Amtrak’s Plan for Penn Station Repairs Calls for 44 Days of Closed Tracks
A summer of misery could follow this springtime of discontent for commuters who pass through Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, judging by Amtrak’s preliminary plan for extensive track repairs at the station.
The plan, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, calls for the closing of tracks for two long stretches that would last for nearly three weeks in July and almost the entire month of August. Amtrak has shared the plan with the two commuter railroads that it shares Penn Station with — New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road.
Officials of the three railroads are meeting this week to devise a final schedule for the work, but there is no doubt that travel will be disrupted. Penn Station is the busiest rail terminal in North America, and New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road are two of the three busiest railroads in the United States.
The plan presented by Amtrak outlined 21 repairs and described their locations. But it did not explain how the work would affect train schedules during the track closings.
“We met with Amtrak, and our operating staff is thoroughly reviewing the plan to determine its impact on our customers,” Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman for New Jersey Transit, said.
The plan resulted from Amtrak’s decision to change its traditional approach to making repairs at the station, which it owns and operates. After a 30-day period in which two trains derailed and another broke down in a tunnel under the Hudson River on the Friday before Easter Sunday, Amtrak officials decided that their usual practice of trying to confine repairs to nights and weekends was not sufficient to keep up with the deterioration of tracks and equipment.
After one derailment, eight of the station’s 21 tracks were taken out of use for several days. During that closing, New Jersey Transit was reduced to running 25 trains into Penn Station between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., down from the normal schedule of 63 trains.
Steven H. Santoro, the executive director of New Jersey Transit, told lawmakers at a hearing in Trenton on Friday that a similar reduction of service during the summer was “not acceptable.”
On Tuesday, two Democratic state senators in New Jersey, Robert M. Gordon and Loretta Weinberg, questioned Amtrak’s preliminary plan, wondering why it did not make use of the July 4 and Labor Day holiday weekends. The plan called for closing some tracks from July 7 through July 25 and others from Aug. 4 through Aug. 28, a total of 44 days.
“We are going to take a hard look at whether the full 19-day and 25-day rail service curtailments are absolutely necessary,” Senator Gordon said in a prepared statement. “But it also seems logical to ask why Amtrak wants to start shutting down tracks on July 7, rather than taking advantage of the four-day Fourth of July weekend to start the work.
“And why not schedule some of the work for the last week of August when so many people take off from work heading into Labor Day weekend? We know those are big travel weekends for Amtrak, but N.J. Transit commuters shouldn’t have to bear the full brunt.”