For MTA, Amtrak, an East Bronx tale

Written by Paul Conley, Engineering Editor; and Editor-in-Chief, Railway Track & Structures
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Amtrak Pelham Bay Bridge on the Northeast Corridor.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority will build four new stations in the East Bronx for Metro-North commuter rail service on the Northeast Corridor, after Governor Andrew Cuomo brokered a deal between the agency and Amtrak. But the deal hinges on a plan to postpone a bridge replacement that was called “beyond a state-of-good-repair” nearly a decade ago.

Under the deal, which Cuomo announced Jan. 22, the MTA will pay to build stations in four East Bronx neighborhoods: Hunts Point, Parkchester, Morris Park and Co-op City. Metro-North trains will carry passengers along Amtrak-owned right-of-way to Penn Station New York.

Illustration courtesy WABC-TV.

The MTA has long sought access to Amtrak’s track in the East Bronx, a “transit desert” with limited subway service. But Amtrak had previously balked at a deal, demanding that the MTA pay access fees to use the track and that the agency repair the Pelham Bay Bridge on the NEC Back in 2010, Amtrak said that the two-track, moveable railroad bridge needed to be replaced. The estimated cost of a new bridge was $500 million. The bridge, built in 1907, requires extensive ongoing maintenance, with speeds restricted to 45 mph. The lift span is manned and is opened on demand for commercial vessels.

Blue marker shows location of Amtrak Pelham Bay Bridge. Google Maps image.

But on Jan. 22, Cuomo and the MTA announced that a deal had been reached—and that Amtrak had dropped both of its demands.

Under the terms of the deal, repairs to the bridge would be postponed for another 10 to 20 years. And rather than pay access fees, the MTA agreed to conduct a joint study with Amtrak to weigh the feasibility of expanding Amtrak service to Long Island.

Acting MTA Chairman Fernando Ferrer was Bronx Borough President from 1987 to 2001. He told WABC television that bringing Metro-North service to the east Bronx “is a long-held dream of mine and hundreds of thousands of Bronxites.”

Connecting Metro-North trains to Penn Station, and possibly allowing Amtrak trains onto Long Island, are both feasible because of the MTA’s massive East Side Access project to bring Long Island Rail Road trains into Grand Central Terminal.

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