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LIRR: Schedule changes to continue into July

The morning rush at the Long Island Rail

The morning rush at the Long Island Rail Road's Jamaica station in Queens on Jan. 8. LIRR riders will continue to deal with Amtrak track repairs at Penn Station as the agency undertakes another round of work through midsummer, but schedules will not change this time, officials said. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Long Island Rail Road riders will continue to deal with Amtrak track repairs at Penn Station as the agency undertakes another round of work through midsummer, Amtrak announced Tuesday.

However, LIRR schedules will not change during the Track 19 project, a railroad spokeswoman said. A shift in track work is simply a track change for the LIRR, she said, and the schedules put in place during Amtrak’s winter work will remain in effect through July.

NJ Transit, another primary user of Track 19, has not made a decision on schedule changes, its spokeswoman said.

Amtrak officials said the renewal work from June 8 to July 20 should have less of an effect than last year’s so-called “summer of hell.”

The Track 19 repairs are part of a larger project, which includes upgrades and repairs at two other New York City area transit sites at a total cost of $45 million to $50 million, Amtrak said, noting that it builds on this winter’s repairs initially scheduled to be completed by May 28.

More than 230,000 LIRR riders daily pass through the aging midtown Manhattan hub. The track work will include replacement of wooden ties, Amtrak said.

“We remain confident that this new round of work will be accomplished safely, on time and in budget,” said Scot Naparstek, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Amtrak, during a media call Tuesday. He added: “While there will be impact, it will be less severe than last summer.”

Naparstek said Amtrak decided to add to the scheduled work after determining it had the workforce and materials to complete the project.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a frequent LIRR critic, said Amtrak’s work, while important, only compounds service problems the LIRR faces daily.

“I think it’s important to take stock of where we are: Last summer [there was] some major restructuring, but we never really got back to any normal, decent service,” Kaminsky said. “We’re still looking for a real plan and a real sense of urgency to enact that plan to deal with it.”

Kaminsky said delays in January and February were some of the worst he’s seen. The railroad in January posted its worst on-time performance in more than two decades.

“As much as they need to do these repairs, that’s not what’s troubling people every day,” he said about commuters. “At the end of the day, the railroad has said they need to get their act together . . . and I have not seen that.”

Several commuters at Penn Station on Tuesday evening had mixed reactions to the project.

“I don’t know whether our senses are getting dulled. There hasn’t been any meaningful impact,” said Eric Brady, 56, of Smithtown. “Last time they had forewarned us and made it out to be such a terrible ordeal, and it kind of breezed right through . . . Last summer it went a lot better than I expected it would, so if they can keep it like that, I’ll be happy.”

Joe Farrell, 51, of Freeport, echoed the sentiment, and said he’s happy the work is finally being done.

“The work has to get done and if it takes longer, it takes longer,” he said.

However, Martin Golden, 61, a carpenter from Long Beach, said he’s frustrated and regularly experiences delays and overcrowding.

“I’m disappointed in years of neglect that’s now snowballing and everybody is getting affected by it,” Golden said. “And you feel helpless because you can’t do anything. You’re helpless. You’re held hostage.”

Amtrak on Tuesday also announced work on the Empire Tunnel and the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge — near the site of a deadly 2013 Metro-North train derailment in the Bronx. The sites provide train access between upstate New York and Penn Station.

Amtrak will focus on several issues, including replacing track in the Empire Tunnel, and updating the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge’s mechanical and electrical equipment, corroded during superstorm Sandy.

The work will require the Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Adirondack and Maple Leaf trains to be rerouted from Penn to Grand Central Terminal between May 26 and Sept. 4.

The LIRR spokeswoman said Metro-North trains will not be affected.

During the work, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited will only operate between Boston and Chicago, with New York City and Hudson Valley customers connecting from Empire Service trains at Albany-Rensselaer.

In 2017, during Amtrak’s Penn repair project, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo predicted would create a ‘‘summer of hell’’ for commuters because of rush-hour track outages, the LIRR canceled or diverted 32 total rush-hour trains in July and August. Despite reduced capacity at Penn, however, the LIRR made a strong showing.

This winter, Amtrak has focused on Tracks 15 and Track 18, with planned work taking place mostly on weekends and off-peak hours, putting only one track out of service at a time.

With Max Parrott

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