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Long IslandTransportation

Amtrak: More weekday Penn outages ahead for LIRR commuters

Workers replace rails, ties and concrete on Track

Workers replace rails, ties and concrete on Track 10 as part of Amtrak's infrastructure renewal program at Penn Station in Manhattan. Credit: Charles Eckert

Amtrak’s chairman said Tuesday that Long Island Rail Road commuters should expect more repair projects at Penn Station that will require weekday track outages, as they did during the “summer of hell.”

Anthony Coscia, addressing reporters after speaking at a Manhattan event held by the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), said that the summer project in Penn Station proved that weekday track outages are necessary for major repair projects and that Amtrak is equipped to pull them off successfully.

The eight-week infrastructure renewal project at Penn — the busiest train station in North America — followed several infrastructure-related service disruptions there early this year. The project focus on replacing one of the most complex assortment of switches at the station, known as Interlocking A, as well as Penn’s Track 10.

The work required keeping at least three tracks out of service throughout the summer — forcing the LIRR to reduce rush hour service to and from Penn Station.

The project was completed on time and on budget, Amtrak said, and full service was restored at Penn last week. However, Coscia pointed out, “the truth is that there’s a lot more work that needs to be done at Penn.”

“What we’ve told people is that we’ve fixed one of four interlockings and we replaced one of 21 tracks,” Coscia said. “We did not completely replace Penn Station, obviously, which means that many of the problems that existed before the summer continue to exist.”

Coscia offered no specifics on Amtrak’s next major infrastructure project at Penn. However, the agency has said it plans to take on an interlocking just east of the Penn platforms that is used by the LIRR during the first half of next year, with most of the work occurring overnights and on weekends.

But Coscia said Tuesday he anticipates that Amtrak will propose projects “that in some instances can’t be accomplished during the typical overnight and weekend outages.’’

“Therefore, we will suggest that there be service changes in order to allow us to do that,” he said.

Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, last week urged Amtrak to provide riders a schedule for future infrastructure projects at Penn, and their impact on service. “We’d like to know what that’s going to be,” Epstein said.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who has pushed in Albany for Penn Station service improvements, on Tuesday urged Amtrak to get its maintenance work done during off-peak hours and on weekends, as it has in the past, “because otherwise they’re courting disaster.”

“Weekday track outages during the summer are one thing, but pulling that off during the rest of the year is an entirely different animal,” Kaminsky said.

Coscia was the key speaker at the nonprofit ABNY’s “Power Breakfast” in Manhattan, where he promoted Amtrak’s $24 billion Gateway project, which aims to build a new rail tunnel across the Hudson and make other major improvements along the Northeast Corridor, including expanding Penn Station’s capacity.

The project was the focus of a White House meeting last week between President Donald Trump and elected leaders from New York, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who predicted the ‘‘summer of hell’’ for LIRR riders. Coscia said Tuesday that he believes the Trump administration recognizes “the absolute importance” of the Gateway project, which will rely heavily on federal funding, and that Amtrak is moving ahead with plans to begin construction on a new tunnel next year.

Coscia was less definitive about plans to repair two East River Tunnels used by the LIRR that sustained heavy damage from superstorm Sandy in 2012. He said there were “active discussions” about the project, but he had “no specific time frame.”

On Friday, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota, addressing the MTA’s Permanent Citizen’s Advisory Committee, spoke of the importance of the East River tunnels, which represent a “single point of failure” for the LIRR.

“Whenever you hear someone talk about why we need a new tunnel across the Hudson River, please remind them that we also need at least a new one across the East River,” Lhota said. “The Long Island Rail Road cannot get into the city unless the tunnel is free and clear.”

Vincent Barone

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