The MTA’s $7 billion plan to renovate Penn Station got off to a rocky start

The Gothamist, Stephen Nessen, August 25, 2023

The MTA’s $7 billion plan to renovate Penn Station got off to a rocky start last month when the agency’s top officials boxed Amtrak executives out of a closed door meeting on the new design of the Midtown train hub, according to an internal letter from an Amtrak leader.

The July 17 letter was sent to Amtrak, MTA and NJ Transit leaders by Jennie Kwon, the national railroad’s vice president for capital delivery. The memo details a meeting MTA officials held with a firm hired to consult on the station’s redesign.

The letter — which was obtained by Gothamist through a source — states the July 6 “kickoff” meeting was not attended by or approved by Amtrak, which owns Penn Station.

Kwon wrote that she raised the issue with Jamie Torres-Springer, the MTA’s president of construction and development, the week after the meeting. The MTA executive responded by calling Kwon’s concerns “silly,” according to the letter.

Kwon wrote that Torres-Springer’s response had the effect of “further eroding my confidence in the MTA’s commitment to acting in the best interest of all railroads rather than exclusively their own.”

The MTA is leading the reconstruction project, despite not owning Penn Station. The work will affect areas used by Amtrak and NJ Transit.

MTA spokesperson John McCarthy dismissed questions about turmoil between the two transit agencies.

“We share a crowded space in Midtown Manhattan, and like many roommates we had a disagreement – and then we made up,” McCarthy wrote in a statement.

The letter says MTA Chief Development Officer Mark Roche “acknowledged the error” a day after the exchange between Kwon and Torres-Springer. But Kwon wrote she remained concerned about the MTA making “unilateral decisions” about Penn Station, and argued the agency is required to include Amtrak officials on all emails and letters regarding the planned renovations to the train hub.

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