The pain from Amtrak’s planned track outages at Penn Station this summer will be felt exclusively by rush-hour commuters, the LIRR confirmed Monday, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo warned that displaced commuters will turn the Long Island Expressway “into a parking lot.”
The new details of the LIRR’s summer service plan for Penn Station came as federal lawmakers from New York threw their support behind Cuomo’s call for the White House to step in and help resolve the “dysfunction” at the problem-plagued Manhattan train terminal.
Speaking at a Manhattan meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR Committee, Patrick Nowakowski said the impacts from Amtrak’s plan to take some tracks out of service at century-old Penn Station for several weeks in July and August will be reserved for the morning and evening rush hours — when the railroad can least afford to give up any tracks.
“These impacts that I’m talking about are only in the peak. There are no off-peak impacts that we’re planning on at this time,” Nowakowski said. “Because of the work being done, we just won’t have the capacity at Penn Station to run our normal service at the peaks.”
Peak hours include any weekday trains traveling west from 6 to 10 a.m. and east from 4 to 8 p.m. About 185,640 people ride the LIRR during peak hours, compared with about 93,360 weekday off-peak riders, according to railroad figures.
While Amtrak’s planned work will be going on around the clock, it’s not expected to impact LIRR service during off-peak hours, when the LIRR runs fewer trains and doesn’t need as many tracks.
To minimize the number of canceled trains, Nowakowski said the railroad will have many morning rush-hour trains terminate at stations other than Penn, such as Jamaica or Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, where riders could transfer to subways to complete their commutes. Some trains will also make added stops to accommodate customers affected by cancellations.
Nowakowski said the LIRR is also looking at “different types of service enhancements.” He did not say what form those could take, but Cuomo in a letter to President Donald Trump on Sunday said among the options being considered are an expanded park and ride program using private coaches and dedicated bus HOV lanes and high-speed ferry service from Long Island.
“It is our goal to run as much service as we possibly can,” said Nowakowski, adding that the LIRR is still working out the details of a final service plan and will release one “in the near future.”
MTA Board member Mitchell Pally said the LIRR is aiming to “get something out by June 1” — about a month before the weekday service disruptions are set to begin in early July. Amtrak originally said it expected all the railroads operating in Penn to release details of their summer service plans by the second week of May.
Despite the LIRR’s planning efforts, Cuomo on Monday called the summer outages “an impending disaster.”
“You could be talking about months in delays,” Cuomo said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “There will be a ripple effect that is going to be a tidal wave . . . the Long Island Expressway is going to look like a parking lot.”
Amtrak’s plan to renew aging track infrastructure at Penn Station, used by more than 230,000 LIRR customers daily, follows a string of major disruptions in recent weeks originating at Penn, which has been owned and operated by Amtrak more than 40 years. Amid a growing backlash by commuters and elected officials, Amtrak has proposed other changes for the rail station — the nation’s busiest — including hiring a private company to manage parts of the station.
On Sunday, Cuomo pleaded with Trump to intervene in the mess, including by providing additional federal funding for projects that could help Penn Station’s more than 600,000 daily commuters, such as the proposed $23 billion Gateway project that would include a new rail tunnel across the Hudson River. The governor also asked the White House to facilitate ousting Amtrak from control of Penn and turning it over fully to a private operator or to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
After a conference call with Cuomo on Monday, 15 members of Congress from New York offered their support for Cuomo’s call for increased federal support to address the “near crisis situation” at Penn — calling it “a nonpartisan issue that demands we speak as one voice on behalf of the people of New York.”
“The current dysfunction has put a sharp focus on the chronic issues plaguing our already stretched, overburdened and historically underfunded transportation infrastructure and the ripple effect it creates all along the Northeast Corridor,” the group, which included Long Island’s Rep. Kathleen Rice (D Garden City), Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove).
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) was not included in the statement, but said later that he supports Cuomo’s call and “believes that repairing and revitalizing the rail infrastructure in and around Penn Station is a top priority, not only for Long Island, but for the entire New York Metro region.”
As the pressure continues to mount for a solution for Penn’s ailments, a railroad labor leader Monday implored riders not to take their anger out on the LIRR’s workforce. MTA Board member Vincent Tessitore Jr. said LIRR have been “targeted” by riders, including on social media and by refusing to pay fares.
“There are groups that are starting to organize,” Tessitore said. “Our commuters are frustrated, rightfully so. But they’re taking out on the employees . . . It has the potential of being unsafe.”
With Michael Gormley
2016 LIRR Weekday ridership:
A.M. peak: 100,670
P.M. peak: 84, 970
Weekday off-peak: 93,360