The LIRR’s Monday morning rush was a cascade of cancellations, diversions and delays.
The excuse this time? Amtrak, which controls Penn Station and the tracks beneath it, couldn’t finish its weekend repair work on time.
The national passenger railroad had a 55-hour planned outage to replace a switch on a track beneath Penn. It apparently had the resources and staff it needed to get the job done on time. But at 5 a.m. Monday, the time when Amtrak needed to clear out, work was still in progress. Amtrak didn’t finish until 7:30 a.m. — way too late to spare morning commuters their aggravation.
This isn’t a one-time mistake. In 2017 alone, 3,000 LIRR delays, cancellations and other service issues were attributable to Amtrak, according to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. As recently as May, Amtrak pledged to improve after a similar delay in overnight work led to another rush-hour mess.
Amtrak’s apologies and promises to fix what went wrong are not enough. It controls Penn and insists that its unions do the repairs. But Amtrak has yet to show it can handle the job. New York’s needs can’t be managed from elsewhere. Amtrak must give clear authority to a specific executive — a Penn Station czar of sorts who oversees the work and who can be held accountable for unnecessary delays and who can hold job managers and workers accountable for these screw-ups. The czar should also be tasked with communicating truthfully and regularly with the LIRR and its riders.
Monday’s fiasco was preventable, and Amtrak should understand that.