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Long IslandTransportation

LIRR 'summer of hell' service disruptions to end

The LIRR is set to restore several Penn Station trains on Monday that have been cancelled since January, when Amtrak began a project to replace tracks 15 and 18. 

Amtrak workers making repairs in 2017.

Amtrak workers making repairs in 2017.  Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

The Long Island Rail Road service disruptions that started during last year’s “summer of hell” will soon come to an end, as Amtrak wraps up a series of repair projects at Penn Station that have limited the LIRR’s capacity at its Manhattan hub, officials said Friday.

The LIRR is set to restore several Penn Station trains on Monday that have been cancelled since January, when Amtrak began a project to replace tracks 15 and 18. That work concluded in May, but Amtrak then rolled right into its Track 19 replacement project.

Amtrak chief operating officer Scot Naparstek said Friday that the agency is nearing completion of its work to completely renew Track 19 at Penn Station, having already replaced all its rail ties and one of three key “turnouts”—a kind of track switch.

“Everything remains on schedule,” Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said Friday. “Today is the last day Track 19 will be out for weekday traffic, as it will return to service before Monday morning rush hour.”

Although Amtrak plans to continue making improvements to its infrastructure at Penn Station—the busiest railroad station in the United States, moving 650,000 people daily—Naparstek said forthcoming repair work will mostly be conducted over weekends.

“We should be able to work with the service levels that Long Island is bringing back,” Naparstek said.

The LIRR did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Amtrak’s Penn Station Renewal project began a year ago, after a series of infrastructure failures at the 105-year-old station resulted in a slew of major service disruptions, including three train derailments in less than four months.

The first round of repairs in July and August 2017 required having up to five of Penn’s 21 tracks out of service at any given time—forcing the LIRR to significantly curtail rush-hour service during what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo dubbed “the summer of hell.”

After a four-month hiatus, Amtrak resumed its infrastructure renewal work in January, which again required the LIRR to scale back rush-hour service to and from Penn.

At the same time that the LIRR is restoring some trains, it is taking others out of its schedule to accommodate work related to its $11.2 billion East Side Access project, which aims to link the railroad to Grand Central Terminal by 2022.

To create space for an entrance to a newly bored tunnel to Grand Central, crews will have to relocate hundreds of feet of tracks in Sunnyside, Queens, by several yards, the LIRR said.

After the tracks are relocated, the construction of the tunnel entrance, set to begin this fall, is the last major contract in the project, which began more than a decade ago.

As a result of the work, the LIRR will cancel six Port Washington branch trains — two in the morning and four in the evening. One morning train on the Far Rockaway/Long Beach line and another on the Montauk branch will also see some schedule changes because of the work.

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