Penn Station debate offers lessons for Boston

New York City is having its own North-South Rail Link debate, just on a much bigger scale.

State and federal agencies in New York are pushing for a $20 billion Gateway Tunnel project that would add more tunnels under the Hudson River and new tracks at Penn Station. But a Manhattan think tank called ReThink Studio says some tweaks to the proposal could ease congestion at Penn Station and dramatically expand capacity.

Like North and South Stations in Boston, Penn Station is a terminating point for commuter rail. New Jersey Transit comes in from the west and the Long Island Rail Road from the east. Trains pull into Penn Station, unload their passengers, and typically have to go back the way they came. It’s a time-consuming process as arriving trains have to wait for departing trains to leave and then wait again as arriving passengers offload and departing passengers board.

The process is complicated by the fact that Penn Station is the busiest terminal in the United States, serving 650,000 passengers a day. Throw in a train derailment or two, as occurred in March and April, and you have all the ingredients for a hellish commute.

ReThink believes there is a better way. Its proposal, ReThink NYC, would make Penn Station just another stop on the New Jersey and Long Island rail lines rather than a terminus. It also wants to widen and redesign the station’s congested platforms so arriving passengers could exit a train on one side and departing passengers could enter on the other.

The think tank is proposing to pare back the number of tracks at Penn Station from 21 to 12, double the width of the platforms to 38 feet, and triple the number of stairs and escalators needed to move passengers up and out of the station. ReThink believes the changes would cut a train’s dwell time at Penn Station from the current 18 to 22 minutes down to 6 minutes. That would allow operators to run 92 trains through Penn Station in each direction during peak hours, a 50 percent increase.

There are many more elements to the New York plan, including new transportation hubs in the Bronx and Queens. But the basic debate in New York is eerily similar to the debate in Boston over whether to expand the number of tracks at South and North Stations or build a tunnel between the two stations to allow trains to pass through the city.

US Rep. Seth Moulton and former governor Michael Dukakis have led the charge in Boston for the North-South Rail Link, saying the connection could be transformative for the city and the region. Hard-core transportation officials in the Baker administration and the Legislature are skeptical, wary of the cost of building a tunnel under Boston.

The big difference is that New York has ReThink, a think tank that has captivated transportation wonks in the Big Apple with its detailed plans and its easy-to-follow videos explaining how a “through-running station” would improve mobility. By contrast, Boston has a couple pols talking up the benefits of a North-South Rail Link and a $1.5 to $2 million state feasibility study that is only now about to be awarded. I hate to say it, but Boston can learn a lot from New York City —  again.

–BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

One of the state’s leading pot advocates says he is puzzled by the retail marijuana moratoriums enacted by so many communities. (Telegram & Gazette)

State Sen. Julian Cyr pushes for a budget amendment that would preserve grant funds for LGBTQ youth services. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A black bear wandering around the Tower Hill neighborhood of Lawrence was tranquilized and carted off to more natural surroundings by officials from the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife. (Eagle-Tribune)

Braintree town councilors say they support permanently shuttering the problem-plagued Motel 6 where a police officer attempting to serve a warrant was shot in the latest incident. (Patriot Ledger)

A $26 million health care center that was slated to be built in Lowell is now moving to Dracut. (Lowell Sun)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

An apparent suicide bomber killed at least 22 people, including children, at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, in what police say was a terrorist attack, though they declined to identify the bomber’s nationality. (New York Times)

The budget President Trump plans to unveil contains huge increases in spending for military and border security while slashing Medicaid, nutritional assistance, and other social programs for the poor at the same time as granting huge tax cuts. (New York Times) The Globe’s Evan Horowitz says the spending proposal “should kill any lingering notion of Trump as populist.”

Fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn refuses to hand over documents and will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to a subpoena from a Senate panel probing the Trump administration ties to Russia. (U.S. News & World Report) US Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee, says Flynn misled Pentagon investigators about the source of payments he received from companies and officials in Russia. (New York Times)

The Trump administration narrows the definition of sanctuary city and limits the penalties municipalities can face for not cooperating with federal authorities on immigration matters. (Governing)

Haitian immigrants who came to the United States on emergency temporary visas after the devastating earthquake in their country in 2010 believe they will be forced to return after the Trump administration extended the visas for six months rather than the normal 18, a signal the program’s end is at hand. (Standard-Times)

ELECTIONS

Newton Mayor Setti Warren says “economic inequality” will be the centerpiece of his run for governor. (Greater Boston)

A video shows former state representative John Stefanini, a strong advocate behind the push to make Framingham a city and a candidate to become its first mayor, removing an opponent’s campaign display at the town library and placing it behind a trash can. Stefanini insisted the display violated state and local campaign laws but officials said it did not. (MetroWest Daily News)

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is in full campaign mode, but some of it is no harder than simply wielding the outsize power of his office and having compliant city councilors sing his praises and collect nominating signatures for him. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Pittsfield-based Berkshire Bank announced plans to acquire Worcester-based Commerce Bank, a merger that would make it the largest state-chartered bank in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe)

Billionaire investor Gerald Chan, who already owns a big chunk of Harvard Square real estate, bought his third large parcel in the Savin Hill area of Dorchester. (Boston Globe) Chan’s Dorchester acquisitions were a topic discussed in last week’s Codcast with Dorchester Reporter editor Bill Forry.

EDUCATION

A Lowell Sun editorial decries the lack of civility in the debate over where to locate a new high school in Lowell.

Joan Vennochi says Mystic Valley Charter School’s hair extension ban may have been ill-considered, but it wasn’t racist — and she points out the high achievement scores of the school’s black students show the school is doing something right academically. (Boston Globe)

Pioneer Institute’s Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass give state education commissioner Mitchell Chester a flunking grade and say it’s time for him to go. (Boston Herald)

St. Paul’s School says 13 former faculty and staff members engaged in sexual misconduct with students over a four decade span at the elite New Hampshire prep school. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Officials from the nursing home industry say the facilities are in “crisis mode” with staff vacancies and minimal cash reserves because of reduced state payments. (State House News Service)

TRANSPORTATION

State transportation officials press the MBTA unions for pension concessions. (CommonWealth)

The T is missing out on college student market as officials acknowledge the university pass is not being marketed properly. (CommonWealth)

The state Department of Public Utilities holds hearings today on new regulations governing the screening of drivers for ride-sharing companies as business and social-justice advocacy groups argue that the proposed rules overreach and deny too many people a chance at a livelihood. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected requests by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and others to stop tree cutting in Otis State Forest to expand an existing pipeline corridor for a third line. (Berkshire Eagle)

Pilgrim nuclear power plant, which has been offline for six weeks, was reconnected to the grid after being refueled for the final time before being permanently shut down in 2019. (Patriot Ledger)

A new section of the Neponset Greenway running to Mattapan Square opens for use. (Dorchester Reporter)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Salem News editorial says a Supreme Judicial Court ruling is wreaking havoc with the public’s right to know whether a sex offender is living in their midst, sometimes with devastating consequences.

Jury selection begins in the murder trial of Michael McCarthy, charged with killing 2-year-old Bella Bond in 2015. (Boston Globe)

A West Virginia man is facing federal wire fraud charges after he allegedly try to sell via a hoax ad on Craigslist two of the missing paintings from the 1990 heist at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Boston magazine profiles Linda Puzzuti Henry and says she, not husband John Henry, is the real ownership power behind the Boston Globe.

The Sacramento Bee launches a round of layoffs ordered by its corporate parent, the McClatchy Co. (Poynter)