Kaminsky - Wrest Penn Station away from Amtrak

May 19, 2017

Originally published in NY Daily News - Wrest Penn Station away from Amtrak on May 15, 2017.

New York commuters have been wondering for years now when the insufferable situation at Penn Station is going to improve, as conditions there have deteriorated and delays have become so common that many now refer to it as “Pain Station.”

Last week, executives from Amtrak, which has operational control over Penn, finally admitted that the station is in turmoil — and that it’s going to get worse as they shut down tracks for extended periods over the next year.

What Amtrak didn’t offer was a way out of this mess.

More than 40 years ago, New Yorkers lost control of their largest regional transportation hub when the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad turned Penn Station over to Amtrak.

After last week’s hearing, it’s clear they’ve bungled that very important responsibility. It’s time New Yorkers got Penn Station back.

[...] The next step should be for New Yorkers to permanently take back their train station, so that they are always the priority.

One way to do that is to follow the governors’ lead and put permanent control of the station in the hands of a private operator with a mandate that riders are proportionally represented in the new governance.

That would give riders a seat at the table, and empower the new overseers of Penn with more financial options to raise needed capital to improve the station. That option may also better position us to deal with potential funding shortfalls from Washington.

New York State, or New York together with New Jersey, could also create a new transportation authority to exclusively manage Penn.

Either way, all riders from all areas who rely on Penn Station must be represented. That way there will be the accountability we need to make sure Penn doesn’t fail them again.

In the short term, we need to tend to the immediate problem.

First, a private operator should be swiftly hired to take over repairs, as the governors demanded. Then, Amtrak should agree to fully relinquish control of Penn Station within one year.

At the same time, federal and state governments must convene a task force to determine the extent of the problems at Penn in preparation for a change over in management, and commit emergency funds as necessary.

That task force will then have three months to determine whether an authority, private entity or a public/private corporation takes over, and provide the new management with a clear mandate, as well as a system of accountability so that riders get the station and the commute they deserve.

Enough is enough.

Kaminsky represents Long Island in the state Senate.

You can read my full OpEd Here