Amtrak does not want to front the bill for at least eight weeks of Long Island Railroad schedule changes, fare reductions and ferry and bus alternatives during this summer's emergency Penn Station repairs, president C.W. Moorman confirmed in a letter to the MTA on Wednesday. The news comes a week after the MTA outlined a contingency plan of unknown cost, insisting the burden will not fall on commuters.
"The LIRR has no basis to seek compensation for such costs from Amtrak," Moorman wrote. He added that Amtrak estimates its contribution this summer to be between $30 and $40 million, and that the MTA's call for reimbursement would violate the authority's contract with Amtrak (the MTA rents terminal space from Amtrak at Penn Station).
Acting MTA Director Ronnie Hakim hinted at Wednesday's MTA Board meeting at a price tag in the millions for planned LIRR contingencies. Hakim also vowed to consult MTA lawyers about "our rights" to force Amtrak's hand. But some Board Members were skeptical, accusing Hakim and the MTA of poor planning in assuming Amtrak would pay. Some also demanded clarification on the cost of the plan, and argued that putting time and energy into avoiding the expense would be a waste.
"I think a shift of legal resources by the MTA to focusing on capturing payment from Amtrak is misguided, with due respect," said Veronica Vanterpool, a mayoral appointee to the board. "I think this is an example of how at times this agency goes astray in its priorities."
"We should be doubling down on seeking federal funding, and focus our legal team on addressing funding [issues] in D.C.," she added.
Other members of the board said that they doubted the federal government would come through. Amtrak's federal funding was cut in 2015, and Trump's vague infrastructure plan could also spell cuts. "We would always like to talk about the receipt of federal funds," said acting board chairman Fernando Ferrer. "I don't engage in fantasy, so let's be realistic about this."
Polly Trottenberg, a mayoral appointee to the board and commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation, was more blunt.
"I will boldly say, I don't think we're getting the money from Amtrak and sadly I don't think Uncle Sam is riding to the rescue either," she said. "I think we're going to have to accept that we're going to be paying for this. So I have a basic question: what's the price tag?"
Here's the first graph of 4-page letter from Amtrak CEO to MTA 2day in which Amtrak says it will not pay for LIRR plan pic.twitter.com/3DbLVg9Ed1
— Emma Whitford (@emma_a_whitford) June 21, 2017
The total cost of the LIRR mitigation plan could fluctuate, Hakim said, depending on how many charter buses are needed, and how many riders purchase reduced fares.
Reduced fares were also a sticking point for board members on Wednesday. Some predicted that other MTA users, including subway riders, may demand them. "We should be mindful that this does potentially establish a significant precedent," said newly-minted board member Carl Weisbrod, a mayoral appointee.
That wouldn't be a bad thing, argued Suffolk County board member Mitchell Pally. "I agree we should do the exact same thing, whether that's for the L train riders [during impending tunnel work].... when people are being inconvenienced, we should give them something back."
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams made a similar suggestion this week, demanding reductions for all inconvenienced subway riders.
"I'm happy to see the Long Island Railroad riders get treated nicely: fare discounts and free Taste of New York food and beverage [on LIRR charter buses], on-site customer service, free reading materials, phone charging and wifi stations—sounds awesome," Trottenberg said. "But we have a lot of subway shutdowns I want to point out. Can we get some comparable compensation and amenities there? What's our policy on that? I have to stand up for the subway riders here."
Amtrak confirmed this summer's emergency repairs in April, in the face of mounting service delays and residual commuter headaches.