway and Farley. We have federal officials who will be on it. We have people with MTA experience. We have builders on it. We also want our governmental partners to be involved and on the task force. They’ll advise on the short-term measures and they’ll all advise on long-term solutions to the hub. We’re asking the federal government to review the three options and work with us now on any of the above or any combination. We come in the spirit of cooperation and creativity, so we have flexibility and we will work with the federal government.
This is not about politics and it’s not about partisanship. We’re working across the aisle, as my friends in state government will tell you, I often like to say, leave your politics at home when you’re doing public service. Too many people put their politics ahead of their public service, and that’s when you have gridlock and that’s Washington, D.C. we haven’t done it in Albany. We put the people’s business first. At the end of the day, we’re not Democrats or Republicans, we’re New Yorkers and we act that way. That is the same spirit in which we reach out to the President and the Congress on a governmental, non-political level. We sent a letter to the President, signed by 16 members of congress. There were Democrats and there were Republicans. I’m working with governors across the northeast, because this is not just a New York issues. If Penn collapses, the Amtrak trains don’t run to the northeast corridor I’m hopeful for a quick, federal response, but on the other hand, I understand this is a complex issue and we must be ready for all contingencies. Amtrak says the emergency repairs are enough. I don’t believe it. I think what we’re seeing is the deterioration and the result of 50 years of underinvestment and this is just the beginning. I think you’re going to see these breakdowns continue for the foreseeable future and I want to act in the anticipation of those continued breakdowns because this is 50 years of lack of maintenance and repair coming home to roost and I believe it is just the tip of the iceberg. The hard reality is that the MTA will not be able to handle the initial burden, stressors and agita that the Penn collapse is then going to push onto the MTA.
The truth is that the subway system is already at its breaking point and now trying to compensate for the dysfunction of Penn is just too much. That is the simple fact. We have a subway system that is 113 years old. It has been underfunding for 50 years, 1981, the Daily News, Arthur Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the underfunding and disrepair of the New York City subway system. That was 1981. Nothing much has changed. The performance is not up to par. We have 64,000 delays per month. The MTA’s working and taking positive steps. They just implemented a six point plan to make a difference but in truth it’s not enough especially considering the burden at hand is now putting delays on the subway system. To me, the status quo is unacceptable and the standard industry solution will not fix this problem. This is a crisis and it’s time that we think outside the box and get out of our comfort area and get beyond our bureaucracy and get outside of our silos.
We’re going to need to do things different than we have ever done if we’re going to be able to match this problem. There are three main challenges for the subway system and we need to meet these three challenges better and faster than before. First we need to run more trains to increase the capacity of the system. Most of the delays or 36 percent, the largest single piece are caused by inefficient capacity and that leads to overcrowding and that leads to the train not being able to leave the station. The number of trains that can be run is dictated by the signal system. Much of our signal system was installed prior to 1937, 30 percent of it was installed before 1965 and there has been no upgrade to the system. It’s a manually controlled system, manual switches and that’s what controls the frequency of the trains. So there’s a gap between the trains because the signal system, that’s managing the frequency obviously has a certain amount of buffer time and if we could reduce that buffer time one more train you’d be running more capacity. The estimates that you could do 20 percent more trains if you could, if you had a better signal system that’s still ran the trains safely but increase the frequency. So when we need new navigation system for the subways, 655 miles of tracks.
Now, the industry experts will tell you it’s going to take 5 years per mile to install state of the art signals. At that pace it would take 40 or 50 years to upgrade the subway system with signals. Ok? I will be dead in 40 years. It cannot take 40 years to put in a new signal system. That just cannot happen. With all due respect to the industry experts. I understand the challenge but I reject the theory that it is impossible. You’re talking about technology now to have driverless cars, right? I just signed a law in the state of New York that allows companies to test autonomous vehicles. If you can make a car drive on the road with no driver and all those variables, there has to be a way to get a train with a driver on a track to be operated at a higher frequency. It may not be within the subway transportation world, but the technology is out there and we have to get it.
