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Paterson Wants More Transportation Improvements at Moynihan Station

This morning Governor Patterson addressed the future of Moynihan Station, among other issues, at the Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum. Below is his response to the question "Will Major Infrastructure Projects – Like Moynihan Station - Be Completed In Your First Term"?

What is essential to Moynihan Station is that it be a viable transportation hub. That if it doesn’t include the transportation, its value diminishes considerably as far as I’m concerned,

We are still trying to get Amtrak and our local transit systems to agree on how we could reroute transit and turn this into what would really be, in a sense, a favorable investment of our resources.

I believe shortly Governor Corzine and I will probably go and meet with AMTRAK, because one of their plans, coincides with ours -- the ARC plan and we’d like to try to that get done.

Everyone understands that the economy is a problem but my project must go forward. I don’t see how they can all go forward. The resources aren’t there. The capital isn’t there. And everybody wants to come to the government to be part of the solution. And right now the government is floundering because we have these huge deficits that we have to ameliorate.

It sounds positive that Governors Paterson and Corzine are talking to Amtrak. Perhaps this means there's potential for the ARC/Penn Station connection. Let's hope they announce a plan to move forward soon.

Read "Paterson Argues for Spending Cuts" on Crain's site.

Read "Paterson Won’t Rule Out Tax Increases" by Nicholas Confessore in The New York Times.


Caltrava on New Stations

Newpennstation was catching up with our reading this weekend, and came across the article "Winged Victories, The soaring ambition of Santiago Calatrava" from last week's New Yorker. The profile of Calatrava, written by Rebecca Mead, included this passage about what role train stations play in cities.

A station, Calatrava believes, should be a grand gateway to a city, like the Gothic stone gates of his native Valencia, built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to impress upon the rest of Europe the city’s status as a trading power. “If you conceive these buildings with a purely functionalistic point of view, they easily become obsolete,” he told me. “In Zurich, they made a kind of shopping mall in front of the main station. Nobody wants to shop there. The place that, twenty years ago, everyone thought was very beautiful, today everybody says is a place where they never want to go. People don’t even want to traverse through, and in the night it is insecure, because there is no grandeur. They just wanted to take advantage of the poor fellow whose train arrives in the city to go to his job—to sell him a piece of bread, or a tomato, or a juice, or a beer.” Calatrava has built more than ten stations so far in his career. “You go into Grand Central and you immediately understand that this has been done for you: it is a gift to everyone, it is a gift to the city,” he told me. “I understand the problem of the person who cannot eat because he has no money; I understand how tragic is the person who is homeless. Because of that, I like doing stations, because they are the home of everybody, and because you are providing a beautiful moment in the life of people who work so hard. I am not a food producer; I am not a doctor; I am an architect, and I use my work for a sense of philanthropy, and not for any glory. This is a Stoic concept: to stay in the middle, which permits you to be free from the ambitions of the high, and permits you, through your liberty, to deliver something to those who don’t have anything.”

We couldn't agree more about that a train station should serve as a "grand gateway" to a city, and that Grand Central is a "gift to everyone." Has anyone been to the train station in Zurich? What do people think about the "shopping mall" impact he describes?

"Winged Victories, The soaring ambition of Santiago Calatrava"
in the The New Yorker by Rebecca Mead.

Photo via flickr from Robbanz.


What's New on the Far West Side? (Note Correction!)

The Times today reported that the State has announced the long-awaited and substantially scaled-back expansion plans for the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

The new scheme for the Javits Center would add 60,000 square feet of exhibit space, far less than in earlier plans. Ms. Lampen said that the development corporation was exploring the possibility of putting a convention hotel with a large ballroom and meeting room space at the north end of an expanded Javits site, between 39th and 40th Streets.

There's movement on the development of the Hudson Yards. According to Community Board 4, the EIS Scope Document has been released can be found on their web site, and also on City Planning's site. The Related Company will be presenting their plans for the Western Rail Yards to Community Board 4 next Monday, September 15. On September 22, the Board will have a "Community Input Meeting" about the five design proposals for the Hudson Yards park and streetscape design. Visit their site for meeting details and other information.

Newpennstation thanks Community Board 4, for correcting our information on development around Hudson yards.

Read "Plan to Expand Javits Center Is Revived, Less Ambitiously" in the New York Times by Charles Bagli.


August: A Recap.

August has been a pretty slow news month in terms of our primary issue, the construction of a new Penn Station. No news on who will be taking over the construction of a New Penn Station. No news on the scope of the new plan.

But there’s been other, related news that’s important.

