RethinkNYC: Not so Fast!

(RETHINKNYC) Sam Turvey, July 31, 2022

NY State Senator Leroy Comrie Conditions Future Penn Station Approvals
Joins Growing Chorus Calling for Through-Running Option at Penn Station

New York State Senator Leroy Comrie joins US Representative Carolyn Maloney and a growing chorus of public support for implementing through-running at Penn Station in his Public Authorities Control Board (PCAB) Vote on July 27th. A sampling of recent support for through running is included in Appendix A.

Comrie, while voting yes on a limited proffer for approval by the Empire State Development Corporation (“ESD”), made clear that he would not provide further approvals unless numerous funding issues were resolved with specificity.

Comrie set forth a series of issues, most specifically with respect to transit, that he expected to see addressed going forward making clear that we need to be looking toward the “twenty-second century” in resolving issues at Penn. 

The senator specifically mentioned the need for “through-running” and “greater connectivity” at Penn, joining a growing chorus of elected officials, academics, transportation advocacy groups, and community boards in calling for a real look at the consensus modern operating model of through-running. 

Through-running as proposed by ReThinkNYC, in addition to providing a superior commuter experience, would also provide more balanced, equitable, and sustainable growth in the region. It would expand the region’s core and lessen real estate pressures to cannibalize existing neighborhoods in favor of a monolith of supertalls. 

Implementing through-running at Penn Station will cost $8 billion LESS than the dated transit plan proposed by the ESD and Governor Hochul and will require no demolition of 30th or 31st Streets.  For details on these differences see Appendix B. 

To learn more, review the two, 2-minute videos on through-running: 

  • The overview video sets forth ReThink NYC’s transit solution. This Vimeo describes how the ReThinkNYC plan for Penn Station works.
  • How ReThinkNYC’s project fits into the Gateway Program, we have animated a flyover of the rights of way that its plan uses.

ReThinkNYC Chairperson Sam Turvey said of SenatorComrie’s vote and comments:

Senator Comrie is to be commended for his role in seeing to it that the ESD and governor were not able to get the “details to be provided later” of the General Project Plan approved on Wednesday and that only a very limited vote took place. I am sure there was powerful pressure for full approval, and we are grateful that he did the right thing. So too, with Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s timely report.

We are especially grateful that Senator Comrie signaled the need for a through-running operating model to be implemented at Penn Station and twenty-second century  solutions. While that is a substantive point, it also is a financial one, which is the purview of the PACB. Our analysis, using the railroad’s and commuter lines’ own numbers, is that ReThinkNYC’s through-running model will cost at least $8 billion LESS than the dated terminal track model being pursued by ESD and the governor.

We ask more elected officials to follow science and follow math. Through-running is the modern international standard for cities like our own. Its sine qua non is balanced, equitable, and sustainable growth. It is magnitudes less expensive, easier to implement, and avoids the neighborhood demolition  included in the current plan.

Through-running is a gift horse, a game changer, and an opportunity that should not be squandered. The ESD and governor’s plan is a Trojan horse, it will greatly harm and not help our city, state, and region and should be withdrawn. Our elected officials need to help the ESD, governor, Amtrak, and commuter railroads see that light and get them past the rush to pour concrete and steel on obsolete planning and transit themes from the last century. 

Senator Comrie’s specific remarks follow:
July 27, 2022State Senator Leroy Comrie’s PCAB Vote on ESD and governor’s Penn Station Plan:

Today’s vote is only on the PILOT agreement between the city and the state. It is the first step toward building a framework for a multi-decade redevelopment plan. Today’s vote is not the final say on this massive undertaking. Future review and votes will be required, both by the PACB and the MTA Capital Program Review Board (CPRB).

To be clear, while I will vote yes on today’s resolution, I will not vote in favor of any future PILOT agreements for individual above ground buildings in this project footprint until we have secured necessary federal approvals and the fair share of funding from the federal government and New Jersey.

  • This project, which is critical to the future of both transportation and development, needs to be a truly future forward thinking endeavor, which meets the needs of the twenty-second century.
  • System connectivity and allowing through-running are critical components to ensuring federal support and investment in what will be one of the largest infrastructure projects in our state’s history.
  • Regional considerations must be developed so essential workers can access NYC from throughout the East Coast
  • New York State should take bold steps to lead the nation to an interconnected high-speed rail future now. 