The second challenge is we need more and better subway cars. 6500 subway cars, 40 percent are over 30 years old. And, you know, what happens? They break. Why do they break? Because they’re 30 years old. What did you think was going to happen when you operate a 30 year old? They’re going to break. In the capitol plan we had money for expedited construction for new trains, what is the fastest timeline you can get new trains? 3 years. Problem is, 3 years is awfully too long. At this rate, I may be dead within the three years. Three years is too long. So, we need a reliable manufacturer who will build cars faster, or we need an alternative, which is overhauling the existing cars. Their frame is fine, we would need a new repulsion system, HVAC system, Communication system, and navigation system. The 3rd challenge, is we need to have the best transit system on the globe. We are New York. That is what we are supposed to have. We now have a system that has nowhere near the technology of other systems. You have in London, passengers can use smart phones, electronics, cars, watches. Copenhagen driver-less electric trains that feature open ended cars. In Copenhagen. Hong Kong, every station has high speed Wi-Fi. The ideas are out there. The technology is out there. We need to get those ideas and that technology here. That is the challenge. And we have to deploy it. We don’t need a new study, we don’t need a new task force, we don’t need anything like that. We need to get the best experts in the world working to redesign the MTA. How do we get there? I challenge the MTA today to initiate an international competition. Within one month, invite participants from all over the world to those threes, technology and design challenges.
The state will incentivizes the competition by offering a one million dollar award for the winner in each of those three categories. Okay? I am also going to be a competitor because I have an idea in category number 2. But a $1 million Genius award for the best idea in those three categories. If the MTA finds the technology and can deploy that technology, and if it requires additional capital money for the capitol plan, I will fight for that additional money for the capitol plan. We now have a capitol plan that is the largest in history, with the largest state commitment, $29 billion. But if it’s not enough, it’s not enough. And if you fins the technology and you can deploy it, and we need more funding, I’ll get it from the state, I’ll get it from our local partners. I think that at this point everyone understands that this is a critical situation for the entire region. SO in some a three part agenda, number one: a real plan for Penn Station. To deal with the summer crisis. The emergency repairs and the alternative transportation. Number two: create a real, unified transit hub Penn, Farley, Gateway, all working together.
Number three, the MTA must develop an accelerated plan to modernize the subway system to improve Penn’s effects. We have six weeks to prepare for a potential crisis and our obligation as elected officials is to provide the leadership. I’ve been in more emergency situations in this state during my governorship than I care to imagine. My father was Governor 1982 to 1994. I have been governor roughly half the time. In half the time, I’ve had twice the number of federally declared emergencies. But the one lesson you learn over and over is the way to prepare for an emergency is before it happens. Once it happens, it is too late. And once it happens there is nothing you can do.
I have been there before. I don’t want to be there again. I’ve been in a subway tunnel with a derailed train waiting hours to get a crane to put the train back on the tracks. I was in Spuyten Duyvil when we had a terrible train accident and I saw the bodies in the car and we lost lives at Spuyten Duyvil. I was at New Jersey Transit when 100 people were hurt when the train came into the station. I was at the Long Island Rail Road crash where the car looked like a twisted piece of steel. We’re lucky more people didn’t get hurt and didn’t get killed. I’ve been standing on the Long Island Expressway with County Executive Bellone and County Executive Mangano seeing the Long Island Expressway packed with no place to go. There is no alternative. There’s the Long Island Expressway and the service road. Once you get too many cars on that road, there is no option.
The trick is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The time to do that is right now. I also believe that a crisis is an opportunity. A crisis focuses people, a crisis focuses and develops political will. We have a crisis that has galvanized the people of this state, they get it. It’s an opportunity to learn and to grow and to do what we should have done in the first place. These systems should be maintained. You can’t not do the maintenance at Penn and Amtrak for 50 years. Same is true with the MTA. We were asleep at the switch, pardon the pun. For decades at the MTA. Now we’re trying to play catch up and we have to funding but you can’t catch up overnight.
