Home Asides Report: LI senators holding Prendergast nod over Penn concerns

Report: LI senators holding Prendergast nod over Penn concerns

by Benjamin Kabak

For the latest in petty isolationist obstructionism, we need look no further than Long Island. As I noted last week, Thomas Prendergast’s nomination to head up the MTA seemed to be stalled as the State Senate has taken no action, and today, we’ve learned why. According to a Daily News report, Senator Charles Fuschillo is holding the Prendergast appointment due to fears over LIRR slots being cut from Penn Station in 2019.

For his part, Fuschillo denied such claims to Pete Donohue and is meeting with Prendergast today. The LI Republican says a vote could still come before the Senate breaks for the summer on June 20, but if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it usually is a duck. In fact, this isn’t Fuschillo’s first time bemoaning Penn Station Access. He voiced his opposition to it in May, and I remain incredulous at this Long Island response.

Penn Station Access — the plan to bring some Metro-North trains to Penn — will come into play once East Side Access is ready. Then, East Side-bound LIRR passengers will take advantage of the new midtown terminal while West Siders will head to Penn Station. With the Grand Central terminal relieving Penn of some LIRR trains, the MTA can better distribute riders from Westchester and points north. The entire region will benefit, but Fuschillo and his Long Island brethren can’t see beyond their enclave to the east. And so we wait, ridiculously, for Prendergast to whisper sweet nothings to the head of the Senate Transportation Committee while the nomination remains in limbo.

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Berk32 June 12, 2013 - 12:28 pm

This makes me embarrassed to be from LI.

I would like to think most LI people are smarter than this and that it is just typical local political BS.

Eric F June 12, 2013 - 3:23 pm

I would have thought that the Buttafuocos would have been responsible for that.

Larry Littlefield June 12, 2013 - 3:33 pm

I’ve said it before — the smarter people are getting embarrassed and fleeing. The grifter culture is taking Long Island down.

Nathanael June 17, 2013 - 1:55 pm

The problem, Larry, is not *just* that. The problem is that the number of grifters is sufficient to retain a large number of State Senate seats. If Long Island degenerated into “grifter paradise” but had an insignificant population, they wouldn’t be able to get away with this stuff.

Josh K. June 12, 2013 - 12:43 pm

Here’s a novel idea, why don’t the state senators from Long Island who are so worried about the Penn Station Access issue allocate money to EXPAND THE NUMBER OF TRACKS AT PENN STATION?

I can understand concerns, but this refusal to share is bullshit.
More tracks at Penn would fix a lot of problems FOR EVERYONE (LIRR, MNRR, NJT AND AMTRAK).

al June 12, 2013 - 1:12 pm

Nope, its an issue of resource utilization inefficiency. If they clear the trains faster, had through running, and moving block signalling, more commuter and intercity rail service could run into NY Penn (or GCT for MNRR for that matter).

There is also an issue of political grandstanding and CYA. Once someone, anyone, raised objections to plans for reducing slots into NY Penn for LIRR once ESA opens, politicians can’t be seen “standing by” or “giving away Long Island’s slots”.

Then there is competitions between suburbs. Its MNCR vs LIRR. Even though ESA provides a one seat ride to East Midtown for LIRR customers, real estate interests on the island don’t want to give northern suburbs anything in return for the $9+ billion investment and demolition of the MNCR GCT Madison Yards.

Stephen Smith June 12, 2013 - 1:22 pm

This is a horrible idea. You’re basically asking them to repeat the mistakes of East Side Access and build a bunch of unnecessary infrastructure (it would have to be a deep-level cavern, whose cost would be measured with ten digits) so that two government agencies can avoid leaning each other’s phone numbers?

Nathanael June 17, 2013 - 1:56 pm

It’s not more tracks which are needed. What’s needed is through running, where the trains just stop and continue (like a subway station) rather than reversing and crossing their own paths.

John-2 June 12, 2013 - 12:57 pm

While you can make a mild argument that you shouldn’t start decommissioning LIRR slots at Penn Station until the effects of East Side Access is known (i.e., the system could see a major jump in ridership), what Fuschillo can’t argue is to basically featherbed the LIRR track slots at Penn, so that they are still there even if vast number of LIRR riders decamp for Grand Central once ESA becomes available.

That would result in either running trains into Penn well under capacity (increasing costs to the MTA for crews and railcars), or the LIRR would simply end up hoarding the platform slots, which would not only irk Metro North passengers seeking West side Access, but also NJT, which would love to have additional rush hour platform space at Penn.

al June 12, 2013 - 2:11 pm

AMTRAK could have last say in this. They run the tunnels into and out of NY Penn and could move to declare LIRR need fewer slots and shift them to AMTRAK intercity trains.

Nathanael June 17, 2013 - 1:57 pm

Yes, they could. But I don’t know what Amtrak’s contract with the LIRR says. (Amtrak probably inherited a contract from the Pennsylvania Railroad, actually.)

