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Amtrak defends plan to disrupt Penn Station service for track work

Amtrak officials say three tracks at a time

Amtrak officials say three tracks at a time will be closed at Penn Station as part of extensive repair work that is expected to inconvenience thousands of rail commuters this summer. Credit: Getty Images / Chris Hondros

Amtrak on Wednesday defended its decision to disrupt rush- hour train service at Penn Station for most of this summer, saying that the philosophy of concentrating track work on weekends to avoid inconveniencing commuters “must change.”

At a specially convened hearing of the New Jersey Legislature, Amtrak executive vice president Stephen Gardner said that while his agency understands commuters’ frustrations over what New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has dubbed “the summer of hell,” there are no easy solutions to addressing decades of overuse and underinvestment at the busiest train station in the United States.

“The paradigm of fitting vital renewal and maintenance work into limited windows so that peak period service is never impacted must change if we are to get ahead of the challenge and start toward a path to greater operational reliability,” Gardner said at the Newark hearing. “We trust that our commuter partners support an approach that does not wait for problems to occur, but rather anticipates and addresses them.”

Amtrak’s plan to take three of Penn’s 21 tracks out of service to perform track work at the station’s west end follows a series of major disruptions at the station, through which about 1,300 trains pass daily. Amtrak owns Penn Station, but the Long Island Rail Road operates the most trains there.

Amtrak also revealed Wednesday that during the summer work, which will affect service on all Penn Station railroads from July 10 to Sept 1., Amtrak service will “incur the largest impact” from the project. The railroad will reduce service at Penn by about 40 percent, including by canceling six trains between New York and Washington, D.C., and originating and terminating some trains in other cities.

NJ Transit executive director Steven Santoro also detailed his agency’s summer service plan, which will only reduce service on its Morris and Essex lines, which have lower ridership, and keep service on busier routes into and out of Penn Station intact. NJ Transit will also offer fare reductions of up to 64 percent to affected customers.

With five weeks to go before the disruptions begin, the LIRR still has not released a detailed service plan. Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have said one would come out by Thursday, but Gardner said he didn’t believe the LIRR “has completed their work.”

New Jersey Assemb. John McKeon (D-Madison), who co-chaired Wednesday’s hearing, criticized the LIRR’s timing as “a little inconsistent with what we’ve heard about the necessity to move quickly on this.”

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