CO-OP CITY, the Bronx — It’s been talked about for decades, but now, funding and government commitments have been made to a proposed new Metro-North line that would connect the East Bronx to Penn Station in Manhattan, and to various destinations between the Bronx and New Haven, Connecticut.
However, one thing stands in the way, according to Bronx officials, and that one thing is significant: Amtrak has not yet agreed to the project and it owns the tracks on which the new trains would ride.
The situation was the reason why Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. was leading a petition drive on Friday at the Mall at Bay Plaza.
"We're telling Amtrak to get out of the way of negotiations," Diaz told PIX11 News.
According to his office, volunteers were on pace to have collected 2,000 signatures from East Bronx residents calling on Amtrak to agree to terms with the MTA and state and city officials to open the four stations that have been formally planned for the area since 2014.
Last year, the New York State legislature approved nearly $695 million in funding to build stations at Hunts Point, Parkchester—Van Nest, Morris Park, and Co-Op City. Metro-North trains on the New Haven line would ride along the tracks, but those tracks are owned by Amtrak.
It has not yet agreed to the stations-building project, but remains in talks about it with the MTA and other parties.
One of those other parties, the borough president, pointed out that the appropriation for the stations' construction is part of the state's five-year spending plan. B
orough President Diaz said that he's concerned that the five years will run out without Amtrak having signed on, and that after that period, it will be that much more difficult to get the necessary funds.
Constituents of his who spoke with PIX11 News agreed.
"Amtrak, you know, should do something," said James Fobbs, while he waited for the only form of public transportation from Co-op City, the city bus system. "It'll make transportation much faster," he said about the prospect of building a commuter rail station in his community.
Doris Bailey, another Co-op City bus passenger, echoed Fobbs's message. "It would make it easier, transportation-wise," she said. She complained that there was no alternative to taking the bus, especially for getting into Manhattan. "Then you have to wait for the MTA train, [and] sometimes that's late," Bailey told PIX11 News.
The East Bronx Metro-North train plan has been considered since the 1980s, but it wasn't until the beginning of this decade that it got serious traction. New York City's Department of City Planning conducted a three-year planning process that concluded in 2014. It, in turn, played a role in the state's funding approval.
For its part, Amtrak has sought to get the state, through the MTA, to pay for more infrastructure improvements, including the Pelham Bay rail bridge, which runs just northeast of the proposed Co-op City station.
Amtrak's lack of signing is getting significant pushback from the borough president.
"Don't be a Scrooge, be the Santa Claus," Diaz told PIX11, referring to Amtrak. "Sign the agreement, and let's move forward."
Amtrak released a statement indicating that while it's open to an agreement in the future, it doesn't want it to jeopardize any of its own railway projects.
"Amtrak has been cooperating with MTA’s planning efforts regarding the proposed expansion of Metro-North train service into Amtrak’s New York Penn Station, which would include construction of four new commuter rail stations on Amtrakproperty in the Bronx. Amtrak and MTA executives have met frequently in recent months to try to reach agreement on a number of key issues regarding design, construction and ultimately train operation of this project, in order to ensure that the proposed expansion of Metro-North service does not adversely impact Amtrakintercity passenger rail operation, which will see a significant expansion in 2021 with the introduction of expanded Acela Express service between New York and Boston.
In addition, this proposed project must be integrated with other key regional priorities, including Moynihan Station development, East Side Access, East River Tunnel Rehabilitation, the Gateway program and other projects sponsored by commuter, state and local agencies and commercial development entities, as well as ongoing operation of Amtrak, NJ Transit, Long Island Rail Road and freight rail service in this area."