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Amtrak-related LIRR delays ‘unacceptable,’ president says

LIRR president Phillip Eng vowed to improve LIRR

LIRR president Phillip Eng vowed to improve LIRR on-time performance, among other issues, during a listening tour in April at Mineola station. Credit: Howard Schnapp

New LIRR president Phillip Eng on Thursday said he was “outraged” over how Amtrak’s lateness in wrapping up planned overnight repairs near Penn Station snarled the morning commute for tens of thousands of Long Island Rail Road riders, who were forced to deal with delays, cancellations and diversions with little notice.

Shortly before 7 a.m., the LIRR alerted customers that “due to late-clearing Amtrak trackwork in one of the East River Tunnels,” some Penn Station-bound trains would be diverted to Atlantic Terminal, and others canceled. Scattered delays of five to 10 minutes persisted through the morning rush hour.

The LIRR placed blame for the problems squarely on Amtrak, which was supposed to complete scheduled overnight track work in one of Penn Station’s East River tunnels by 5 a.m. Railroad officials said Amtrak did not start the work on time — and did not notify the LIRR until about 5:15 that it was running late and would not be done until about 7 a.m. That time was later pushed back to 8 a.m., but Amtrak didn’t actually finish its work until about 8:30, the LIRR said.

Eng, in statement, called the episode “completely unacceptable.”

“Amtrak getting a late start to their work does not mean that LIRR customers should have to be late for their jobs, too,” said Eng, who last month was appointed 40th president of the LIRR — the largest commuter railroad in the United States. “I am 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.”

In a statement, Amtrak acknowledged that “extended” maintenance work impacted LIRR service Thursday morning, and apologized to railroad customers for the delays and inconvenience.

“We are continuing to collaborate with LIRR on improving our communications so they can share information with their customers in a timely manner,” Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said.

Eng, who replaced Patrick Nowakowski as LIRR president on April 14, has said he’s committed to improving the working relationship between the two agencies. On Thursday, he said he planned to speak directly with Amtrak senior management “to ensure that they have a plan to address this issue.”

Eng proposed having an LIRR employee present during Amtrak work to provide the LIRR with real-time information to pass along to its customers.

The situation marked the latest dust-up in a long-simmering feud between Amtrak, which owns and operates Penn Station and the East River tunnels, and the LIRR, which operates the majority of trains into and out of the Manhattan hub. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reported in August that Amtrak was to blame for more than 3,000 LIRR train delays, cancellations or early terminations in 2017 — an increase of 150 percent from the previous year.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR’s parent agency, also has attributed recent delays and cost overruns in its East Side Access megaproject to Amtrak’s lack of promised cooperation at a critical work site in Queens. Amtrak has said its ability to help has been hampered by other construction projects its employees are working on in the region.

The need for improved cooperation on transportation projects was the theme of a meeting organized Thursday in North Hills by the Long Island Association and the Partnership for New York City.

The meeting, attended by key political, business and transportation leaders — including Eng — sought to find common ground between New York City and Long Island officials, who have sometimes clashed over state transportation funding.

MTA board members from the city have recently questioned the agency’s $2 billion plan to build a third track on the LIRR between Floral Park and Hicksville.

“It was to get the entire room educated and to make sure we’re pulling together, because it’s really one regional economy,” said Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, a business and planning group.

Later Thursday, the LIRR had trouble with its own tracks. The railroad suspended service for about an hour early Thursday afternoon on the Ronkonkoma, Port Jefferson, Oyster Bay and Hempstead branches due to signal trouble east of Jamaica station. Service also was suspended on the Oyster Bay branch during the evening rush due to a downed power line.

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