Governors to Amtrak: Private operator sought at Penn Station

FILE - In this Friday, April 14, 2017, file photo, New York Firefighters make their way to a track at Penn Station in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday called for a private operator to take over New York’s troubled Penn Station, the nation’s busiest rail station, where recent derailments and other problems have hampered commuters.

In a letter to Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman, the governors said “the situation at Penn Station has gone from bad to worse to intolerable” and “drastic action must be taken to immediately remedy the situation.”

Cuomo, a Democrat, and Christie, a Republican, said long-term changes in management must go hand in hand with “intense and immediate repairs.” They also want the right to approve any private contractor selected by Amtrak, which owns and operates Penn Station.

Two derailments in the last several weeks, a power failure, signal problems and other issues at Penn Station have pushed Amtrak to begin replacing aging tracks and other equipment at the station, a critical part of Northeast Corridor travel.

An April 3 derailment, blamed on weakened wooden cross-ties beneath a portion of track, knocked out eight of the station’s 21 tracks for four days and created widespread delays for commuters and travelers up and down the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak’s replacement of tracks and other equipment, much of which dates to the 1970s, initially was scheduled to be completed over a two- or three-year period, mainly during off hours. But the recent problems prompted Amtrak to speed up that timetable.

A Cuomo administration official said Thursday the private operator would be under the oversight of the three railroads that use the station: New Jersey Transit, the Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak.

Amtrak released a statement early Friday morning addressing the letter.

“We agree with the Governors that dramatic action is required at Penn Station,” the statement said, “and that’s why Amtrak is advancing our renewal plan as well as the creation of a new entity to unify management of the station concourses and leverage the expertise of the private sector with experience in running complex passenger facilities.”

Amtrak said it wanted to work with the governors, LIRR and NJ Transit on these “critical steps” while continuing to take action to improve daily operations.

A phone message seeking comment from NJ Transit wasn’t immediately returned and LIRR referred any comment to the governor’s office.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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