Appendix A: Recent Through-Running Endorsements

July 19, 2020
US Representative Carolyn B. Maloney’s Letter to Nuria Fernandez, Federal Transit Administration and Amit Bose, Federal Railroad Administration

Many fear that Amtrak and other entities are sacrificing their homes and livelihoods without having devoted sufficient consideration to possible, less destructive alternatives entailing fewer or no evictions and condemnations, and certainly without having provided sufficient community notification or opportunity for meaningful consultation and input.

Furthermore, I ask you to perform a full financial evaluation and cost-benefit analysis of “through-running” as part of the NEPA review, to determine cost as well as savings such upgrades would permit, not only for the hard cost of the project, but also for the economic impact to the region.

July 11, 2022
Dr. Robert Paaswell, Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering at City University of New York, Former Interim University President, Former Head Chicago Transit Authority

Chicago, our second city but not when it comes to rail, is making bold plans for
the renewal of Union Station. Union Station is an Amtrak hub for coast-to-coast travel. It is being prepared for High Speed Rail. They know that High Speed Rail will come to the US in full force—just as it has to the European Union. Through-running is a key feature of the proposed new Union Station. Why is such an access multiplying feature of a key central station even debated in New York? Los Angeles, not known as a mass transit leader, is implementing through-running to meet its needs in hosting another Olympics. Philadelphia and Toronto already have very successful through-running operations.

June 28, 2022
Paul Goldberger, renowned architectural critic, author, and lecturer

[Tweet] “Several questions” is an understatement. No one questions the need to do something about Penn, but a plan that leaves MSG in place, destroys valued buildings for unneeded office towers, and ignores the potential of through-running trains is not a solution that makes sense.

June 2022
Liam Blank
From Here to There, Regional Rail for Metro New York, Tri- State Transportation Campaign

Maintaining the twentieth century model of commuter rail is not only destructive to the environment, it also reinforces divisions along class and racial lines. Driven largely by the decentralization of job opportunities and the need for affordable housing, the nation’s suburbs are now home to the largest and fastest growing low-income population. Housing costs are rising faster in New York City than in surrounding suburbs, forcing many low-income people to find more affordable housing in less transit-accessible parts of the region, which diminishes their access to jobs and opportunities, and forces the need to lease or buy a car—a significant extra expense. Between 1980 and 2018, poverty grew in places like Newark, Paterson, New Brunswick, the South Bronx, Yonkers, and Hempstead. During the same period, neighborhoods in the region’s core, such as Midtown West, Downtown Brooklyn, and Long Island City, experienced the greatest economic turnaround, with poverty rates dropping significantly. It’s no coincidence that these places are transit rich, regionally accessible, and well connected to the Midtown business district. Access to transit is access to economic opportunity.

Regional rail is the next evolution of the legacy commuter rail network. It will transform the region by expanding the “car-optional” zone beyond New York City, Newark, and a handful of other dense, mixed-use clusters. This vision of the future is possible with better utilization and optimization of the region’s existing rail assets, without first requiring decades of building expensive—often redundant—new infrastructure. The region’s commuter rail systems can be transformed into a unified regional rail network by introducing metro-style service and through-running at New York Penn Station.

Appendix B: Cost Comparisons: ESD and the Governor’s Proposals vs. ReThinkNYC’s Through-Running Proposal

 Amtrak and the MTA have proposed a framework for Penn Station improvements that ignores the immense efficiency gains and large cost savings that could be obtained by modernizing our transit system in a way that other large cities throughout the world have done. ReThinkNYC, a transit advocacy organization, has proposed exactly such a modernization. ReThink proposes to unify the regional transit networks in combination with through-running train stations. ReThink calls this proposal RUN, which stands for Regional Unified Network

This document explains how the RUN plan, combined with through-running, saves taxpayers nearly $8 billion and creates greater efficiency gains over the current Amtrak/MTA proposal. This is because the governor and railroad’s own numbers project that the governor’s plan and the Penn Expansion will cost $17.7 billion while an extrapolation of their own numbers to our through-running proposals shows a cost of $9.75 billion. This is set forth in greater detail below.

ReThinkNYC’s through-running plan should be implemented at Penn Station in conjunction with the two new gateway tunnels under the Hudson River. This would open New York to the implementation of a Regional Unified Network.ReThinkNYC’s plan is superior in every respect to an increase of terminal tracks in an expansion of Penn Station South. This plan was proposed by New York’s governor and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) to meet the added capacity provided by the two new Gateway Tunnels. We do support the construction of the two new Gateway tunnels and the rehabilitation of the old North River Tunnels—in fact, our proposal relies on the track alignments that the New Hudson River Tunnels are proposed to use in figure 2-13b of the FEIS. However, the governor’s plan would cost nearly twice as much as a through-running implementation and provide less access. It is indefensible and wasteful to pursue a terminal-track strategy in this location as we enter the second half of the twenty-first century. Through-running is the international operating standard and has been implemented to great effect in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Madrid, Toronto, Philadelphia, and that paragon of mass transit, Los Angeles.

