MTA, Amtrak clash over LIRR contingency costs

- Things just got a lot more complicated at Penn Station. As commuters brace for a tough two months ahead with delays and service changes as the station undergoes long-needed repairs, the MTA and Amtrak are locking heads over the Long Island Rail Road. At issue is who will pay for LIRR's contingency plan.

Amtrak owns the station and the tracks and will perform the repairs. The MTA, which owns the LIRR, refuses to pay for the costs of implementing the schedule changes and alternate service for LIRR commuters. MTA Interim Executive Director Veronique Hakim said that the agency is looking to recover the expenses from Amtrak.

But Amtrak said that would jeopardize LIRR's ability to operate at Penn Station and also argued that it violates federal law. In a letter to MTA executives, Amtrak President Charles Moorman claimed that "The LIRR has no basis to seek compensation for such costs from Amtrak" and that withholding funds from Amtrak would "immediately trigger contract disputes over the LIRR's use of Penn Station."

Things escalated at an MTA board meeting Wednesday when Hakim said, "I will be consulting with our attorneys and others, of course, about our rights and abilities to do so."

MTA board members are urging the director to tread lightly with Amtrak and avoid a public battle.

"This is an emergency situation -- we've already acknowledged that," said MTA board member Veronica Vanterpool, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "We should be seeking federal resources and we should really, frankly, be doubling down on that."

MTA board member Polly Trottenberg, the New York City transportation commissioner, said that Amtrak funding is not worth going to court over given all the problems both agencies face.

"I think it would be a poor use of our resources and so I will boldly say I don't think we're getting the money out of Amtrak and sadly I don't think Uncle Sam is riding to the rescue either," Trottenberg said. "I'm all for marching to Washington and making those demands but I think we're going to have to accept the fact that we're going to be paying for all of this."

So what is the price tag of the LIRR's contingency plan? MTA executives said that depends on what how much backup service the contingency plan entails: how many buses, park and rides, ferry runs will be needed. The MTA will have a better idea in July but that is cutting it very close to when these repairs will start. 

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