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Ask George: About the Port Authority and Moynihan Station

Recently, we asked George Haikalis for his thoughts on the possibility of the Port Authority taking over Moynihan Station. The focus has been on the funding advantages of the move, but Haikalis emphasized that having a bi-state agency take over the region’s transit hub is a major opportunity to force the commuter railroads to cooperate and, possibly, to realize the Grand Central – Penn Station connection. What do you think?

Question: What would a Port Authority takeover mean for the Moynihan Penn Station redevelopment project?

George: It would certainly be within the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s purview to operate, maintain and expand Moynihan/Penn Station. PA’s recent toll increases (and unfortunately, PATH fare hikes) permit the agency to offer each state three billion dollars for transportation capital investments over the next decade. Some of that could be directed toward the MTA, NJ Transit and Amtrak to produce an enhanced Moynihan/Penn Station facility.

But for the Port Authority to be more than just a funder, and to actually take the lead in advancing this project, the Governors of NY and NJ need to seriously think out what role this bi-state agency should best play. Just replacing ESDC with the Port Authority as the lead on Moynihan Station will do little to advance the single biggest regional mobility opportunity in the near term – getting the three commuter rail operators to develop a collective strategy for “thru-running” at Penn Station.

Even more ambitious would be for the Port Authority to advance a plan for bringing the new Hudson River tunnel into existing tracks and platforms at Penn Station (See ARC), connecting these tracks to Grand Central and extending this thru-running concept for efficient use of this link. With thru-running, conflicts at station approach tracks are avoided and peak hour train capacity gains of 25 to 50% can be realized. This is the core of the “interoperability” concept that MTA CEO Lee Sander showcased during his State of the MTA Address on March 3, 2008.

Using its cash investment as a nudge, the Port Authority could play a leadership role in getting the four operators (NJT, LIRR, MTA, and Amtrak) to agree to work together to select common rail car designs, coordinate operating procedures and unify customer information and ticketing – critical steps needed for interoperability. While Amtrak and its predecessors have operated trains thru Penn Station and over the Hell Gate Bridge for nearly ninety years, a full-fledged thru-running “regional rail” service has yet to be put into place, even though such a plan could be accomplished in as little as six months if the will were there to do it!

Going well beyond just “nudging” the rail operators to cooperate, the Governors could request that the Port Authority go much further, leasing and fully merging the commuter rail operations and Grand Central Terminal, and acquiring Amtrak’s Penn Station assets.

With traffic congestion reaching catastrophic levels, maybe its time for independent transit agencies, or at least the commuter rail operators to be brought together, but this time under the umbrella of the Port Authority. Such a merger could archive the efficiencies of consolidation, permit the introduction of innovative new services and most importantly, lead to advancing the ultimate of train station connections – linking existing tracks and platforms at Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal.