Amtrak Considers Selling Real Estate for Development

Amtrak will consider selling or leasing real estate it owns in New York, Washington, Baltimore, Chicago and Philadelphia as part of a plan to raise money, the U.S. passenger rail operator’s chairman said.

The intercity railroad needs funds to keep up with a system that has seen record ridership, Chairman Anthony Coscia said during a panel discussion at a Manhattan conference sponsored by the Urban Land Institute. Among the sites under review is Sunnyside Yard in western Queens, which is used by Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit.

A sale or rental of rail yards would open up land for development in the five cities, following the examples of Hudson Yards in Manhattan and Atlantic Yards in downtown Brooklyn, both Long Island Rail Road staging areas. The projects account for about $25 billion of present and planned development in New York by Related Cos. and Forest City Ratner Cos., respectively.

“We own a ton of real estate assets, and they’re all in center-city areas in very active, vibrant places where development is a true opportunity,” Coscia said at the conference. Selling or leasing sites “would have the benefit of helping urban development in places where we have a very significant service area, but equally a financial value to Amtrak, because we could monetize real estate assets.”

Amtrak is doing “due diligence” on the sites, and should be in a position to approach developers by March, he said.

‘Perfect Example’

Coscia called Sunnyside Yard “a perfect example” of a site for a real estate project. The area, near the eastern bank of the East River, is part of a corridor stretching from such Brooklyn shoreline neighborhoods as Sunset Park and Williamsburg, to Long Island City in Queens, that have seen property values soar with an influx of young technology and media workers.

Jeffrey Rosen, director of real estate for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said at an earlier conference session that officials of his agency in recent weeks to talk about possible development of the Sunnyside Yard. The authority operates the Long Island and Metro North railroads, and the New York City subway system.

Coscia said Amtrak’s plan is an outgrowth of a 2011 restructuring, which he called “a very aggressive effort to plan the future needs of passenger rail.”

Amtrak has been looking at building a tunnel across the Hudson River that would relieve a bottleneck plaguing commuters from New Jersey and take pressure off the existing tunnels, which are more than 100 years old and were damaged in Hurricane Sandy. The rail operator also has been exploring ways to implement a high-speed system similar to the intercity trains in Japan and Europe.