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Cuomo, Christie Call For 'Private Operator' To Take Over Troubled Penn Station

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The governors of New York and New Jersey are joining forces in the fight to fix Penn Station.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Chris Christie sent a joint letter to Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Charles "Wick" Moorman late Thursday night, saying the situation at Penn Station "has gone from bad to worse to intolerable."

"Every commuter in the New York/New Jersey area agrees with us that drastic action must be taken to immediately remedy the situation," it read in part.

Extra: Read Cuomo & Christie's Full Letter To Amtrak

The governors are calling for a private operator to take over the troubled station.

"A professional, qualified, private station operator must be brought in to take over the repairs and manage this entire process going forward," the letter continued.

Earlier in the day, New York State lawmakers questioned Amtrak officials about their plan to fix problems at Penn Station and what impact it will have on commuters.

Speaking during Thursday's public hearing, Moorman said work on the station will take place in two, multi-week periods starting in July.

"The status quo is no longer sustainable," Moorman said.

Track outages, meaning tracks out of service at Penn Station, will start July 7th and last 19 days, then pick up again on August 4th for 25 days, CBS2's Dave Carlin reported. Then, there will be a third phase some time in 2018.

"We are clearly going to be starting some trains in different locations, and they won't be going through Penn," Moorman said. "It will impact everyone."

Which trains will have to be moved away from Penn Station during this period will be revealed next week.

Moorman said they don't yet know exactly what impact the work will have on commuters, but said Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road and NJ TRANSIT are "working together cooperatively with an absolute goal of trying to get this work done as quickly as possible and with the least amount of disruption for all passengers."

"We know this will be a challenging period for passengers and disruptive for all the station users, but it is clear that we need to take decisive action to ensure reliability for the long term," Moorman said.

He also defended Amtrak's ability to adequately maintain Penn Station, saying he has been "very impressed that Amtrak has been able to hold together this incredibly complex, busy and fragile infrastructure as well as it has, in spite of many impediments."

"We sincerely apologize for the disruptions that were caused by these events," Moorman said. 

State Senator Todd Kaminsky observed the back-and-forth hearing.

"The plans you heard for the summer are going to drive my constituents crazy. They are living a nightmare," he said.

"They're trying to cram 30 years of infrastructure repairs into three months," he added. "That's a negligent landlord."

Chairman of Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council Mark Epstein said other problems will likely persist well after the summer chaos.

"Our daily problems may not be over after this whole outage," he said. "Because if they don't fix the signal problems, we'll have the daily problems that we still have today." 

Fixing tracks to avoid train derailments won't necessarily stop signal problems, Carlin reported. Senators from New York and New Jersey are calling for more federal funding to make permanent repairs.

"What's going on is outrageous. People should be angry about it," U.S. Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.) added. "We've got to keep the heat on so we can get the resources necessary and the execution from critical players to fix the problems with our rail."

The hearing came after a third straight day of problems this week alone Wednesday at Penn Station. Many riders say they're reaching their breaking point.

"This is going to be a rolling disaster over the summer if they continue with this," one man said.

"I think I have to prepare a plan that says I have to be working from home a lot," Cheryl Grant, of Westbury, said.

"You don't know who to yell at," said commuter Kyle Holthus. "So I just try to grin and bear it."

"Things happen over and over again and people run out of patience," said commuter Mark Chersevani.

"This is absolutely terrible," said Port Washington resident Charles Ross. "This is an absolute disgrace."

"Typical," Inwood resident Kathy Giordonello said. "This is what we pay for, increased fares and less service."

"I don't want to live in New York anymore," said another man. 

The problems at Penn Wednesday night affected Amtrak, NJ TRANSIT and LIRR customers, with LIRR riders feeling the brunt of the impact.

First, there was a signal problem in the East River tunnel then a disabled train shutting down westbound service into Penn Station. And outbound, there was only limited service running on only four branches.

The crowds and the backups got so bad, police temporarily shut down the entrance into Penn at 34th Street and 7th Avenue.

Amtrak operates the tracks and NJ TRANSIT and LIRR are its tenants. Amtrak officials blamed Wednesday's problem on what they describe as dispatcher routing issues, but wouldn't elaborate.

From leaking ceilings to switch problems to derailments, it's been a rough few months for Penn commuters.

"We need the governor and the senator and people in office to come down here and be part of this," said Floral Park resident Dominick Correale. "Have them commute with us, put them on a train."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated last week that Penn is owned by the federal government with Amtrak operating as the landlord. The LIRR and NJ TRANSIT serve as tenants.

"I don't have the authority to do anything at Penn Station," he said. "So I am as frustrated as the riders are -- even more so."

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