What to Know
The "summer of hell" of repairs at Penn Station has gone smoothly, so smoothly that Amtrak will likely push for a second round in 2018
An Amtrak official told News 4 that "we will certainly be" asking for more repairs
The MTA responded, saying it won't sign off on another shutdown unless Amtrak minimizes the effect on LIRR riders
This summer's overhaul of the tracks below Penn Station has gone so smoothly that an Amtrak official said the transit agency is more likely than ever to push for future repairs next year — that means more fixes to the station’s aging infrastructure, but also more service disruptions for the thousands of commuters who pass through America's busiest rail station every day.
Amtrak CEO Charles Moorman previously said the railroad was planning two periods of service disruptions for repairs: the current one, which started July 10 and lasts until Sept. 1, and a second one in 2018.
On Friday, Amtrak’s chief engineer, Gery Williams, said the 2018 repairs are even more of a sure thing given that the ongoing repairs, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo predicted would be a “summer of hell” for commuters, haven't wreaked havoc.
“I don’t think we’re surprised,” Williams told News 4 on Friday, adding that he didn’t want to speak for the whole company. “But we will certainly be, as far as Amtrak engineering, asking for more.”
Taking three tracks out of service and leaving Penn Station with only 18 viable tracks hasn’t been the hell-scape that many foresaw. But that doesn’t mean commuters or the agencies that lease out space at Penn Station, which is owned and operated by Amtrak, are thrilled by the possibility of more disruptions.
On Friday, the largest tenant of the station, the MTA Long Island Rail Road, said it will not sign off on any sort of track shutdown until Amtrak makes sure riders aren’t seriously affected.
“Our customers are tired of problems in Penn Station and the East River tunnels, and they deserve infrastructure there that just works,” said MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek in a statement.
“Amtrak will need to prioritize its work to fix Penn and the tunnels, but it also needs to do it in a way that minimizes the impact on LIRR riders, who make up the majority of the traffic at Penn,” Tarek said.
On Friday, Amtrak released a time-lapse video to show the progress made over the past month of repairs. Amtrak has said it would typically take years to complete a reconstruction of this magnitude, yet they’re doing it in just eight weeks.
So far, workers have removed old track foundations and poured fresh concrete in preparation for new rails.
Amtrak is only fixing a small portion of the station this summer. In addition to a possible similar disruption in 2018, there’s also the possibility of several extended service outages sometime in the future.
Commuters weren’t thrilled to hear that more disruptions could be coming, but conceded there wasn’t much they could do and that the fixes are necessary.
“It’s not going to be the best, but you’ve got to get to work somehow. If it has to be like that, it has to be like that,” said Brianna Muschitiello, of St. James.
“We manage to get through it. I don’t know if we manage to get through it so well, but we manage,” said Eddie Adamsky of Great Neck. “We are New Yorkers, we are tough.”
But riders have generally agreed that the “summer of hell” has yet to live up to its ominous name. Even Cuomo said, “It has not yet turned out to be the summer of hell. Let’s hope it stays that way.”
While Amtrak isn’t guaranteeing perfection at Penn Station within four weeks’ time, it insists that its summer of repairs will significantly reduce the risk of problems, derailments and delays.