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Trains Feel More Crowded? That’s Because They Are.

AmtrakThe New York Observer is reporting that Amtrak’s ridership is increasing on the Northeast Corridor. According to the Observer, it “increased over 3.2 percent annually in June, from 878,671 passengers to 907,316, according to new figures from the national rail service.”

They also crunched the numbers on ridership for fiscal year 2008 (October – June) versus 2007:

In 2008, 5.6 million passengers traveled the Northeast corridor (Washington to Boston), versus 5 million in 2007, an 11% increase.

Travel on Acela, the Northeast-only express service, increased by 8%, from 2.4 million to 2.6 million riders..

Read “Amtrak Northeast Ridership Up 3 Percent,” by Leigh Kamping-Carder for The New York Observer

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Weiner on Major New York City Developments

Representative Anthony Weiner spoke today at a Crain’s Breakfast Forum. He briefly discussed major New York City development projects, including the creation of a new Penn Station. He questioned whether state agencies ought to be running so many of the projects in New York City and urged the city to “reclaim control from Albany.”


Read “Weiner to spur jobs in outer boroughs” crainsnewyork.com

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Watch Video of the Venture Execs Talking Moynihan

At a recent Conde Naste Portfolio conference Steve Roth, chairman of Vornado, and Steve Ross, chairman of Related – the Moynihan Venture tag team – spoke about the Moynihan Station project.

Read “Vornado’s Roth on MSG Air Rights: ‘Come to Mama’”

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TSTC: 1,100 Pedestrians a Minute at Penn Station Entrance

With so much focus on trains, tracks, and platforms it can be easy to forget about the critical state of the pedestrian environment around Penn Station. In fact, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s “Penn for Peds” initiative up to 1,100 people use the Penn Station entrance at 32nd St. and Seventh Ave each minute during a weekday rush hour. In a Mobilizing the Region post, TSTC cited a recent pedestrian survey from the 34th St. Partnership and raised concerns about the impact of ARC, the new station under 34th St., on the already crowded area:

The Partnership’s district stretches from 10th Avenue to Park Avenue and is bounded by 30th and 36th Streets, but its busiest three locations were all around Penn Station. They were the northwest corner of 34th and 7th, which 14,340 pedestrians passed through during its peak hour; the northwest corner of 34th and Broadway with 16,776 pedestrians; and the Penn Station entrance at 32nd and 7th, whose busiest hour saw 69,240 people enter and leave the station.

Tri-State launched its Penn For Peds campaign not only because of existing congestion and safety issues, but also because planned public and private developments will further increase foot traffic in the area. Not least of these is the ARC Tunnel project that will double NJ Transit capacity to Midtown Manhattan and expand Penn Station below 34th Street. According to project environmental documents, both the 34th St./7th Ave. and 34th St./Broadway intersections will be hit by unacceptable pedestrian crowding.

In addition to the 34th Street Partnership’s pedestrian count, the MTA’s 2007 subway and bus ridership report found that three of the six most-used subway stations in the city (in terms of ridership) are in the area: the Herald Square station and both the 7th Ave and 8th Ave Penn Station stops.

One way to help alleviate the horrific pedestrian congestion on the sidewalks would be to reopen and rehabilitate the existing tunnels connecting Herald Square – and even Bryant Park – to Penn Station.

Read “1,100 Pedestrians a Minute? Just Another Day at Penn Station,” from Mobilizing the Region

More on Penn Station’s underground tunnels

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Times Says "Give Amtrak a Fighting Chance"

In today’s editorial page, the New York Times calls for the federal government to stop short changing Amtrak and criticizes the idea of soliciting private proposals for a high speed link between NY and DC. “Where passenger rail works best, as it does in Europe, it is treated like the critical service it is and is publicly financed, like the highways,” it says. Here is the full text:

It started out as a real victory for passenger rail: the House and the Senate voted to give significantly more money to Amtrak to improve service and upgrade tired cars, tracks and other equipment.

But, as is so often the case in Washington, there was a catch. To get a big enough vote to override a threatened veto by President Bush, the House leadership obliged the worst instincts of Republicans. It included a measure requiring the government to seek proposals from private companies to construct a high-speed rail service between New York and Washington.

