Amtrak taps firm to lead design of new Penn Station tracks. And a new report has some ideas

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Amtrak announced it has chosen a firm to lead the design and engineering of new tracks and platforms to expand New York Penn Station.

London-based Arup Group, a firm that has worked on major transportation projects around the world, was tapped to lead the effort, according to a release from Amtrak on Thursday.

The design work is expected to take two years and cost $73 million, a bill that will be paid by Amtrak, which owns New York Penn Station. NJ Transit and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Long Island Rail Road are tenant railroads that use the station.

“The design will focus on development of new tracks and platforms, escalators and other vertical circulation elements, pedestrian concourses, and connections to existing and future facilities," according to a press release announcing the firm.

The environmental review will be led by the MTA and could begin later this year.

This work is separate from the request for proposals announced two weeks ago by leaders from New York, New Jersey and the three transportation agencies. That RFP, for which proposals are due July 23, is for renovations of the current New York Penn Station.

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Arup Group will be in charge of figuring out ways to increase the number of tracks that will have access to Penn. One proposal first highlighted in 2020 by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo would expand the station south with at least eight new tracks, but requires condemning at least a block of buildings including a church and several residential and commercial buildings.

Planning and preparation are also ongoing for a third piece of Penn Station updating: the $12.6 billion project to build two new Hudson River rail tunnels into the transit hub and rehabilitate the two currently feeding the station. Leaders from New York and New Jersey are working on a memorandum of understanding about how to split their costs of the project.

A new suggestion for Penn Station

Meanwhile, a new report from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign offers a plan to build just two new tracks south of New York Penn Station, and then in a second phase eliminate one of the central platforms at Penn to reconfigure the current tracks and rebuild the platforms so they’re wider. It would also extend two existing platforms in the south end so passengers can access the West End Concourse in Moynihan Train Hall.

This, author Liam Blank argues, would “allow for trains to simultaneously unload and load passengers, just as they do at every other rail station in the region, which will speed up service, provide more space for stairs and elevators, and allow for safer circulation of people throughout the station.”

The ultimate goal of this proposal, however, is contingent on a much more extensive vision to unify the three commuter railroads to create a regional rail system, grounded in a model adopted all over Europe, known as through-running. This concept means trains continue revenue service past the central business district, moving passengers more efficiently. Currently, service ends at the most popular train stations, like New York Penn and Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan.

In other words, the proposal would have NJ Transit trains continue past Penn and make stops in Queens and Long Island and up to Westchester County or Connecticut, while Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North trains would continue into New Jersey. Other advocacy and research groups, including the Regional Plan Association and ReThink Penn Station, have voiced support for regional rail.

Cuomo’s idea to build eight new tracks south of New York Penn Station included provisions that would allow for future through-running, but Blank notes that that idea is reliant on the future construction of “Gateway East,” two new tunnels through the East River that “might not be completed until 2080, if ever,” according to the report.

The report, however, mentions several challenges to making regional rail work. Those include:

  • Investments to make the three railroads operate on the same power system. They are currently a mix of catenary, third rail and diesel-run trains

  • New rail yards to store trains

  • Resolving labor issues to make train operations more efficient for more service

  • Using a more regionalized fare and transfer payment system

Amtrak declined to comment on the report. NJ Transit did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

Eugene Resnick, an MTA spokesman, said the agency agreed on the “basic principle that the economic success of the New York metropolitan area hinges on expanding ties between communities.”

He added that the MTA already has some efforts underway to improve the connectivity between the railroads by expanding LIRR access to Grand Central and Metro-North to Penn, as well as new fare options.

Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: cwilson2@gannettnj.com

Twitter: @colleenallreds

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: New Penn Station design will be led by Arup Group