Paterson has announced a new head for the New York State Economic Development Corporation, the agency that currently oversees the Moynihan Station development, Marisa Lago. Lago is a global head of compliance at Citi Markets and Banking, to be president and chief executive; and he named Dennis M. Mullen, the chief executive of Greater Rochester Enterprise, an economic development company, to oversee the agency’s upstate operations. According to the Times,

The economic development corporation has been beset with geographic rivalries as downstate and upstate interests within the agency fought. Mr. Paterson said Friday that he hoped his nominees would bridge the longstanding divide between upstate and downstate interests.

“We’re one state,” he said. “What I would like to do is send the signal from Albany that we want the most efficient way of saving money and creating the revitalization of our upstate economy and the return to New York City as a financial capital with the right people. And I think that’s what we chose.”

There have been a lot of national stories about the overcrowding of AMTRAK and the potential for increased Federal Funding. Today's Boston Globe describes
AMTRAK’s struggle to expand Acela service, which they may accomplish through adding extra cars. According to the article, any expansion “would require more funding for Amtrak, a "political football" that has struggled for aid in President Bush's administration.”

Maybe all the attention Biden is getting for commuting on AMTRAK every day will help increase the funding. Yesterday, Eliot Brown, in the New York Observer, questioned whether the nation’s crumbling infrastructure will be a factor in the national presidential campaigns.

There's forces adding urgency to the infrastructure push: passenger rail is at or near capacity in much of the entire Northeast corridor, a condition exacerbated as high fuel prices push more people onto trains. And the gas tax (a flat-rate 18.4 cents per gallon) that funds highways and transit projects is taking in substantially less revenue as Americans cut back on their driving.

Mr. Obama supports a national federal infrastructure bank, where money would theoretically be divvied out in a methodical manner, as opposed to the earmark/pork-heavy process that characterizes many federally funded projects.

Mr. McCain is more silent on the issue, at least on his Web site, but last year's Minneapolis bridge collapse--which has become a national symbol for crumbling infrastructure--is sure to be an issue when the Republican National Convention begins across the river in St. Paul.

Read “Governor Names 2 to State’s Troubled Economic Development Agency” In the New York Times by Jeremy W. Peters.

Read “Infrastructure as Campaign Theme? Perhaps.” by Eliot Brown in the New York Observer.”

Read “Acela Trains May Expand to Meet Demand” in the Boston Globe.

Photo via flickr from Snowdog.


Experience Old Penn Station In a New Film

Somehow we missed this New York Magazine post about a film made by Stephen Kellam, Forever Yours, a wartime piece set in the original Penn Station. Kellam's short film uses 3-d graphics to re-create the station's beautiful interiors (see photo above). The film is definitely worth watching to experience the interiors, but also because it is a touching and sad story.

New York Mag goes on:

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the start of demolition on the old Penn Station — an architectural tragedy that helped kick-start the city’s preservationist movement and made many Gothamites realize that, sometimes, it’s not better to replace stately neoclassical buildings with grimy subterranean s***holes.

Read "Filmmaker Stephen Kellam Mourns Old Penn Station, War Victims" by Bilge Ebiri of New York Magazine.

Go to Stephen Kellam's site where you can also watch the movie and also see photos of the production.


Amtrak CEO Talks Moynihan Station, Capacity, ARC, & More

In an interview yesterday with the NY Observer, Amtrak National Stationmaster, C.E.O. and president Alex Kummant discusses how to cope with the projected increases in commuter volume in the North-East corridor by 2030 and the impact this will have unless current capacity of both stations and rolling stock is increased dramatically. To read the interview in full, including how this pertains to the plans for Moynihan Station, click here.


Federal Relief for a Rail System Stretched Thin?

Today's Wall Street Journal reported on AMTRAK's passenger increase and the critical need for the Feds to fund infrastructure improvements. According to the article, AMTRAK needs the money not only to expand and improve service, but also to simply meet current demands.

Since last fall, Americans have been driving less while Amtrak usage has steadily increased. The latest figures suggest that the migration from highways to rail is accelerating.

But is it able to keep up with demand?

Amtrak faces many challenges just to maintain current service levels. Besides higher commodity prices and rising personnel costs following a recent set of labor agreements, Amtrak is grappling with aging, overcrowded trains. The railway often doesn't have enough cars in stock to expand train capacity or increase service frequencies.

According to the article, “Amtrak's newfound popularity has made an impression in Congress.” How will this impact New York?

Amtrak estimates it needs to do nearly $5 billion of work along the Northeast Corridor to bring things to a state of good repair.

A provision in the House's Amtrak bill would have the Transportation Department study the possibility of high-speed service between Washington and New York, with trains running as fast as 200 miles an hour and a trip time of two hours or less.