Stephen Smith June 12, 2013 - 1:20 pm

What goes around, comes around. Metro-North forced LIRR to build a friggin’ deep-level cavern at Grand Central because they didn’t want to share tracks with a “lesser” railroad (true that LIRR is a shittier railroad than Metro-North, but it’s an in-the-land-of-the-blind situation), so it’s not surprising that LIRR is doing the same thing to Metro-North.

Idiotic, but given that nobody will admit (except off the record) what a dreadful mistake they made with East Side Access, I don’t see why we’d expect anything different with Metro-North’s plan to run trains to Penn. In fact, I’d count complaining-but-not-in-the-end-doing-anything-about-it as a huge victory over what happened at Grand Central, where Metro-North complained and won.

If Prendergast were a reformer, he’d come out and admit that East Side Access was a mistake (admitting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery!), and say emphatically that we’re not going to repeat these bullshit turf wars on the west side, and that Long Island should shut up and share its Penn Station slots with Metro-North. I’m not holding my breath, though.

Bolwerk June 12, 2013 - 2:33 pm

Many of the power brokers from the late 1990s/early 2000s who planned/supported ESA in the first place are still there, maybe even in higher leadership positions. Emphatically telling them they fucked up is probably a good way for a seemingly competent nominee to not get nominated.

Eric F June 12, 2013 - 3:30 pm

But what’s the nature of the ESA mistake? Is it that the LIRR didn’t condemn a block build a new station near the surface on 3rd Avenue? If so, that doesn’t force a “share Penn” solution for Metro North. Penn has capacity issues, so you’d still want those issues to be addressed.

g June 12, 2013 - 3:50 pm

That it may have been technically feasible to bring LIRR into the lower level at GCT while not really affecting MNRR operations. That would have negated the need for the ultra expensive deep cavern station.

LIRR is in a different situation at Penn since it belongs to Amtrak. They can’t keep MNRR out without maintaining service levels that don’t make sense (after ESA opens) nor are they likely to burn through a fortune in unnecessary operations to try.

Eric F June 12, 2013 - 4:02 pm

But Penn is capacity constrained in a way that GCT is not. It’s not the case that LIRR reducing service by a third causes tumble weeds to roll through the concourses. If anything, NJT could use those slots, although I’m not sure if the 1 x 1 tunnel arrangement makes using additionalplatform space more difficult.

D.R. Graham June 12, 2013 - 5:38 pm

But the point is if L.I.R.R. starts giving up slot they should want the slots to remain in the family instead of going to NJT or Amtrak.

g June 12, 2013 - 6:57 pm

NJT can’t use any slots freed up by LIRR shifting over to the ESA since the north river tunnels are already at capacity with existing NJT and Amtrak traffic.

MNRR can add service to Penn relatively easily by coming in over the Empire connection and Hell Gate line without negatively affecting Amtrak/NJT service once LIRR doesn’t need all its slots. GCT is actually tapped out capacity wise because the Park Ave tunnel and interlocking plant reach saturation. The terminal was never designed to deal with the volume of train traffic it’s now asked to handle during rush.

Stephen Smith June 12, 2013 - 4:19 pm

The nature of the ESA mistake is that Grand Central Terminal has more tracks and platforms than any station on earth, and yet the MTA felt the need to throw billions into building even more tracks and platforms because Metro-North didn’t want to share any of its excessive station turf with the LIRR, and nobody was willing to call them on their bullshit.

So no, it’s not that they didn’t condemn a block to build a new station – it’s that they built a new station at all.

JebO June 12, 2013 - 5:19 pm

Having their own dedicated platforms and tracks in Grand Central hurts the LIRR how exactly?

Alon Levy June 12, 2013 - 5:37 pm

Worse transfers to Metro-North in case someone might want to ride a train from Long Island to Westchester.

But the big hurt is not for the LIRR, but for the taxpayers who had to pay $8 billion for this turf war.

Larry Littlefield June 12, 2013 - 6:17 pm

Most of whom are in New York City.

Stephen Smith June 12, 2013 - 6:23 pm

To be fair, $8.8 billion (latest estimate for all of East Side Access) is not the cost of the turf war – the cost of the turf war is more like $1.9 billion (.pdf), which was the cost of the new LIRR terminal below Grand Central. (The vast majority of the rest of the $6.8 billion cost is almost certainly waste, as your series on non-US underground rail construction costs has shown, but not necessarily, or even primarily, collateral damage from turf wars.)

And I’d modify your statement and say it’s not the taxpayers who are being hurt, since the money would likely have been allocated to transit either way. Rather, it’s the riders who are not getting $1.9 billion’s worth of other, actually useful improvements.

Alon Levy June 12, 2013 - 10:03 pm

Would it? Since it came from cost overruns, probably if there had been fewer cost overruns the state would not have spent the money, or spent it in a different departments. Did they actually cut the budget to divert money to the cost overruns?

Stephen Smith June 14, 2013 - 1:19 pm

I imagine they just took on more debt for it, which will eat away at operating or capital funds in the future.

