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Amtrak's Pledge For Penn Station Repairs Meet With Mixed Reviews From Lawmakers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Amtrak's intent to begin making long-overdue repairs at Penn Station has been met with a mixture of jubilation and consternation in Albany and Trenton.

CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, officials want their own engineers to weigh in, and make sure commuter inconvenience and delays are always minimized.

For a barometer of how elected officials are feeling about the unhappy saga of repeated mishaps and commuter delays at Penn Station, all anyone had to do was go to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meeting on Wednesday.

"I'm running out of words to explain the current situation," said Long Island Rail Road Chairman Mitchell Pally. "Intolerable and unacceptable."

"There's an obvious rising level of discontent," said Acting MTA Chairman Fernando Ferrer.

"What they told us two weeks ago is that they needed two weeks to come up with a plan," MTA Interim Director Veronique Hakim said. "My understanding is that's what we're going to hear tomorrow."

And after two derailments and mounting delays and cancellations affecting those who ride NJ TRANSIT, the LIRR and the Metro-North Railroad, as well as Amtrak, the new word is that Amtrak is hatching a plan to close some of Penn Station's 21 tracks for extended periods to make long-term repairs.

The still-secret plan, upon which the MTA Board is due to be briefed on Thursday, is being met with a combination of excitement and dread. There is relief that repairs are finally on the drawing board, and worry about all the commuters whose lives will be affected.

There is also a demand that Amtrak "make no decisions going forward until we thoroughly have the opportunity to understand what is going on," said MTA Board Member Lawrence Schwartz.

"This is going to have an impact on 250,000 daily Long Island Rail Road riders," Schwartz added, "and they deserve more."

Schwartz said New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants oversight.

"Penn Station is a debacle. It has been for decades," Cuomo said. "We have disregarded our infrastructure in this state and in this nation to a point where it's governmental malfeasance."

Schwartz said Cuomo wants "his opportunity to weigh in here, and what he thinks needs to be done as the governor of the state," Schwartz said.

A spokesman for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he also wants to monitor the situation, "to make sure these repairs by Amtrak address our deepest safety concerns and that they are done in the most timely fashion to reduce inconvenience to riders."

Also worried is city Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, girding for an expected increase in those deciding to forgo the trains and drive.

"We're very mindful of the challenges that presents," she said.

And those who have no option but the trains are also upset.

"This should have been planned years ago," said commuter Mike Ditore.

"It's not fair," added Michael Santana of Montclair. "It's not fair because we could lose our job."

NJ TRANSIT said it hears that complaint all the time. The railroad is now offering to provide riders with late notes – letters to bosses saying unexpected train delays made them late to work.

There has also been talk about legal action against Amtrak, but Ferrer says they don't want a fight, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported.

"We'd like to work collaboratively," he said. "It's in everyone's best interest."

Last week, New Jersey Gov. Christie and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called on the federal government to fund the Gateway Tunnel Project.

The new tunnel project was approved for fast-tracked environmental permitting and was in line for billions in federal grants under President Barack Obama.

In 2010, Christie canceled the ARC Tunnel Project and claimed to save taxpayers money. That project would have added a second tunnel to augment the current, 110-year-old tunnel.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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