Penn Station’s newly revitalized infrastructure passed its first major test Tuesday, as tens of thousands of commuters, including on the Long Island Rail Road, poured through the busy transit hub with minimal disruptions, transportation officials said.
As promised, full service was restored at Penn Station Tuesday morning — the first workday since Amtrak completed its eight-week track renewal project at the century-old Manhattan station, which was plagued by infrastructure-related service disruptions during the first half of this year.
“The new infrastructure is holding up really well, as expected,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta, who noted the agency reported “no snags in service” by Tuesday afternoon. “All trains appear to be running on time at this time.”
The LIRR also reported mostly smooth rush hours in the morning and evening, except for a handful of delays, including those caused an equipment problem near Penn Station and a “track condition” at Rockville Centre.
By and large, commuters interviewed Tuesday throughout the LIRR system said their train rides were trouble-free, as they have been since early July.
“It’s been pretty good today and not much different over the summer,” Evan Gianoukakis, of Locust Valley, said while transferring at Jamaica to his Penn Station-bound train.
Despite operating with reduced capacity at Penn because of the Amtrak repairs, the LIRR performed better in July and August than it did all year. Commuters on Tuesday said they hoped the trend would continue.
“It’s usually bad, but it’s been good all summer,” Kathy Laveglia, 70, of Patchogue, said while waiting at Ronkonkoma for her 6:08 train to Penn, which arrived a little early. “I guess I thought they had punished us enough.”
Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joe Lhota has promised that the LIRR’s improved performance over the summer is the “new normal” — marked by faster decision-making and better communication with customers.
“The Chairman has said that the LIRR is holding itself to a higher performance standard to match what we accomplished this summer — and we are laser-focused on meeting that challenge,” MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said Tuesday.
LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein pointed out that the Amtrak repairs did not involve tracks typically used by the LIRR, nor the station’s antiquated and problematic signal system — a fact that Epstein said many riders don’t realize.
“When we start to get broken switches, because they didn’t fix any of that for us, will be like, ‘Well, didn’t you take care of that over the summer? Wasn’t that why we did all of that?’” said Epstein, who urged Amtrak and the LIRR to start communicating now with customers about future track repairs at Penn. “We’d really like to know now what the schedule is going to be over the next year for other shutdowns, and what the plans are for them, as well.”
Despite the LIRR’s strong performance during Amtrak’s repairs, some commuters were all too happy to put the “summer of hell” behind them.
Bayside resident Ken Blair, 38, looked forward to being able to get a seat after two months of intense crowding on his train home.
“Every day was like riding home in a clown car,” Blair said. “They were merging two trains into one and it was just packed on the way home.”
New timetables that went into effect Tuesday did cause some confusion for commuters because they were not identical to those in place before the summer disruptions, in part because of scheduled track work.
And some commuters weren’t buying that the new and improved LIRR is here to stay.
“It’s soon to tell,” said Baruch College student Victoria Karpienia, 21, of Lindenhurst, as she waited at Penn Station for her train home during the beginning of the evening rush. “The LIRR can have one good month and then one really bad month.”
With William Murphy, Alfonso A. Castillo, Lisa Irizarry, Vincent Barone, Michael O’Keeffe, Rachel Uda, Alison Fox