We should have known that we rested on our laurels for too long. Think about it. When was the last time we made a real capital investment? When was the last time we built a bridge? When was the last time we built a tunnel? When was the last time you built a new aqueduct? When was the last time we said we’re going to really do some big, bold daring projects? We’re not just living on our fathers and mothers legacy, it’s our grandfather’s legacy. They built the New York that we now enjoy.
But it’s time for us to step up and for us to take that New York and bring it to the next level. It is to me a gut check moment. It’s about telling the people of this state the truth and the reality and what we’re facing, providing the leadership to step up and provide the alternatives we need to make sure this crisis doesn’t happen in the first place. It’s a gut check, I think, for all of us. For the MTA, for the city council, for the elected officials to remember who we are. We are New York State. Right? There is nothing that we can’t do as New York State. Our legacy, our bloodline, was we built a place that nobody else could build. We build the tallest buildings, the empire state building, the Erie Canal, we built things that no one else dreamed of. And we did it here. That’s our attitude. That’s our edge. That’s that New York arrogance. Of course we can do it. And we can do it and we can do this today.
And we can do this today. We can take this crisis, be honest with the federal government, say “Amtrak is not the best one to fix this, we can’t go through this for a long time – and by the way, we’ve endured the hell of a dysfunctional Penn for too long and now it’s time to rebuild a beautiful transportation hub like we have a Grand Central.” And this is the moment to do it. We have the funding, we have the partnership – this is the time to do it, and we can do it. We can do it. Don’t doubt our capacity and don’t doubt our strength. When we focus and we say we can do it, we can do anything. And we are doing it. We’re doing what they said we couldn’t do. They said, “You can’t open the second avenue subway on time. That those days are gone.” We opened the Second Avenue Subway on time and it’s better, stronger, more beautiful than anything we’ve done before. We’re rebuilding the tunnels – the Queens Mid-Town tunnel, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. We’re going to a full cashless system for the first time so you don’t have to stop at tolls. We’re putting that at every bridge and every tunnel in the whole metropolitan area. Save hundreds of hours of commuter time.
We are building Farley. We’re doing it now. It’s going to be amazing. Architecturally, operationally, it is going to be a legacy we leave our children. We’re building the Long Island Railroad concourses that are going to be a totally different experience. They’re going to be wider, they’re going to be prettier, there’s going to be better retail. It’s going to stop that dank, claustrophobic feel that you now have in Penn Station. We’re building airports all around the state. We’re building a new airport in Syracuse, a new airport in Rochester, we’re rebuilding JFK, we’re rebuilding LaGuardia Airport as it operates and the whole thing is the size of a postage stamp. They said there’s no way you can build it and keep operate it at the same time, and we’re doing exactly that. LaGuardia is going to be the newest airport in the United States of America. This country hasn’t stepped up to the plate and built a new airport in over 25 years. And it’s going to be the State of New York that builds the first airport.
We built a new convention center in Albany. We built the Jacob Javits extension – 1.5 million feet on the Westside of Manhattan, done. Shovel is in the ground. It’s going to virtually double the size of Javits and make it once again an international convention center. We took the Kosciusko Bridge and we rebuilt it and we rebuilt it ahead of schedule. The most beautiful new bridge in downstate New York. We have the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is going to open the first span this year. It was the largest infrastructure project in the United States of America, the Tappan Zee Bridge. They said it was going to take 12 years – we’re going to get it done in about four years. And we have that creativity and we have that energy. We’re lighting all the bridges in the New York City Metropolitan area and then coordinating the lights, so you can put a light on this city and this metropolitan region that we never did before. One of the most amazing, choreographed light shows you’ve ever seen. The motto of this state is Excelsior. And that says it all. That’s what’s right in the middle of the seat. Ever upwards – that’s the New York anthem. This is a challenge. We’ve had challenges before. Let’s take this challenge, let’s flip it on its head, let’s make it an opportunity, let’s build the greatest transit hub in the United States of America, and let’s give our children a legacy they can be proud of.
Thank you and God bless you.