A ‘gamechanger’ transportation option that will change the commute from the east Bronx into Manhattan and to points north looks like it will come to fruition within the next several years.
After much negotiation, Amtrak has agreed to provide the Metropolitan Transportation Authority with the rail track access it needs for the eventual operation of a new Metro-North line that will bring four new train stations to the eastern part of the borough.
The agreement provides a right-of-way into Penn Station as new infrastructure becomes functional in the next few years for Metro North trains, and now allows MTA to begin designing and planning the Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester/Van Nest and Hunts Point stations.
Governor Cuomo announced the Memorandum of Understanding between MTA, the Empire State Development Corporation and Amtrak to move the project forward on Tuesday, January 22.
The deal will allow for the construction of the new Metro-North stations after repairs of an older tunnel damaged by Hurricane Sandy at the East River that both Amtrak and MTA use is finished.
The announcement came on the heels of a visit by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer to Co-op City on Friday, January 18 where he urged Amtrak to be more flexible with the track access fees it was requesting.
Amtrak owns the rail right-of-way that the proposed Metro-North line would pass over, and the fees MTA would pay Amtrak had been the source of a negotiation impasse, according to several sources.
Schumer was joined at the Co-op City press conference near the Pelham Bay Rail Bridge, close to the site of a proposed Metro North station, by Senator Jamaal Bailey, Senator Shelly Mayer of Westchester, Councilman Andy King and Councilman Mark Gjonaj.
“Following helpful clamoring from public officials from the Bronx and Westchester, that I was proud to support, I’m so glad that Amtrak and the MTA have forged an agreement to establish an exciting new travel option for transit-starved commuters in the East Bronx and Westchester,” stated Schumer after the deal was reached.
The U.S. Senator said its great news for commuters, and that they should benefit from reduced travel times and increased reverse commute options.
Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. also hailed the news, stating it was incredibly welcome and would allow the mass-transit expansion of the four stations to move forward, something that had been in question just days before at the January 18 press conference.
“Amtrak’s willingness to negotiate with the MTA will put the East Bronx Metro-North expansion back on schedule and bring us one step closer to expanded commuter rail options in the communities that need them the most,” said Diaz.
The borough president added that the agreement would not have been possible without the help and support from Governor Cuomo and Senator Schumer, along with “thousands of Bronx residents and commuters across the region who spoke up in recent months to demand delays cease and negotiations resume.”
Schumer said that the MTA and Amtrak may also seek to improve the Pelham Bay Bridge, (over the Hutchinson River) which is over 100 years old, in order to accommodate increased rail traffic on the new Metro-North and Amtrak lines.
Councilman Andy King said that having a Metro North station in Co-op City would be incredibly helpful for working families in terms of reducing commute times.
For his constituents, King said, a new Metro North Station in his district would mean “peace of mind, being able to spend more time with your family, and being able to get around without spending a quarter of a day on transportation.”
Bailey said that the issue was one of great importance because working people in the community need more access to reliable transportation, and that he was happy a deal was finally brokered.
“Co-op City is home to approximately 50,000 residents, many of whom work in Manhattan,” said Bailey. “Currently, there is only one express bus that provides Co-op City residents transportation to and from Manhattan.”
Gjonaj said before the deal was announced that he believed that the impasse was a result of a negotiating strategy on Amtrak’s part to maximize what it could gleam from the deal, and stressed the importance of eliminating further delay.
“The lack of reliable mass transit is a reality for far too many Bronxites,” said Gjonaj after the MOU was announced. “I was proud to stand with community leaders and demand that Amtrak and MTA come back to the table and find a workable solution.”
“I am greatly encouraged about the announcement that Metro North and Amtrak came to an agreement,” said Benedetto, adding that he was grateful for any intervention that Governor Cuomo may have provided. “We look forward to the building of the four stations,” said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto.