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LIRR cancels 10 trains for morning commute, 4 others affected

Commuters wait for their trains in Penn Station

Commuters wait for their trains in Penn Station in Manhattan on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

The Long Island Rail Road said Wednesday it is canceling 10 trains for the Thursday morning commute, bringing riders another difficult trip in the wake of a Monday derailment that damaged tracks at Penn Station.

“As Amtrak crews continue repairing track damage at Penn Station, the Long Island Rail Road must cancel 10 trains to Penn Station between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., terminate three trains at Jamaica, and divert one train to Hunterspoint Avenue, Queens, because of reduced tracks available by Amtrak,” the railroad said in a statement on its website, adding that New York City Transit will cross-honor LIRR tickets at Jamaica, Atlantic Terminal and Hunterspoint Avenue.

Wednesday was the fifth chaotic commute in a row was caused by the track repairs needed at Penn Station and for the first time, Amtrak offered an estimate of when the work might conclude: by Friday.

The damage caused by Monday’s derailment had meant westbound service has been periodically suspended during the evening rush as repairs are ongoing.

Just after 5 p.m. Wednesday, the LIRR said it was restoring westbound service to Penn Station after an hourlong suspension. Westbound service to Penn Station on the Port Washington Branch was not suspended Wednesday evening, the LIRR said.

The LIRR has given up access to four Penn Station tracks it normally uses to allow NJ Transit and Amtrak to operate as repairs continue at the derailment site.

“Amtrak has advised us that the repairs to damaged track will take a matter of days, unfortunately,” LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski said Tuesday. “Because of that, we must continue to operate on a reduced schedule until all repairs have been safely completed.”

An Amtrak spokesman saidin a statement: “Our crews hope to restore regular service to New York Penn Station by Friday.”

Passengers who depart from LIRR stations at Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn and Hunterspoint Avenue in Queens can count on “near-normal schedules, it said.

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At Penn Station, the LIRR mainly is using tracks 17 through 21. However, commuters will have to be alert; the railroad said some trains might leave from tracks 10, 11 or 12.

Woodside Station commuters heading east also got a bit of relief. The LIRR said eastbound trains are now stopping at the station; earlier, it was bypassed for local track repairs.

Amtrak, which operates Penn Station, said the track repairs were unusually difficult because the NJ Transit train went off the rails where two tunnel tracks diverge toward 21 station tracks.

Major switch damage took eight station tracks out of regular use, Amtrak said, describing the location of the accident as “one of the most complex interlockings on the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak crews must operate heavy machinery while contending with overhead power lines and nearby moving trains, Amtrak said.

And the repairs are extensive.

“The damage from the April 3 incident includes multiple switches, signals and the mechanisms that control them, several rails, a rail crossing point, signal wires and other components,” Amtrak said.

However, both the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and NJ Transit demanded Amtrak improve Penn Station’s performance.

The MTA’s top two executives, in a letter to Amtrak president and chief executive Charles Moorman, criticized the agency for a series of “unacceptable infrastructure failures” in and around Penn Station, including Monday’s derailment.

MTA interim executive director Veronique Hakim and acting chairman Fernando Ferrer wrote that the increasing frequency of infrastructure problems has left “the clear impression that Amtrak is not aggressively maintaining its tracks, switches and related equipment at Penn Station and that repairs have not happened as swiftly as needed.”

Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman put out a statement saying: “We value our partnership with the commuter railroads and share the frustration these recent issues present to all of our customers. For this reason, Amtrak has requested the FRA join in a thorough review of infrastructure at Penn Station to evaluate current conditions.

“New York Penn Station is our busiest and most important station, and we take our role as host seriously and make every effort to keep it operating smoothly. We are investigating the causes of these recent derailments and will take prompt action to address them. We will continue to work with our partners at LIRR and NJ Transit to ensure that adequate work windows and funding are available to keep these heavily-used and aged assets functioning reliably as we pursue the long term goal of modernizing Penn Station infrastructure,” the Amtrak statement said.

The MTA leaders said in their letter that despite receiving assurances from Amtrak, that “more must be done.”

At a web cast news conference from NJ Transit’s Newark headquarters, its executive director Steven Santoro demanded that Amtrak meet its obligation to keep the Northeast Corridor in a state of good repair.

Santoro said NJ Transit, the LIRR and Amtrak should jointly conduct a comprehensive analysis that would including walking “every inch of track at Penn Station” to inspect the condition of all its tracks and signals.

While a cause of Monday’s derailment has yet to be determined, NJ Transit reviewed maintenance and inspection records for the trains involved and believes “those rail cars were in good shape,” he said.

“The bottom line message is that Amtrak needs to step up to the plate. We’re funding them, they need to take the conditions and state of good repair of Northeast Corridor seriously,” Santoro said.

Wednesday evening, Penn Station began to fill up with anxious commuters wondering if they will make it home on time.

“Going home is the hardest. I am tried and frustrated and I just want to get home,” said Carina Rostant, 23, of Valley Stream. “I have been getting to work late but my boss understands.”

Rostant said there were three train cancellations on Wednesday morning from Valley Stream. Rostant said that the Wednesday 5 p.m. train will likely be crowded like the previous days. “I know I will have stand. It’s been tough.”

Veteran commuter for 37 years Mickey Rosenblum of Cedarhurst complained as he waited for his 5:09 p.m. Speonk train, saying: “We are all standing here like cattle staring at this board clueless...There has been no improvements and a lack of information.”

At adjacent entrances to the tracks there were several railroad employees announcing train departures with blow horns.

“They have been really helpful,” said Tiffany McNeal, 35, of Westbury. McNeal said she didn’t even go to work on Tuesday. “It was ridiculous. There were three cancellations. I didn’t even bother...This morning was good. I even got a seat,” she said as she took off for her 5:17 pm train.

One of the announcers was telling commuters who started to crowd the waiting area next to the tracks that service was beginning to “shift right now and that everything should be good for Monday.”

Michael McGrath, 58, of Glen Head, was philosophical: “I work on the tracks for a private contractor so I understand...It’s not the railroad’s fault and I know what it takes to get these trains back up again. It’s not like putting a key in the ignition and driving off.”

With Lisa Irizarry, William Murphy and Maria Alvarez

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