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With month to go before Penn work, LIRR rider plan still MIA

A Long Island Rail Road train is pictured

A Long Island Rail Road train is pictured in file photo. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

A commuter watchdog group is raising concerns about a different kind of LIRR delay — one having to do with the release of the agency’s plans to deal with expected service disruptions in Penn Station this summer.

The Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council issued a statement Monday pointing out that, with just over one month to go before Amtrak’s infrastructure renewal project in Penn results in service outages for riders, the LIRR has yet to release details of how it will move its customers to and from Manhattan during July and August.

Amtrak, which owns and operates Penn Station, and NJ Transit, which also operates trains out of the station, both released detailed service plans for the summer by last week. LIRR officials said they expected to release a plan by last Thursday.

“Riders continue to ask the LIRR: ‘Where’s the plan?’ ” Commuter Council Chairman Mark Epstein said. “Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road have a duty to this region to complete and release service schedules now so those who depend on the railroad may make their own plans for this summer’s disruptions.”

The LIRR on Monday did not provide any information on when a plan would be released.

“Our top priority during Amtrak’s Penn Station construction work this summer is to ensure that LIRR riders are minimally impacted and we are finalizing plans to ensure that,” said railroad spokesman Aaron Donovan.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo have offered some information on the LIRR plan, which will include diverting rush-hour trains to stations other than Penn so commuters can transfer to subways, and supplementing railroad service with ferries and coach bus services.

There’s been no indication whether the MTA is considering reducing fares for riders during the service outages, as NJ Transit has vowed to do for its affected customers.

Whatever the LIRR ultimately does, the Commuter Council said riders and their employers need time and specifics to make plans, whether they include scheduling vacations, or working different hours or from different locations.

“Advance alternative work arrangements not only will benefit riders and employers, but will also serve to take pressure off Penn Station during crucial peak hours,” the council said.

Amtrak has said that from July 10 to Sept. 1, it will take three of Penn Station’s 21 tracks out of service to perform needed infrastructure renewal work. The project follows a series of Amtrak-related service problems in Penn, including two derailments in just over a week.

Meanwhile, a key state lawmaker Monday raised the possibility of securing federal disaster relief funding to address the commuting crisis at Penn Station.

Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx), chairman of his chamber’s Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, said Monday he had sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to intervene in the situation, whether by signing an executive order or declaring the situation a federal emergency.

“We are on the brink of a catastrophic failure that would impact millions of commuters and devastate our economy,” Dinowitz said. “We must call for federal intervention to provide emergency relief to prevent Penn Station from devolving into a catastrophe that prevents millions from functioning and from crippling our transportation system.”

Also Monday, Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Manhasset) called on the MTA to roll back its recent 4 percent fare increase during the summer outages.

“LIRR customers shouldn’t have to pay more for reduced service,” Phillips wrote in a letter to the MTA Board. “Fare reductions must be part of the MTA’s plan for the Penn Station rebuilding project.”

The letters come as Trump kicked off what his administration has dubbed “Infrastructure Week,” which will include various events and initiatives aimed at advancing his infrastructure agenda.

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