JebO June 13, 2013 - 10:30 am

So there is a good arguments that LIRR riders are hurt by the ESA deep cavern station, and obviously, taxpayers. But no one has yet said how the LIRR itself, as a railroad or as an organization, is hurt by having its own tracks and platforms and station. So I don’t think Stephen Smith’s assertion that the LIRR is somehow “getting back at” Metro-North stands to reason. This is a result of the myopic mindset of a few politicians, and nothing more than that.

Bolwerk June 13, 2013 - 12:27 pm

The LIRR is hurt for being made less useful.

But it’s really always the pols. They have the power to override/overrule the railroads and the MTA. They just don’t care enough to bother, or worse.

Alon Levy June 13, 2013 - 2:20 pm

The LI politicians listen to riders.

Stephen Smith June 14, 2013 - 1:20 pm

I didn’t say they’re getting back at them – frankly I don’t think they have that level of self-awareness. I’m saying that this is how these people think, and politicians have in the past abetted that thinking, so why should we expect them to think differently now?

Bolwerk June 12, 2013 - 4:34 pm

Penn has capacity issues how Chris Christie has hunger issues. The only expensive, pressing capacity issue at Penn is the shortage of tracks from New Jersey. Almost everything else can be alleviated by better operating practice.

Nathanael June 17, 2013 - 1:59 pm

The platform width is a real issue too. Platform overcrowding is dangerous, as is understood in the subway context. That isn’t a train capacity issue, that’s a pedestrian capacity issue.

Spendmore Wastemore June 13, 2013 - 4:46 pm

Why was East Side Access a mistake? I’m not familiar with the arguments either way.

BruceNY June 12, 2013 - 1:24 pm

In the meantime, there was an article in Sunday’s Long Island Newsday about a local politician complaining about the LIRR’s plan to add “pocket tracks” along the Pt. Washington branch in anticipation of increased scheduling needs once ESA is completed. Apparently a train parked on one of these tracks will simply “ruin” the quality of life in these towns. I know this subject was posted not too long ago, but I think the new article must mean that this politician is ramping up for a fight. I wonder then, if the LIRR chose to simply bypass the towns that complain altogether, would that improve their quality of life?

Epson45 June 12, 2013 - 2:22 pm

its a nothing to be concern, typical Smallbany politics.

Larry Littlefield June 12, 2013 - 3:35 pm

The fact that no one is concerned is part of the reason the scumbags in the state legislature get to destroy the state.

Eric F June 12, 2013 - 4:09 pm

LIRR is being singled out for NIMBYism here. The pocket track in Great Neck is being fought, but it looks like it’s advancing. When an HOV lane was added to the LIE in western Nassau, the part in the Little Neck area was scaled back, so there are no shoulders on the road heading into Queens as a deal to get the final bit of that stretch done. Nothing new.

D.R. Graham June 12, 2013 - 5:43 pm

In all honesty ESA is not a mistake. Keeping the railroad separate as much as possible should be a must because let’s say they did tunnel 63rd Lower into the Lower at GCT. MNRR then has the possibility to start buying into LIRR’s switching problems and vice versa. Penn is a totally different story considering what’s already going in and out of there.

Chris C June 13, 2013 - 2:26 pm

Patrick at LIRR Today has written a great piece that links to this issue which should be compulsory reading !


Benjamin Kabak June 13, 2013 - 2:30 pm

He and I had a bit of a back-and-forth about that on Twitter, and I think we disagree. You can’t put off planning for Penn Station Access for ten years. Otherwise, the project won’t see the light of day for another two decades.

Chris C June 13, 2013 - 4:16 pm

I don’t agree with everything he says – certainly the MTA needs to do some advance capital and schedule planning for various route options – but getting the politicians to shut up for a while on this might just be beneficial (but that won’t actually happen.)

What the MTA should do is say ‘how about seeing how things pan out and then change things based on that’

It’s generally called ‘evidence based policy / planning’ but you don’t seem to do a lot of that in the USA !

Mind we’re not that good at it in the UK with our current government not wanting to plan for Crossrail 2 before Crossrail 1 is up and running. All this does is add an extra few years (and £££) to the whole process which is to no ones benefit.

Nathanael June 17, 2013 - 2:01 pm

I continue to worry that the lack of double-tracking on the Empire Connection will hamstring attempts to run Metro North Hudson Line trains to Penn.

Spendmore Wastemore June 13, 2013 - 5:02 pm

Let’s see: LI gains X tracks at Grand Central and may lose half that at Penn, since they won’t use them once GC direct is in. Net win for LI, but they appear peeved that anyone other than themselves might benefit.
If LI attempts to block a regional plan which adds commuter service for the whole region, then perhaps they just want to block improvements that might be benefit others in addition to themselves.

Solution: Remove all subsidies from LIRR, which would shut it down for a while. Set up a reverse debt clock outside MSG showing how much is saved every second the LIRR is not running.
Next to that, install a Jumbotron with the photos and annual pension of every “disabled” LIRR retiree, along with pix of them playing golf, doing a BBQ, carrying stuff through airport security etc.



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