Long Island Rail Road customers affected by the disruptions that will come with Amtrak’s next round of infrastructure upgrades at Penn Station should not expect many of the service alternatives and fare discounts that they got over the “summer of hell,” the MTA’s chief said Wednesday.
Chairman Joe Lhota, at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, addressed Amtrak’s latest infrastructure renewal project at Penn Station. The effort, announced Monday, would include the replacement of tracks 15 and 18, which are used primarily by the LIRR, as well as a “turnout” — or an arrangement of rails and switches — at the eastern end of the tracks.
Contrary to remarks made by LIRR president Patrick Nowakowski on Monday, Amtrak said Wednesday it does not plan to reconstruct Track 19 as part of the project.
The work will require one out of 21 tracks to be out of service from Jan. 8 to May 28 at the Manhattan hub used by 650,000 travelers daily.
Different from Amtrak’s Penn Station repairs over the summer, which kept three to five tracks out of service and caused major rush-hour service disruptions for the LIRR, Lhota said the impact from the forthcoming work will not be “anywhere near the levels that we experienced this summer.”
“We’re only talking less than a handful of trains,” said Lhota, adding that he expected schedule information to be released in December. “We’re doing everything we can working with Amtrak to avoid any displacement whatsoever.”
Unlike during the summer, Lhota said he expects the MTA neither to provide train service alternatives, such as buses and ferries, nor offer fare discounts. However, Lhota said customers should expect to see some of the same improvements in communication and dissemination of information that they saw during the eight-week effort in July and August.
That will include encouraging riders to use alternative stations to Penn, including Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, Lhota said. Some trains will be diverted to Atlantic Terminal and/or Hunterspoint in Queens.
Also different this time around is Lhota’s attitude toward Amtrak, which he frequently chided in the weeks leading up to and throughout the summer project for how it maintained Penn Station.
On Wednesday, Lhota acknowledged that Amtrak completed its summer repairs at Penn ahead of schedule, and he said he has “every reason in the world to think the same thing will happen this time around.”
In an afternoon conference call with reporters to discuss the project, Amtrak chief operating officer Scot Naparstek also said the impact of the project — estimated to cost $30 million — will be far less than in the summer “both to the station as well as to service.”
But, he acknowledged, doing the work in the winter does come with the risk of unrelated service disruptions caused by severe weather, which could compound Penn’s capacity constraints. Naparstek said, as it during the summer, Amtrak will have extra equipment and crews available to immediately respond to any incidents.
Despite the potential for harsher weather and higher ridership than during the summer months, Naparstek said the agency believes it should not put off replacing the “deteriorating” infrastructure.
“One of the lessons learned by Amtrak is that we need to be more aggressive in going after project work,” Naparstek said. “I feel very, very comfortable that the tracks are fine until January 5. But there’s only a certain amount of time that I would want to wait until we do the work.”