New York

Amtrak CEO on Smooth Start to ‘Summer of Hell': Commuters Have ‘Figured It Out'

Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman reaffirmed the Labor Day end date to the Penn Station overhaul during remarks at the National Press Club Wednesday

What to Know

  • Amtrak is making extensive repairs to tracks and signals in Penn Station, which it owns and operates
  • Gov. Cuomo predicted it would be a "summer of hell" for commuters, but three days in, all appears to be running smoothly
  • Authorities credit careful planning and commuter outreach with the smooth start to the overhaul, but much remains to be seen

Outgoing Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman says commuters "by and large, they've figured it out," as far as "summer of hell" service changes are concerned, and praised early and consistent outreach for a smooth start to the overhaul.

Moorman, speaking at the National Press Club Wednesday, also reaffirmed the Labor Day end date to Amtrak's eight-week Penn Station infrastructure work. He said if the government-owned railroad somehow found itself running behind, it could button up the project during weekend outages.

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The extensive eight-week repair program at the aging Manhattan hub started Monday, a project expedited by a series of derailments and other issues. Hundreds of thousands of New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road commuters are affected by service changes, but three days into the so-called "summer of hell," it's been going smoothly. 

That's because commuters knew well in advance, Moorman says. 

"What commuters hate is when you have an unplanned disruption," he said. "This summer, while there are disruptions, they've known about it a month in advance. People figure it out if they know what's going on." 

Asked how to prevent such overhauls in the future, Moorman pointed to a recent comment made by MTA Chairman Joe Lhota in which Lhota suggested more lengthy service disruptions might be required to truly overhaul the infrastructure of the 112-year-old subway system, which has been plagued by its own series of issues, from breakdowns to signal problems to a derailment.

That's precisely what Amtrak did in deciding to knock three of 21 tracks out of service for the entire summer to overhaul Penn, Moorman said. 

"This is a big outage. We're addressing the most difficult place to renew in Penn Station and we just have to continue to educate people about the necessity of renewing these assets," he said. "I think the the public understands if you explain it and you don't use rhetoric that might be viewed as inflammatory that these kinds of projects are essential."

Moorman's remarks come the same day he relinquishes control of Amtrak to former Delta Airlines chief Richard Anderson, who was named the new president and CEO of the government-owned railroad last month, ahead of the overhaul. The two will be co-CEOs through the end of the year.

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