Amtrak officials said Tuesday that they’ll do their best to make sure their next round of infrastructure repairs at Penn Station — taking place on weekends over the next three months — doesn’t affect LIRR rush-hour service.
Amtrak chief operating officer Scot Naparstek gave an update via conference call Tuesday on the ongoing infrastructure renewal work at Penn. Tuesday was the first day of regular service there since the agency completed its most recent repair project. It included the reconstruction of Track 19, which is primarily used by the LIRR. Amtrak’s work had forced the LIRR to curtail some rush-hour service at Penn since January.
Naparstek said the next phase in the agency’s ongoing infrastructure renewal work at Penn Station will take place exclusively on weekends from Sept. 21 until Dec. 17, and will include the modernization of a key switching location known as “JO Interlocking,” at the east end of Penn.
Naparstek said the work will be conducted each week over 55-hour track outages between Friday night and early Monday morning, with the weekly goal of “getting the weekend work completed before the Monday morning rush.”
On at least two occasions in recent months, weekend Amtrak work in or near Penn that was supposed to be completed before the Monday morning commute ran late, causing the LIRR to have to cancel several trains with little notice to its customers.
Following one such incident on May 3, LIRR president Phillip Eng called the situation “completely unacceptable,” and said he was “outraged that our customers were not only inconvenienced but had to scramble as we were forced to issue last-minute diversions, cancellations and delays because of Amtrak’s conflicting and untimely communication.” Then on July 16, the LIRR again attributed some morning service disruptions to “late-finishing Amtrak work.”
Naparstek acknowledged the incidents on Tuesday and said Amtrak conducted a “root cause analysis” to determine why the work was not finished on time. He said Amtrak took steps to prevent a recurrence in the future, including by providing “education for various employees” on proper protocols.
“We are very careful, as we map out these projects, to ensure that we have the proper amount of resources,” Naparstek said. “Our real aim is to make sure the project plan itself is valid and that the steps to perform the work on any given weekend are proper and sequenced correctly.”
Despite the assurances, MTA board member Mitchell Pally said Tuesday that he remains concerned that Amtrak will finish its work on time each week going forward, “because experience has told us that’s not always the case.”
“And, of course, when that happens, they give us no warning that it’s going to happen,” Pally said. “We’re at the whim of Amtrak every Monday morning.”