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Fewer commuters eases the stress at Penn Station

LIRR commuters wait to see track assignments for

LIRR commuters wait to see track assignments for their trains at Penn Station in Manhattan on Monday, July 10, 2017. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Never mind the advance billing as the centerpiece of a commuter storm for the ages. Penn Station buzzed and hummed as it always does on the first day of the workweek — but for one conspicuous difference.

What set this Monday apart from all the others turned out not to be the predicted human avalanche of commuters. It was their absence.

“I left an hour early for work, and now I’m here an hour early,” said Roni Woodard, who works at a law firm in midtown and commutes on the Long Island Rail Road from Wantagh.

Woodard and others who braved the station made it through without much trouble, said an upbeat MTA chief Joe Lhota at an evening-rush news conference at Penn.

About 79,000 riders went through Penn Station on Monday morning, Lhota said, a decrease of about 7,000 riders compared with the average number of weekday commuters.

In fact, so pleased was Lhota at how Monday unfolded at Penn Station and across the vast transit system, he called the day “pitch perfect.”

Quite a different description than “summer of hell,” the moniker Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had previously attached to Monday’s kickoff of track repairs that will last until Sept. 1.

Commuters in the morning and evening rush reacted with a mix of surprise, a shrug of the shoulders, and hope twinged with caution that their daily slog to the city this summer won’t be so horrible.

Woodard said she usually takes the 8:23 a.m. train from Wantagh, but she took the 7:23 a.m. train in case of delays that, at least in her case, never materialized.

Still, she wasn’t ready to proclaim victory. Not by a long shot.

“The real test is tonight, when everybody’s going home,” Woodard said.

Starting at 6 a.m., crowds briefly descended onto waiting areas from platforms as trains arrived, but they were quick to find their way out of the station.

Brendan Gaha, 38, of Merrick, said he packed a muffin and water in case he was stuck in the tunnel. Aside from a nine-minute delay, there were no issues.

“It was a little more crowded than usual, but nothing distressing,” said Gaha, an English language teacher in midtown.

Evening commuters began descending into the station about 4 p.m. from all entrances and did what commuters always do — walked to their respective tracks and waited for a train home.

Crowds were manageable as wait times didn’t exceed a few minutes, with trains leaving the station on time. Platforms temporarily jammed with commuters, but not for long.

Another sign of business as usual was present: riders in half-paced sprints as they tried to make their trains.

Chris Kalin, a graphic designer, leaned against a wall in Penn Station, waiting for his wife to come and catch the next train to Huntington with him. Kalin said other than having to stand for the second leg of his commute Monday morning, nothing seemed out-of-the ordinary.

“They made it sound a lot worse on the news,” he said. “Now if the trip home is hell getting into Jamaica, I’ll have something different to say.”

With Alex Bazeley

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