Cuomo’s Plea to Trump: Send Emergency Cash to Fix Penn Station—Or Let New York Take It Over

The 34th Street-Penn Station train platform. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Gov. Andrew Cuomoviewed as one of the Democrats’ leading 2020 presidential contenders—urged President Donald Trump today to either allocate huge sums of federal money toward emergency repairs and construction at Penn Station, or let New York State take over massive transit nexus from the Washington-run Amtrak.

In a speech at the City University of New York Graduate Center, the governor noted the density of proposed and ongoing projects around the midtown transportation hub: state-federal plans to convert the the James Farley Post Office across the street from Penn Station into the Moynihan Train Hall, and to construct the Gateway Tunnel, a new Amtrak line under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. Cuomo also alluded to Trump’s resuscitation of his campaign promise of a $1 trillion infrastructure program, a notion the president revisited in a budget proposal released today that would otherwise drastically slash domestic spending.

The governor asserted his own vision of transforming the subterranean terminal into a bright airy new complex, linked to the Moynihan building, would fit perfectly with the president’s ideas for a reinforced and refurbished framework to undergird the American economy.

“What better single project could you have than this project? It would be an international transit hub, it would be the most used transit hub in the United States,” Cuomo told the audience. “It would be transformative for this state and for the Northeast region, and we could get it done for him and we could get it done in real time.”

The outreach follows a letter Cuomo penned to the president over the weekend following a rash of delays and malfunctions along Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Metropolitan Transportation Authority lines leading into Penn. Amtrak, a for-profit public corporation run and funded in part by the federal government, owns Penn Station and Albany and Trenton spend tens of millions of dollars each year to rent concourses for their state and local train systems.

Amtrak has announced a summer work program to address some of the mechanical failures, but has said the fixes will take six weeks and require limiting service. In his missive to the Queens-born commander-in-chief, once one of his premier donors, Cuomo warned that this plan would condemn travelers and commuters to “a summer of agony.”

Instead, the governor has proposed bringing in a private operator to expedite short-term repairs, and to oversee the grander transformation he has proposed. The only alternative, Cuomo asserted today, was to turn the complex over entirely to the State of New York.

The governor said this last option would allow the state to contract out with a combined architect and construction firm to simultaneously complete and integrate the Gateway, Moynihan and Penn projects. The Democrat even used some of Trump’s choice adjectives, lauding the “beautiful, beautiful” design of the Moynihan building.

“I believe that speed matters,” Cuomo said. “The best way to do this, if you want be out of all these levels of bureaucracy, is to do it as one unified project, under one project manager, and have the entire project work together.”

The governor also said he would convene a task force, a favorite strategy of his, to weigh short and long-term strategies for dealing with the short-term repair crises at Penn and its long-term future. The panel will include both GOP Long Island Congressman Peter King and Richard LeFrak, a longtime Trump family friend and fellow real estate developer. It also would feature representatives of the Nassau and Suffolk county executives, both Republicans who enthusiastically embraced the Manhattan businessman’s candidacy during the April primary last year.

Amtrak seemed to push back on the governor’s suggestion, blaming the conditions at Penn on “decades of underinvestment” by New York, New Jersey and the federal government. But it asserted it had finally moved to rectify the situation, and would push ahead with its plans for restoring the station over the summer.

“We are now taking the concrete steps, with funds we already have, required to fix it,” Amtrak President Wick Moorman said in a statement sent to the Observer. “The important thing for Amtrak now is that we exert the leadership and focus needed to improve the station’s infrastructure over the summer and do what is necessary to achieve our common goal—ensuring that passengers will no longer be traveling on aging infrastructure or worrying about when they will get to or from their destinations.”

Updated to include comment from Moorman.