Commuters on the NJ Transit and the Long Island Rail Road once again faced a nightmare rush hour at Penn Station Tuesday evening, just as officials said they were planning to address the dire necessity to renew infrastructure there.
Amtrak said an overhead electrical system issue in one of the four East River tunnels at Penn Station was affecting the commuter rails that travel there.
LIRR was initially forced to suspend westbound service to Penn Station and cancel multiple eastbound trains as a result of the problem. Westbound service has since resumed, but delays continued.
NJ Transit, meanwhile, says the same power problem caused delays of up to an hour on all its trains out of Penn Station at one point.
Penn Station was getting so crowded at one point that police had to temporarily restrict access to the station at the 34th Street-7th Avenue entrance.
"It's not really an option for me to drive, so as these situations pop up, I have no choice but to roll with the punches and deal with it and be frustrated," said Randi Pivnick of Oceanside. "It's awful."
Kenneth Decota of Westbury said the issues have been recurring "pretty much all the time."
"You just start feeling better and then the next problem comes up," he said.
The nightmare rush hour came as Amtrak said it is putting together plans to renew infrastructure at Penn Station. Spokeswoman Christina Leeds said in a statement to News 4 Tuesday that "this renewal effort will replace and rejuvenate the selected infrastructure providing needed updates, and is different than the ongoing repair work in New York Penn."
The work, however, will result in delays and cancellations for the already beleaguered rail customers who travel in and out of the congested hub. Leeds said Amtrak will announce more about its plans in the coming days, and will be working with Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit to schedule the work and minimize service impacts.
Amtrak leases tracks and equipment at Penn Station to the commuter rails. Both the MTA and NJ Transit have blamed Amtrak for poor upkeep on those tracks, and both New Jersey and New York officials have threatened the possibility of lawsuits against Amtrak over the condition of the rails in the region.
NJ Transit has also warned customers to expect regular delays for the foreseeable future, the consequence of a recent series of derailments and breakdowns. On its website earlier Tuesday, it said that "effective immediately and continuing until further notice," customers can expect 15-minute delays on weekdays and 30-minute delays on weekends. It also warned some tracks could be taken out of service, causing further delays.
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The rush-hour problems Tuesday were just the latest in what has seemed to commuters like an incessant string of rail problems:
- On March 24 an Amtrak train derailed and bumped into an NJ Transit train.
- On April 3 a second derailment closed more than a third of New York Penn Station's tracks for four days.
- On April 14 a train got stuck in a tunnel for nearly three hours, leading to systemwide delays for travelers.
- On April 21 an Amtrak switch problem near Newark caused widespread delays.