Conferees from the two chambers should throw that privatization provision out as they reconcile the bills. Amtrak deserves this chance, without dilution, after years of being shamefully shortchanged. Its current funding is a woefully inadequate $1.2 billion. The bills would roughly double that, and sustain it for five years. That would allow long-term planning, instead of Amtrak’s yearly fight for life.

Diverting money to a pointless experiment in privatization (the cost of land alone to build a parallel set of tracks would be prohibitive) is counterproductive. It would all but ensure that Amtrak remained inefficient and ill equipped to meet increasing demands for service. Its intercity routes this year may carry as many as 27 million passengers, 2 million more than last year.

Apart from that misguided addition, the bills are good over all. The two bills — whose primary sponsors were Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Representative James Oberstar of Minnesota, both Democrats — require more accountability from Amtrak, and the states. To get states to determine and address local needs, the bills wisely include incentives, like 80 cents in federal money to match every 20 a state spends on rail.

Where passenger rail works best, as it does in Europe, it is treated like the critical service it is and is publicly financed, like the highways.

Lawmakers can no longer get away with shortchanging passenger rail. Rising gas prices and dependency on foreign oil are front and center in Americans’ minds, as are pollutants that contribute to climate change and respiratory illnesses. Airlines are responding to rising fuel prices by paring schedules, raising fares and charging for checked baggage. It’s no wonder that May was a record month for Amtrak.

Even with a relative windfall, Amtrak will not be able to deliver a French-style bullet train that can hit speeds of 200 miles an hour. But the only sensible way to get there is by starting now, with the critical investment that Amtrak needs to keep the nation moving.

Also, CQ Weekly has a major story on “Amtrak’s Critical Moment.” Colby Itkowitz and Kathryn A. Wolfe report that despite record breaking ridership numbers, “experts say Amtrak is in no position to capitalize on this good fortune. After years of living on meager subsidies from Congress while coping with high labor costs and a staggering maintenance backlog, Amtrak is essentially locked in place, dependent on the year-to-year whims of congressional appropriators and struggling just to maintain the status quo.”

Read “Give Amtrak a Fighting Chance,” from the New York Times

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Bloomberg and Paterson to Hold Monthly Meetings on Moynihan

In a promising sign for the future of Moynihan Station, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson held their first meeting to discuss Moynihan, the World Trade Center site, and other major projects yesterday. Here is a report from the Sun:

The first monthly meeting was held yesterday afternoon at the governor's Manhattan office. Mr. Bloomberg, who spoke to reporters after the sit-down, said it went well and credited the governor for making sure there is a good line of communication between the city and Albany.

"We worked well with the Pataki administration and with the Spitzer administration, but David Paterson seems particularly open to it," he said, according to a transcript of comments he made after the meeting, which was provided by an aide to the mayor.

Mr. Bloomberg did not hold regular, monthly meetings with governors Spitzer or Pataki. He said he has a formal meeting with the City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, once a week.

The meetings with the governor may be part of an effort to promote a unified relationship. Last month, the two leaders sought to distance themselves from a report that said the governor, in a private conversation, called Mr. Bloomberg an untrustworthy, angry man who is out of touch with regular New Yorkers.

Adding further pressure to the relationship are polls showing that the mayor would be a popular gubernatorial candidate, even though he has said he will not run for the office.

Read “Bloomberg, Paterson Seek to Chart Unified Course,” by Grace Rauh for The New York Sun

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Amtrak on the Campaign Trail, Garodnick Wants Federal Infrastructure Funds

In an article for today’s Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson writes that “train travel is finally becoming a third rail of politics,” and “the first one to fry over it might be John McCain.”

For years, McCain, in the comfort of cheap gasoline for autos and airplanes, made Amtrak a personal whipping boy. Despite the fact that governments in Western Europe and Asia zoomed far ahead of the United States by supporting high-speed trains to relieve congestion, promote tourism and now as we are coming to know, save the planet, McCain has spent considerable capital in denying the passenger rail system the capital to modernize.

