A Train Runs Through It

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Every day, residents of Hunt’s Point, Parkchester and Co-op City watch trains roar right through their neighborhoods. Then they travel for miles to get aboard.

It wasn’t always that way. From 1872 to the 1930s, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad made Bronx stops on their way downtown or upstate. Today, there are alternatives, but the subway cars are jam-packed and the highways are parking lots. With unemployment in their borough at 9.3 percent, East Bronx residents are left with no convenient way to get to the suburbs, where many of the jobs are.

So it was no surprise that a few years ago, when Metro North asked area residents if they would use the company’s trains if it revived the old stations, the overwhelming answer was, “Yes.” Transit officials figured building new stations in the three Bronx communities, as well as in two spots on the West Side of Manhattan, would add another three million riders. Metro North plans to submit an environmental impact statement by January to the federal Department of Transportation.

But Bronx residents will have to wait for the platforms to open–for at least another decade. Metro North says the delay comes down to simple logistics. The Long Island Rail Road plans to redirect some of its trains from Penn Station to Grand Central. At that point, Metro North hopes to change its New Haven Line–shifting the trains so that they run through, and could stop at, Hunts Point, Co-Op City and Parkchester–into Penn Station. But, says Metro North spokesperson Dan Brucker, LIRR does not plan to budge until 2011.

Bronx residents say they can’t wait that long. “I don’t want to have to go to that station in a wheelchair,” says Arthur Taub, 68, chair of the Coalition of Residents and Merchants of Co-op City.

Along with residents of Hunts Point and Parkchester, he and some of his neighbors are waging a campaign: Build platforms in the three East Bronx neighborhoods now, and run trains north, starting at Hunts Point.

This summer, Taub’s group hired Dan Gallo, a railroad consultant and former planner for the Westchester County Department of Planning, to argue their case. He points to the booming use of the Fordham station in the middle of the borough as proof that reverse commuting to Westchester and Connecticut is on the rise: Between 1995 and 2001, northbound ridership from Fordham grew by 90 percent.

The project is still too costly to start now, says Brucker: It will cost an estimated $10 million to build each platform, and more on top of that to buy rights-of-way from Amtrak.

Assemblymember Stephen Kaufman, who represents Co-op City, has been pushing for a train station in his district–which doesn’t even have access to the subway–for the last 30 years. He says he intends to push Metro North to speed up its schedule. “These people shouldn’t be denied another 10 years,” he says.