Long Island Rail Road commuters Tuesday experienced yet another bumpy rush hour filled with delays and cancellations because of a problem at Penn Station.
The snarled evening commute was caused by a switch issue just east of the Penn platforms that blocked access to five of the station’s 21 tracks. The tracks are primarily used by NJ Transit and Amtrak, but the LIRR is typically required to share tracks it has to itself during outages.
“Crews are on the scene making repairs,” said Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert shortly after 5 p.m.
The repair work continued well into Tuesday night, according to an MTA official, who said normal service would resume in time for the Wednesday morning commute.
About 5 p.m. the LIRR notified customers about the problem and urged riders on some branches to head to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn to catch a train.
The LIRR reported scattered delays of up to 15 minutes throughout the evening rush and canceled 10 trains. The railroad reported being back on or close to schedule about 7 p.m.
“I’d like to say I’m shocked — but I’m not,” tweeted Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who has led the drive in Albany for improvements at Penn for LIRR commuters. “This is an ongoing nightmare & commuters should be refunded their money. Time to #SackAmtrak.”
The incident was the latest in a long series of rush-hour service disruptions originating in Penn Station, which is owned and operated by Amtrak. The problems led Amtrak to take on an infrastructure renewal project this summer at the station that is expected to cause rush-hour service disruptions for the LIRR throughout July and August.
The area where Tuesday’s switch problem occurred is not where Amtrak plans to perform the work this summer.
Amtrak said it’s preparing for the unexpected during those planned outages, including by having additional “rescue” trains ready to respond to problems as soon as they arise.
Tolbert said Tuesday that the agency will have one diesel/electric locomotive and one electric “protect” locomotive in Penn Station. Crews will be assigned to each to be able to respond to unanticipated issues, including by towing disabled trains.
Amtrak has outlined several other steps it is taking to ensure the planned work goes off without a hitch. They include: using private contractor HNTB Corp. to provide management and technical support, supplementing Amtrak’s work force with additional labor and management personnel, and increasing the speed limit at Penn from the current 10 mph to 15 mph, allowing trains to move into and out of the station more quickly.
Amtrak is also establishing a “joint operations center” staffed with representatives from Amtrak, the LIRR and NJ Transit at Penn’s interagency command post, which, Tolbert said, “is instantly activated during any service disruption and/or emergency situation.”
Amtrak and NJ Transit have both detailed their plans to reduce service at Penn Station during the summer months. The LIRR said it would release its plan by June 1, but still has not.
With Jesse Coburn