At this point, the current Amtrak passenger boom and capacity crunch has been well documented by the national media. Obama is a supporter of high-speed rail, which would include the proposed DC/NY system and, possibly, a funding boost for Moynihan Station.

The House and Senate have passed bills calling for new investments in passenger rail, creating the same federal incentives for states to invest in rail service, offering 80 cents for every 20 cents spent by the states. Barack Obama is a cosponsor of the Senate bill. Noting on his website that he is committed to the development of high speed rail, Obama said, "In many parts of the country, Amtrak is the only form of reliable transportation."

In the section of McCain's website called "reforming our transportation sector," there is no mention of rail. There is only his clean-car challenge to automakers, his $300 million prize to design battery cars, and enforcing only existing gas mileage standards. When The Washington Post reported on how President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget did not include a subsidy for Amtrak, would kill both $20 million for the next generation of high-speed rail, and $250 million for railroad rehabilitation, it quoted McCain as saying on television, "I'm glad the president is coming over with a very austere budget."

The luster of austerity is gone. Public transportation is becoming a real issue for the campaign trail. If so, McCain has all but handed Obama a golden spike to beat him over the head with.

Also, New York City Council Member Daniel Garodnick penned an editorial for today’s New York Sun calling for more federal support for the repair and expansion of the infrastructure system.

It is safe to say that the federal government has an interest in New York City remaining a global center of commerce, one with a mass transit system that can support a growing population, and a healthy infrastructure that does not endanger residents or discourage business, unlike the case of last summer's eruption of an 84-year-old steam pipe in Midtown Manhattan.

The extension of the no. 7 subway line to the Hudson Yards area is underway and when it's complete, its $2 billion price tag will have been paid entirely by the city of New York. Same goes for the $6 billion cost of building a third water tunnel that will serve New York City. Indeed, state and local governments foot most of the bill when it comes to infrastructure investment.

Add Moynihan Station to the list!

Read “McCain’s Agenda on Amtrak,” by Derrick Jackson for The Boston Globe

Read “Rebuilding New York,” by Daniel Garodnick for The New York Sun

Also, the National Association of Railroad Passengers has an excellent explanation of why the “mandate for profitability” is unfounded.

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The Economist Says it is Time to Revive our Infrastructure

The Economist has an excellent article on the critical state of our nation’s infrastructure in its current issue. After describing the ills the article prescribes a cure for projects not unlike Moynihan Station:

The federal government should do what it can to ensure that these [metroregions], first of all, have the infrastructure they need to thrive.

This means, among other things, an enhanced federal role in projects that cross state borders, including not only the interstates but intermodal freight and high-speed rail. A better system for evaluating a project’s benefit—within a broader strategy for economic development, for example—would help the public get more for its money. Metros would be given more incentives to reduce congestion and sprawl.

In New York, the MAS believes a meaningful step in the right direction would be for Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg, co-founder of the Building America's Future coalition, to host an infrastructure summit of all the major players to discuss the status and evaluate the public benefits of all current projects, including Moynihan Station, Hudson Yards, the 7 line extension, the 2nd Ave Subway, Lower Manhattan/JFK link, etc., in order to set some priorities for moving forward in a tough economic environment. A clearer sense of what is most important and a public display of leadership might even attract more federal support.

Read “The Economist Says it is Time to Revive our Infrastructure,” from the Economist

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Vornado's Roth on MSG Air Rights: “Come to Mama”

After a few quiet weeks in the world of Moynihan, the Farley Post Office emerged unscathed from a two-alarm fire on Tuesday night and Steve Roth, chairman of Vornado, and Steve Ross, chairman of Related – the Moynihan Venture tag team – spoke about the project at a real estate breakfast this morning in New York. The Venture's latest scheme is to get the Port Authority to buy the Garden from the Dolans and liberate the coveted air rights on the arena site. Eliot Brown of the Observer has this report:

In case there was any doubt, Steve Roth and Steve Ross really want Madison Square Garden to move.
This morning, some 13 weeks after Madison Square Garden announced it was renovating and staying in place (i.e. not moving), the developer duo professed, once again, their eagerness to see the Paterson administration pick up the ball and move forward with the large-scale Moynihan Station plan. The plan, in its most recent iteration, would involve the state using Port Authority money intended for regional transportation projects to buy the Garden and its air rights from the Dolan family—that is, if they’re willing to sell (the Dolans have expressed no interest and are moving forward with the renovation).

