The next phase of Amtrak’s infrastructure renewal project at Penn Station will require the Long Island Rail Road to divert a total of eight rush-hour trains from Penn Station and cancel two others, the LIRR said Friday.
The schedule changes are far less numerous than those necessitated by Amtrak’s so-called Summer of Hell repair project at Penn, which canceled or diverted 32 total rush-hour trains in July and August.
However, they will also be far more prolonged. The service adjustments are set to begin on the morning of January 8. The LIRR did not said how long they will last, but Amtrak has said their work will be done by May 28.
“With five percent of rush hour trains being affected compared with 20 percent during Amtrak’s intensive work at Penn this past summer, this will have a significantly smaller impact than the one felt this past summer,” LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said in a statement. “We are committed to providing our customers with exemplary service and travel options despite this small disruption. We are maintaining capacity by lengthening select trains and adding trains just before and just after rush hours when we have available timeslots.”
As part of the changes, eight rush-hour trains that usually terminate or originate at Penn Station will be diverted to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn or Hunterspoint Avenue in Queens. Two canceled trains will be combined with other trains departing within 11 minutes and serving all affected stations, the LIRR said.
The LIRR said some other trains may have scheduling changes of up to two minutes or add stations. The railroad is directing customers to new branch timetables, to its website, mta.info/lirr, and its social media accounts.
Despite the disruption in service to Penn Station, the LIRR’s planned schedule changes will result in a net increase of trains, counting the five trains the agency will add on either side of the rush hours. The railroad will also add cars to five trains to increase their capacity.
Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said, despite his requests, the LIRR still had not shared with him the details of the service changes — details that could mean the difference between whether customers have to deal with “crazy” overcrowding or not.
“Riders’ legislatively mandated representatives were not consulted,” Epstein said.
Amtrak, which owns Penn Station and is conducting the work, announced in November that it planned to reconstruct tracks 15 and 18 at Penn, and also rebuild a “turnout” — or an arrangement of rails and switches — at the eastern end of the tracks feeding the station. The work will require keeping one of Penn’s 21 tracks out of service from January through May.
Amtrak has said much of the work will be carried out on weekends and during off-peak hours.
The repairs, which begin Jan. 5 after the Friday rush hour, are also affecting service for Amtrak and NJ Transit, who share space with the LIRR at Penn — the busiest rail hub in the U.S., serving more than 600,000 travelers each weekday.
“After a successful summer, it is essential that we continue to upgrade the infrastructure so that we can continue to improve the reliability of service for all the customers that use New York Penn Station,” Amtrak co-chief executive officer Charles “Wick” Moorman said in a statement last month.
Martin Robins, director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University said, after the success of the summer repairs at Penn Station, “it’s unlikely that anybody is going to second-guess the railroads this time, as long as they do what they’re going to do.”
Amtrak completed its summer repairs slightly ahead of schedule in the summer. And, despite the disruptions, the LIRR actually improved its on-time performance in July and August as compared to the first half of 2017. MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota has said the railroad will show the same commitment to customer service throughout the forthcoming service changes.
“What we could hope for is good communication between Amtrak and the commuter railroads that operate there, so that they could reach decisions jointly about what needs to be done,” Robins said.
Amtrak began its aggressive efforts to modernize some of its aging track infrastructure in the 107-year-old Penn Station after a series of major service disruptions at the Manhattan hub in the first half of this year. That included three train derailments in less than four months at the station.
Unlike during the summer repairs, which required having three to five tracks out of service for eight weeks, the LIRR does not plan to supplement its train service with express buses or ferries, nor will it offer fare discounts for riders as an incentive to use stations other than Penn.
Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) in a statement Friday criticized the LIRR for making riders “put up with more difficulty without a commensurate fare decrease.”
“This method of doing repairs in a patchwork fashion is far from what our system needs,” Kaminsky said. “Instead, a Marshall Plan to overhaul the commuter rail system with a particular focus on Penn Station is warranted and necessary.”
A “Winter of Worry” after the “Summer of Hell”?
The LIRR released its service changes, effective Monday, Jan. 8 and expected to last until May 28. Officials say the impact will be much less than than it was over the summer, with eight of 184 rush-hour trains to be rerouted, compared with 32 over the summer.
Here’s a line-by-line comparison of what’s ahead and what happened last summer:
TRACKS OUT OF SERVICE
Summer: 3 – 5
PERIOD OF WORK
Winter: 21 weeks
Summer: 8 weeks
RUSH-HOUR SERVICE AFFECTED
Winter: 5 percent
Summer: 20 percent
MORNING RUSH-HOUR TRAINS AFFECTED
To reduce the impact of the rerouted trains, the LIRR is adding two trains in the morning. It is also adding cars to five trains to increase seating capacity.
EVENING RUSH-HOUR TRAINS AFFECTED
To reduce the impact of the rerouted trains, the LIRR is adding three trains in the evening. In addition, two evening rush hour trains will be combined with alternative trains departing within 11 minutes and serving all affected stations.
AREAS OF PENN STATION AFFECTED
Winter: Tracks 15, 18
Summer: “A” interlocking area, Track 10, plus tracks not typically used by the LIRR
ALTERNATE SERVICES PROVIDED
Summer: Ferries to and from Glen Cove; Buses from various locations on the Island; reduced fares for rerouted trains.