LIRR riders could find their regular trains more crowded than usual, diverted to a different location or canceled altogether when the latest round of construction-related service disruptions begins at Penn Station today.
As the next phase of Amtrak’s infrastructure renewal project at Penn Station starts, the LIRR will operate with one less track at the Manhattan transit hub for at least the next three months — restricting the railroad’s capacity to run trains to and from its main terminal.
To help ease crowding while the service changes are in effect, the LIRR is adding two morning trains and three afternoon/evening trains, and is adding cars to certain trains to increase seating capacity.
In total, six morning trains and six evening trains will be rerouted or canceled the next several weeks, which could be a major inconvenience to commuters already reeling from rough on-time performances in 2018.
“It’s definitely not comforting,” said Hicksville commuter David Mitzman, whose 5:17 p.m. Port Jefferson branch train is being combined with another canceled train — squeezing many more riders into each car. “It’s going to be really bad until they resume the schedule.”
Amtrak’s work at Penn will focus on renewing tracks primarily used by the LIRR. Track 18 is expected to be out of service for several weeks beginning today, before work shifts to Track 17 and then to Track 16 around the end of March, according to the LIRR. Amtrak's renewal efforts have entailed the replacement of all track components, including concrete ties and steel rails.
The work marks the return of the construction-related outages at Penn that began in July 2017, when a series of major infrastructure failures at the century-old station led to Amtrak taking several tracks and switches out of service for repairs and upgrades. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo dubbed the first phase of the effort “the summer of hell,” but some service disruptions remained in effect until September 2018, when Amtrak shifted its work to mostly overnight hours and weekends.
“Amtrak’s Penn Station renewal work is critical to the LIRR’s continued operation to Manhattan’s West Side, and needs to be done as quickly as possible,” LIRR President Phillip Eng said in a statement last month. “We appreciate our customers’ patience as this important infrastructure work continues.”
Although the railroad’s published schedule changes run only through March, LIRR officials have said the same, or similar disruptions, likely will last through May, as Amtrak tackles other work at Penn.
Amtrak has said it is working with the LIRR “to minimize service impacts to commuters as much as possible, and would like to thank LIRR customers for their patience and apologize for any inconvenience during these two months.”
“We remain committed to finishing these projects on time, within budget and safely, with the goal of improving New York Penn Station’s infrastructure operations performance and reliability,” Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said.
There are some indications that Amtrak’s efforts to modernize Penn Station’s aging track infrastructure have made a difference. Through the first 11 months of 2018, LIRR delays caused by Amtrak, which owns and maintains Penn Station, fell by 52 percent as compared with the same period in 2017.
And many of the planned service changes are not related to Amtrak’s work, but rather a separate effort by the LIRR to relocate some tracks in Queens to make room for a portal to the newly bored tunnels connecting the railroad to Grand Central Terminal as part of the MTA’s $11.2 billion East Side Access project. That project is scheduled for completion in 2022.
Those changes, which will last until Feb. 1, mostly involve trains skipping some stops and/or departing a couple minutes earlier than usual.
Two morning trains on the Montauk line will terminate early in Jamaica, rather than complete their usual trips to Long Island City. That will force some Suffolk commuters, including Lynne Denis, of East Moriches, to wait 15 minutes or more at Jamaica for a connecting train.
“People have to go to work. You can’t just say, ‘Stagger your hours or take a later train.’ People have baby sitters . . . They have a life,” Denis said. “It’s only for a month, but I hope that they’ll not do this in the future — that they will think twice.”