Mr. Ross is the chairman of the Related Companies and Mr. Roth is chairman of Vornado Realty Trust, the two designated developers in the project that would redo Pennsylvania Station.

Why not let the dream die? The air rights that would be unleashed from the Garden moving, as Mr. Roth reminded the crowd at the Portfolio real estate breakfast at the Four Seasons Pool Room, are of great value.

“Since Vornado owns all the property around it, and half the air rights above Madison Square Garden, obviously, it’s ‘Come to mama,’” he said.

Some other tidbits from the breakfast:

• Mr. Roth was candid as to why he wants the Garden to move to Farley: It’s the only other place they’ll consider besides their current site, he said. “We don’t care if they move to Iowa. ... They can move as far west as they want.”

• Apparently the plan to move the Garden to the rear of the Farley building was the brainchild of Mr. Ross, at least according to Mr. Roth.

• Mr. Ross likes the Port Authority for reasons other than just its money. As he put it, “If the Port Authority does it, there isn’t any additional approvals, and you don’t have to go to the state or Shelly [Silver, the Assembly speaker] to get approvals to make it happen, so I believe that the governor will see it that way.”

• Mr. Ross and Mr. Roth seemed to differ some in how strongly they feel about pushing the larger plan. Mr. Ross said he was optimistic that the whole thing would come together, (rating its chances 8 out of 10). Mr. Roth has previously trumped a scaled-down “Plan B,” though talk of that was absent today (at the end of the discussion on Moynihan, Mr. Roth put the chances of everything coming together at 7.5 out of 10 … though he also added later that the reason the two were so optimistic was there was a tenant in the room, looking squarely at S.I. Newhouse, whose Condé Nast is on the hunt for a new office tower.

Read “For Moynihan, Two Steves Still Want MSG to ‘Come to Mama,’” by Eliot Brown for New York Observer

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NYT: Travelers Shift to Rail as Cost of Fuel Rises

The steady drumbeat of news on the recent growth in passenger rail travel continued on Saturday when the New York Times reported that Amtrak is “bumping up against its own capacity constraints” as intercity trains are already sold out for some days this summer. However, “despite its popularity with passengers, the biggest determinant of the railroad’s health is still the federal government, and in Washington, views diverge sharply,” according to the article. The future of Amtrak “hinges on who wins the White House; Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, was a staunch opponent of subsidies to Amtrak when he was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Barack Obama, the probable Democratic nominee, was a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill to provide an 80/20 financing match.”

Amtrak is an alternative to airlines along the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, and on some routes out of Chicago and a few in California. But most of its other routes are so slow that people take those trains because they have no alternative to reach places like Burlington, N.C., or Burlington, Iowa. Or they go for the train ride itself.

The railroad carried about 25 million passengers last year and may hit 27 million this year. (That is all intercity traffic; commuter rail, connecting suburbs and cities, is also growing, but that is not Amtrak’s market.) By contrast, the airlines carry about 680 million domestic passengers a year. If Amtrak were an airline, in terms of passenger boardings it would rank approximately eighth, behind Continental and US Airways and ahead of AirTran and JetBlue.

H. Glenn Scammel, a former head of staff of the rail subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the railroad should give up on some of its cross-country trains and redeploy the equipment on relatively short intercity trips, where it could provide enough frequency to attract new business. (Providing one train a day in each direction will not draw many new business travelers.)

But the railroad’s labor contracts provide stiff penalties for dropping routes, and dropping states from its itinerary would hurt its political support, especially in the Senate, where thinly populated states are overrepresented relative to their population.

Scarcity is not all bad for the railroad, though. It has raised ticket prices, so that it recorded ticket revenues of $153.4 million in May, up 15.6 percent from $132.7 million in May 2006. That jump is higher than the ridership increase of 12.3 percent, to 2.58 million, from 2.30 million.

Read “Travelers Shift to Rail as Cost of Fuel Rises,” by Matthew Wald for The New York Times


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