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What Penn Station repairs will mean for your commute

In this July 15, 2014 file photo, passengers

In this July 15, 2014 file photo, passengers board a Long Island Rail Road train, in New York's Penn Station. Credit: AP

What’s ahead:

For all the frustration that LIRR riders will have to endure this summer, at least at the end of Amtrak’s track repairs and upgrades at Penn Station, they’ll have a considerably more reliable commute, right?

Not really.

In fact, Amtrak’s work this summer will be concentrated on a specific portion of the tracks, known as the “A-interlocking” just west of the Penn Station platforms, that are almost exclusively used by Amtrak and NJ Transit, and not by the LIRR. The project is impacting Long Island Rail Road service because the LIRR will have to share with Amtrak and NJ Transit some tracks during the rush hour that it typically has to itself.

And so service disruptions caused by infrastructure failures on the tracks used by the LIRR will not get any better once the work is done. However, Amtrak has said LIRR commuters do stand to benefit from the project, because any problem at Penn Station tends to affect all the railroads operating there. Finishing the work at the A-interlocking, which was originally expected to be carried out on weekends over several years, will also free up Amtrak to address other priorities at Penn, including projects with more direct benefit to the LIRR.

Amtrak has already said that it plans to take on a similar infrastructure renewal project just east of Penn’s platform at an interlocking frequently used by the LIRR. That work is expected to be carried out mostly over weekends during the first half of next year. Amtrak also has plans to repair damage from superstorm Sandy in two of the East River tunnels used by the LIRR to connect to Penn Station. That project, which will require taking each of the two tunnels out of service for a year at a time, could still be years away.

And the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, LIRR’s parent agency, has said finishing the summer repairs should also free up Amtrak resources needed to help advance the East Side Access project to link the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal by 2022.

However, there are no firm plans in place to address one of the biggest infrastructure challenges for the LIRR at Penn, the station’s aging signal system — much of which was installed 80 years ago.

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