The Penn Access project to bring four Metro-North train stations to the East and South Bronx has sprung into action, with an estimated completion in five years.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brokered a deal between MTA and Amtrak, a breakthrough that paved the way for a design-build contract for the project for Halmar International, LLC/RailWorks, J.V.
“It’s a huge victory for the Bronx, which has been too long neglected when it comes to transit issues,” Schumer told the Bronx Times in an exclusive interview last week.
To facilitate the project moving forward, Amtrak will now commit $500 million to the Metro-North project and the MTA will also commit up to $432 million to Amtrak’s initiative to rehabilitate the East River tunnels, which were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Amtrak owns the East River tunnels — which MTA’s Long Island Rail Road uses — as well as the stretch of tracks Metro-North plans to use for Penn Access.
The federal bipartisan infrastructure bill, signed into law last month, opened up the opportunity, as both projects can tap into the $30 billion federal funds allocated for Northeast rails.
“This has long been sought after,” Schumer said. “I worked to broker a compromise. Both Amtrak and MTA were pointing fingers at each other, you do it, you do it.”
Penn Access will transform Amtrak’s Hell Gate Line from two to four tracks in the East Bronx and Westchester. The Hell Gate Line will connect the New Haven line in New Rochelle to new Metro-North stations in Co-Op City, Morris Park, Parkchester/Van Nest and Hunts Point, ending up at Penn Station.
The New Haven line currently goes to Grand Central after connecting Connecticut and Westchester.
Schumer and the MTA both told the Bronx Times that there isn’t a fare structure in place yet for the future Hell Gate line trains.
“We’re going to keep an eye on it and make sure it’s reasonable,” Schumer said, pointing to poor and working-class New Yorkers who will utilize the transit option for their regular commutes.
To Penn Station, average travel times would be 16 minutes from Hunts Point, 20 minutes from Parkchester and 25-28 minutes from Morris Park and Co-Op City stations, according to MTA spokesmen Aaron Donovan and Dave Steckel.
The trains are projected to run as frequently as every 20 minutes during peak times, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office.
Planning around the four stations began in 2018, but the MTA was looking into connecting East NYC to Penn Station prior to 2014.
“This is welcoming news and a tremendous step forward for the residents of the Bronx,” said outgoing Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., of the project moving forward. “For about a decade, I have been beating the drum on direct access to Penn Station from the Bronx, and now, this game-changing project is even closer to becoming a reality.”
U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester, said the project had been an “empty promise to our state and my district for too long.”
Penn Access was delayed as MTA and Amtrak worked to allocate the resources needed, like the workforce size and time allocated to track outages, according to MTA’s Steckel. This was one of many transit projects that received a slow review during the previous federal administration, he said.
The Penn Access project is expected to cost $2.87 billion.
U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ritchie Torres, Bowman, Diaz and Schumer all wrote a letter to the MTA urging the authority to apply for the 80% maximum federal share for the project.
Penn Access is expected to be done in an estimated 63 months, according to Hochul’s office, which, at over five years, lines up with Schumer’s prediction of a 2027 completion.
There are almost 250,000 residents and more than 100,000 jobs within a half-mile of the four future Bronx stations, according to Hochul’s office.
Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr., who represents the Hunts Point area, did not respond to requests for comment.
Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.