Getting in and out of Penn Station on a good day can be a harrowing experience, but as many New York commuters can attest, the past few months have been full of some terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days at the transit hub.
To briefly recap: after an Acela derailment caused problems at the end of March, a NJ Transit derailment on April 4 led to extensive delays on that system, along with the LIRR and Amtrak. Just days later, another NJ Transit train stalled just outside of Penn Station, while false reports of a shooting on the same day led to mass hysteria. And this week, wire problems in one of the tunnels led to delays that were so bad, the station was temporarily closed to commuters.
Adding insult to injury, Amtrak officials have confirmed that they knew about the track flaw that caused the two earlier derailments, but simply did not understand how bad it was. And to make matters worse, there’s a chance that the Gateway Tunnel Project, which would replace the aging tunnels below the Hudson River that connect Manhattan to New Jersey, could lose federal funding under the Trump administration.
That’s all happened since March, and doesn’t take into account all of the times trains have been delayed or otherwise slow because of the aging infrastructure. So basically, things are no good at Penn Station right now.
Amtrak officials have been mulling different solutions to these problems, and according to the New York Times, the organization seems to be taking a page from the MTA’s playbook. Amtrak head Charles Moorman confirmed that some tracks leading in and out of Penn Station will be closed this summer for repairs, including on busy weekdays. According to the Times, Amtrak will “defer spending on technological improvements” to implement the multi-million dollar fixes.
“The simple fact of the matter is that some of the track and infrastructure in service today at Penn Station was built in the 1970s at a time when we were handling half the trains and a third of the customers that we do today,” Moorman said in a statement. Approximately 600,000 commuters use Penn Station’s various transit lines (LIRR, NJ Transit, and Amtrak) on any given day; when the current transit hub opened in 1968, it was intended for use by just 200,000 commuters.
That strain on the infrastructure has led to wear and tear over time, and while routine maintenance has been completed over the years, a larger plan to repair the tracks has been slow going. But now, “we can’t wait that long,” Moorman stated. “This work needs to be done now.”
Though a press release notes that the work will require “track closures, operational coordination and schedule changes” to complete, Moorman “repeatedly declined” to comment on the extent of the repairs, or what sorts of changes commuters can expect, according to the Times. (Realistically, though, don’t expect things to be quick or easy.)
In addition to the infrastructure repairs, Amtrak has also commissioned a review of the “interaction, coordination and collaboration” among Penn Station’s various concourses (to be headed up by former MTA chief Tom Prendergast), and the establishment of an operations center that can serve all of the transit systems that use the transit hub.
“We will be collaborating with our partners at NJT and the LIRR to plan this work in order to minimize disruptions and inconvenience for our customers who rely on us for service,” Moorman said in a statement. The majority of the work is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, but as with all things infrastructure-related, it’s best to expect delays.