NY senators: Withhold Penn Station funds because of delays

Some New York state lawmakers want to withhold millions of dollars of funding from Penn Station until Amtrak resolves chronic commuter train delays at the busy New York City train facility.

The bill before the state Senate would direct the Long Island Rail Road and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority not to make payments to Penn Station through the rest of 2017 until 95 percent of the trains using the station are on time for at least one month. Amtrak operates the station.

While the legislative proposal hasn't been scheduled for a vote, it highlights the mounting frustration with the cramped, aging facility, which has seen a series of problems including two recent derailments.

"Poor maintenance and crumbling infrastructure at Penn Station are causing massive delays, cancelations and service disruptions that make commuting a living hell for Long Islanders," said Sen. Elaine Phillips, a Long Island Republican and the lead sponsor of the bill.

The LIRR, MTA and New Jersey Transit each pay rent every year for their use of Penn Station. In total, New York and New Jersey pay $150 million a year — in addition to millions more included in the MTA budget for improvements at Penn Station.

In a statement, Amtrak acknowledged problems at Penn but said cutting off funding "is not the answer."

"Instead, we need to work together to restore reliability," the agency said.

Under the legislation, any funds withheld from Amtrak would be refunded to commuters as free tickets.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday announced a letter to President Donald Trump for federal help at Penn Station. The help would include funding for transportation alternatives, such as increased bus service while repairs at Penn are completed. Cuomo also reiterated a call he has made before, that a private operator should take over operations at Penn Station from government-funded Amtrak.

Cuomo said the repairs are likely to lead to further delays and inconveniences.

"Make no mistake, we have a real headache coming down the track, pardon the pun," Cuomo said on public radio's "Capitol Pressroom" on Monday.

Cuomo spoke by phone Monday with state Congressional delegation members, who issued a joint statement supporting Cuomo's call for greater federal assistance.

On April 3, a derailment took out eight of 21 tracks for four days, creating widespread delays. That was blamed on weakened wooden cross-ties beneath a track portion. A derailment on March 24 was due to a mismatched rail joint.