Amtrak, the MTA, and the State of New York refer to multiple transit projects—from building new tunnels to expanding Penn Station underground. Some of the transit projects fall under the large Gateway Program while others fall under the Penn South project. We compare these two broad programs below with the RUN/through-running framework.

I. Gateway Program Budget

A consensus is held among most transit groups in the region that the Hudson River Tunnels and the other system-wide improvements included in the Gateway Program need to move forward in order to repair the existing North River Tunnels without economically crippling the metropolitan area.

1a. Hudson River Tunnels

Cost: $11.60 billion

1b. Other System-Wide Improvements Included in the Gateway Program

Highline Renewal and State of Good Repair: $0.24 billion

  • Secaucus Station and Loop Tracks: $1.62 billion
  • Portal North and Portal South: $5.57 billion
  • Sawtooth Bridge: $1.44 billion
  • NJT Storage Yard: $1.88 billion
  • Dock Bridge Rehabilitation: $0.05 billion
  • Harrison Fourth-Track Phase 1: $0.08 billion

Cost: $10.88 billion
Total Cost: $22.48 billion
II. Penn South/Penn Expansion Program Budget

The Penn Station South Expansion proposal entails the demolition of one and a half blocks of Manhattan and reflects a dated terminal strategy. Excluding a new headhouse for the existing Penn Station footprint, the Penn South Expansion will cost approximately $17.7 billion, according to the CONNECT-NEC-2035 report published in July 2021. These improvements could yield a 39% improvement over existing service once all four Hudson River Tunnels are in operation, with all benefits going to the west of Hudson River services.

2a. Penn South/Penn Expansion:  

Acquisition: $1.75 billion

  • Construction: $9.15 billion

Cost: $10.90 billion
2b. Empire Station Complex[1]

  • Acquisition: $0.25 billion
  • Construction: $6.53 billion

Cost: $6.78 billion
Total Cost: $17.7 billion
Service Improvement: 39% station capacity increase

III. Through-Running Penn & Outside Work
ReThink Proposal, full through-running at NY Penn Station

ReThink proposes diametrical through-running service, the modern, streamlined, and internationally competitive operating model for Penn Station. Also exclusive of a new headhouse, it will cost approximately $9.75 billion (based on cost figures from comparable transportation infrastructure projects in the region), and it can be implemented wholly within the existing footprint of New York Penn and Moynihan Stations. Such a system could yield a 50% increase in service once all four Hudson River Tunnels are in operation by improving service west of the Hudson River comparable to Penn South, but by also providing a significant increase in service east of the East River:

  • Improvements to track alignments, platforms, and vertical circulation at NY Penn Station: $4.5 billion
  • New Sunnyside station: $0.075 billion
  • New station at Port Morris and Cross-Bronx Tunnel: $1.5 billion
  • East of NY Penn yard: $1.5 billion
  • Other system-wide improvements beyond Gateway Program (20% allowance for adjustments to existing proposals[2]): $2.175 billion

Total Cost: $9.75 billion
Service Improvement: 50% station capacity increase

 Gateway Program Total Cost: $22.48 billion

  1. Penn South Program 

Total Cost: $17.7 billion
Service Improvement: 39% station capacity increase

  1. Through-Running Penn and Outside Work

Total Cost: $9.75 billion
Service Improvement: 50% station capacity increase

[1] The Empire Station Complex includes aesthetic and circulation improvements to, from, and within the concourse level of New York Penn Station. The circulation improvements are achieved in a different approach with ReThink’s Through-Running proposal through increased vertical circulation between the concourse and proposed wider platforms, which obviate the need for much of the vertical circulation and concourse circulation. The aesthetic improvements do not have a strict corollary in the ReThink Plan as described below, but there are no publicly available documents released to date that specifically describe how the costs of the Empire Station Complex are allocated between circulation improvements and aesthetic improvements.

[2] Such as improvements to rolling stock, Secaucus Junction, and loop yard that are all proposed as part of the Gateway Program, but would need further scope beyond what is planned in order to accommodate through-running service.