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LIRR service at Penn returns to normal for Friday evening commute

Commuters wait for a Long Island Rail Road

Commuters wait for a Long Island Rail Road train at Mineola on Friday, April 7, 2017, as the railroad got back on schedule after a week of disruption. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Penn Station LIRR service finally returned to normal Friday, but not before one last chaotic commute caused by delays in repairs made by Amtrak, which faced new criticism from New York’s governor Friday for an “unacceptable” string of recent infrastructure problems.

Despite repeated assurances from Amtrak that it would complete its repairs to damaged tracks in time to restore full service into and out of Penn Station for the Friday morning rush, the LIRR did not regain access to all the tracks it uses until after 7 a.m. — about three hours later than expected when the morning commute was well underway.

The LIRR would have needed several hours lead time to position all its trains for a normal rush hour, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials. And so, shortly before 5:30 a.m., the railroad notified customers that it would, once again, cancel 10 trains “because Amtrak crews need more time to repair tracks at Penn Station” and did not give back the tracks by 4 a.m. “as promised.”

Amtrak offered no explanation for the final hiccup to the repairs that began Monday after a NJ Transit train derailed as it pulled into Track 9. Amtrak admitted Thursday that it had advanced notice of the problem that led to the derailment — weakened wooden rail ties — but put off repairs.

In a statement issued just before the evening rush hour, Amtrak said it had resumed scheduled operations at Penn Station, and thanked “all of our passengers and our commuter partners for their patience while we worked to make these necessary repairs.”

Commuters were relieved, but leery, at Penn Station on Friday evening — the first normal rush hour since Monday morning.

“Honestly ... what is ‘normal’? Twice, three times a week there is either a broken signal, a broken rail or electrical problems,” said Kim Riccio, 42, an office and account manager who commutes from New Hyde Park. “Thank God I am getting on my train tonight.”

“I will give it a week or two before I feel comfortable because it could happen again,” Raymond Garricks, 30, of Laurelton said.

On Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office weighed in for the first time on the tumultuous week at Penn Station. Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever in a statement said the latest in a series of Amtrak-related incidents — including another Penn Station derailment two weeks ago — was “unacceptable and disrupted service for hundreds of thousands of commuters.”

“Amtrak — by their own admission — failed to adequately maintain its service at Penn Station,” Lever said. “We have said all along that we will work with Amtrak to make improvements but considering that the safety of and service to our riders is our shared priority, there’s no need for excuses at this point, just action.”

Lever noted that Cuomo had directed the MTA to “seek immediate changes to the procedures” at Penn, which is owned and maintained by Amtrak, but primarily used and heavily subsidized by the LIRR.

Earlier this week, MTA’s top executives requested a meeting with Amtrak leadership to review the 40-year-old agreement under which the railroads share space at Penn.

With Maria Alvarez

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