The article is accompanied by an excellent and witty video (watch and see an AMSHACK). It provides a national perspective on the popularity and pleasure of taking the train, but investigates the problems AMTRAK faces in accommodating growth. What’s holding back expansion, especially of high speed rail? According to WSJ's Matt Rivera, it’s the infrastructure, especially the tracks.

“AMTRAK rents most of its rail from cargo carriers, who have no need for the modern tracks used to propel modern trains. AMTRAK uses over 21,000 miles of track, and only owns less that 700 of those miles, mostly on the Northeast Corridor.”

Read "All Aboard: Too Many for Amtrak. Surge in Ridership Leads to Crowding On Intercity Trains" by Christoher Conkey for the Wall Street Journal.


Paterson Asks Developers for New Moynihan Plans

When asked today on WCBS Radio about the status of Moynihan Station, Governor Paterson said that the state has asked the developers to come back with new plans.

A listener asked:

"Governor Paterson, what is the status of Moynihan Station and the purposed new Penn Station (also involving a new Madison Square Garden if the full plan goes forward). Is that plan dead, or is there potential for the project to move forward?"

The Governor responded:

"We have asked the developers of the potential Moynihan Station to come back to us with another plan that particularly features the subject we've been talking about today--transportation. Already we have addressed with them the dwindling supply of revenues that we as the state can put into the plan, and we're expecting an answer form them within a week or two."

He didn't clarify the transportation improvements he had in mind, but one would assume he could be referring to the negotiations on ARC, or maybe AMTRAK's proposed high speed rail (see ”New DC/NY High Speed Rail Link?” and “DC/NY High Speed Rail Legislation Advances in House.”).

Let's hope those plans become public soon.

Listen to Governor Paterson speak with Wayne Cabot and Steve Scott on WCBS Radio. He discusses Moynihan Station at minute 11:50.

Paterson Wants New Moynihan Station Plan From Developers, Eliot Brown for New York Observer.


China's New "Super High-Speed Rail" is "Super-Faster" than Acela

A week before the Olympics are set to open, China has launched a new train line between Beijing and Tianjin, the city where soccer matches are to be held. China's first super high-speed intercity rail route is part of the country's infrastructure improvements planned for the Olympic Games.

The trains can reach speeds of 215 mph, cutting travel times for the 75-mile trip from 70 to 30 minutes. A first class ticket will cost 69 yuan ($10), while a second-class ticket is 58 yuan.

Click here to watch a video of China's new train

How does China's new train line compare to our own? AMTRAK's fastest train is the Northeast Corridor's Acela Express, which can reach speeds of 150 mph, but often moves significantly slower. The trip between New York and Philadelphia (roughly 90 miles) on the fastest train takes 1 hour and 8 minutes (fares range from $45 to $139). That's about 81 mph.

What would be the impact of a super-high speed train system on the Northeast corridor? It seems likely that trip times would certainly be cut in half, making the train travel to northeast cities a far faster option than flying. That could dramatically reduce congestion at all of our NYC airports. What do you think?

Read “China launches high-speed train,” on BBC News
Read “China to open world's fastest intercity rail line,” on China Daily


ARC: Critical to Build, A Struggle to Fund

Eliot Brown wrote an interesting story about the importance to build, and the struggle to fund, ARC (Access to the Region’s Core). The proposed tunnel would be the first built under the Hudson River since Penn Station was built.

The tunnel would have clear transportation improvements:

Brown wrote that ARC is "the largest individual transportation project in the New York area by dollars, and would double the railroad’s capacity, allowing for 80,000 more riders daily, with a new river crossing and a fresh set of platforms by Pennsylvania Station."

But it's becoming more expensive:

A preliminary analysis by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) found the cost of the project was estimated to span from the $7.6 billion to more than $10 billion depending on a variety of potential roadblocks during planning and construction, according to a government official familiar with the analysis.

AMTRAK has apparently joined the advocates in arguing for a Penn Station connection:

The tracks would not connect to Penn Station tracks—a sore point for many transit advocates and Amtrak, which has criticized the plan for its lack of redundancy should something happen to one of the two tunnel systems. As the region and rail ridership grow, capacity could be better expanded with a connection between the two systems, those critics argue, though New Jersey Transit has said the connection costs would be prohibitive.

While Brown indicates that funding the project is challenging, it's of national importance to complete the tunnel:

“The project is probably the most important public transportation project in the country,” James Simpson, the F.T.A.’s administrator, told The Observer. “The benefits accruing to New Yorkers and folks in New Jersey are so great that the project has to happen.”

Read “Billions Down The Tunnel!,” by Eliot Brown for The New York Observer

Read ARC: 100 Years Later, An Attempt to Re-Conquer Gotham