NJ Transit and Amtrak operate the major passenger rail lines in the state.
Inexperienced management, rising costs, and concerns about on-time completion are among the highlighted criticisms of Amtrak in a report released by the train operator’s inspector general regarding the Moynihan Train Hall renovation.
Amtrak’s portion of the $1.6 billion project was expected to cost $106 million and include about 100,000 square feet of space for a ticketed waiting area for its customers, ticket counters, baggage and handling, and office space.
Since work began in 2016, an additional $72.8 million has been requested of Amtrak’s board, a nearly 69% increase from their original contribution, according to the report’s author, Jim Morrison, the assistant inspector general.
“The program team is prioritizing completion of customer-facing spaces, but some ‘must have’ functions — including passenger information displays — have schedule risks that could impact the planned opening date at the end of 2020,” the lightly redacted report said. “In addition, the company is unlikely to deliver other spaces used for station operations and employees until March 2021.”
Amtrak’s current lease of office space is set to end in March 2021, but if the Moynihan office space isn’t ready to be occupied by then the company may have to extend its lease, which would tack on unanticipated additional costs.
Renovating the old Farley Post Office into the Moynihan Train Hall — which connects to New York Penn Station underground where several of its several tracks and platforms stretch across Eighth Avenue — is a long-awaited project that is expected open before the end of the year.
The project, which has been talked about since the early 1990s, began in 2014 as a collaboration between Amtrak and the Empire State Development Corporation. The corporation is responsible for about 90% of the project space, including the 225,000 square foot waiting concourse. They hired the joint venture of Vornado, Related and the contractor Skanska to develop and construct the main train hall, which is coordinating with Amtrak on their work but not directly in contract with the train company.
All Amtrak train operations will move to Moynihan from Penn Station and some Long Island Rail Road trains will have access to the train hall, providing more access points to enter and exit trains.
While the project does not include building more tracks or platforms, Moynihan’s opening is expected to provide much-needed breathing room for Penn Station users, primarily NJ Transit customers who will have some additional space to spread out in the waiting area with Amtrak moving to Moynihan.
The report lays out how the issues that contributed to inflated costs and construction delays for the Moynihan project are not new to Amtrak and have been underscored in 16 reports from the watchdog office over the last six years for different projects.
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During the first couple years of work on Moynihan, Amtrak officials did not put people in place with the necessary experience to oversee the project, according to the assistant inspector general.
“Executives did not ensure that the initial program team had the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to execute such a complex program,” the report said. “As a result, neither the team nor the executives identified and filled gaps in their resources for effectively managing and controlling the program for two years.”
In addition, there was no assigned finance manager in charge of reviewing and approving invoices and at one point Amtrak owed more than $1 million to its vendors.
In mid-2019, Amtrak began to address some of these issues by bringing on more experienced personnel to the project team, created a more robust procedure to approve change orders, and established a clear timeline of milestones and schedule risks.
Other challenges Amtrak faces stem from issues related to coronavirus, including the company’s decision to cut 20% of its workforce through voluntary separations this summer and possible layoffs in October. In addition, construction was halted for about 12 days in March because of the pandemic and some imported materials were delayed when suppliers were shut down.
“We thank the OIG for their review of the Moynihan Train Hall Project and for acknowledging recent program management actions have had a positive impact on the program,” Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said in a statement.
“While we don’t agree on all of the findings, we have already taken significant steps to improve project management of the Moynihan Train Hall Project, including firmly controlling overspend and current budget, reviewing all potential change orders and providing executive oversight governance. We are on track to complete the program by the end of the year.”
For its part, the Empire State Development Corporation maintained that the vast majority of the train hall’s renovation, which they are overseeing, is running smoothly.
“The Moynihan Train Hall will be complete by the end of this year, on budget and ahead of schedule and Amtrak leadership have assured us they will meet that timeline,” Eric Gertler, president and CEO-designate of Empire State Development, said in a statement.
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: [email protected] Twitter: @colleenallreds
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