FTA Completes Environmental Review for Penn Station Access Project

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Above: Artist’s rendering of a MTA Metro-North commuter train crossing Amtrak’s Hell Gate Bridge.

Above: Artist’s rendering of a MTA Metro-North commuter train crossing Amtrak’s Hell Gate Bridge.

The Federal Transit Administration has wrapped up an environmental review of the Metro-North Penn Station (New York) Access Project, issuing on Sept. 24 a formal Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Sept. 27 reported the milestone, which follows FTA’s May approval of the project’s draft environmental assessment and a public comment period that ran through July 3.

The FONSI was released in accordance with the FTA and Federal Highway Administration Environmental Impact and Related Procedures (23 CFR Part 771), and the Council on Environmental Quality regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (40 CFR 1500). The procurement process is now under way, according to MTA, which will award a design-build contract.

The Penn Station Access Project would bring four new fully accessible MTA Metro-North commuter rail stations to the East Bronx—at Hunts Point, Parkchester, Morris Park and Co-Op City. They would be part of the New Haven Line, giving riders from Connecticut, Westchester and the Bronx direct service to Penn Station (PSNY) and the West Side of Manhattan, along Amtrak’s Hell Gate Line on the Northeast Corridor. See map below. In 2019, Amtrak’s Board of Directors approved an agreement with MTA that paved the way for the new service.

According to MTA, the commute from Co-op City to Penn Station would be reduced from 75 to 25 minutes, and the commute from Hunts Point to Penn Station would be cut from 45 to 16 minutes.

Grand Central Terminal is currently the final stop for all Metro-North trains. With a stop at Penn Station, riders would be able to connect with MTA Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (PATH), and MTA New York City Transit subway and bus services.

Among the other project elements:

• More than 19 miles of new and rehabilitated track work along the existing Hell Gate Line right-of-way.
• Reconfiguration of Metro-North’s New Rochelle Yard in Westchester County, N.Y. 
• Addition of four new interlockings and reconfiguration of one interlocking.
• Bridge rehabilitation or replacement at the Bronx River, Bronxdale Avenue, Eastchester Road and Pelham Lane.
• Upgrade work to signal systems, traction power, catenary, third rail and substations along the corridor.

According to the environmental assessment document, the “proposed Metro-North service to PSNY would begin operations after the LIRR East Side Access (ESA) project’s service to Grand Central Terminal is initiated. The Amended Full Funding Grant Agreement (August 2016) between MTA and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) projects ESA service to begin December 2023. MTA is taking steps to accelerate the schedule and is planning for ESA service to begin in 2022.”

The assessment also reported that the “2020-2024 MTA Capital Plan identifies the capital budget for the Proposed Project as $1.583 billion. Amtrak would maintain track infrastructure, with financial contributions from MTA made to Amtrak in accordance with Section 212 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act. PSNY is maintained through a joint facility agreement between Amtrak and LIRR. MTA expects to apply FTA formula or Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds to the Proposed Project. In addition, MTA would receive $30 million from the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) FY 2019 Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grant Program to replace the 210 catenary structures on the Hell Gate Line that have exceeded their useful life. Although MTA has experienced a significant loss of revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that may change priorities in the future, at this time these are the expected funding sources, along with local funds, for the Proposed Project. MTA may seek other federal funds for the Proposed Project; therefore, the Proposed Project is being evaluated in accordance with FTA’s procedures for new transit projects.”

MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber

“This is an important milestone for a project that will give people in several transit-deprived areas of the East Bronx with access to jobs, education, health care, and everything New York and Connecticut have to offer,” Acting MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber said. “By making use of existing infrastructure, we are connecting people to these opportunities at a fraction of the cost it would take to build a new rail line. The next step is to award a contract to one team that will manage both the design and construction in a coordinated way to deliver the project on time and on budget.”

Metro-North Railroad President Catherine Rinaldi

“This project will be game-changing for Metro-North,” Metro-North Railroad President Catherine Rinaldi said. “In essentially one bold stroke, it will allow the railroad to dramatically reduce travel times for a transit desert with a vast population of hundreds of thousands of people, and it will allow our busiest line to have a second destination in midtown Manhattan. We are already looking forward to opening day.”

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