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Amtrak to take 3 Penn Station tracks out of service, LIRR says

Amtrak crews at work on Aug. 31, 2017, during the "summer of hell" at Penn Station. / Amtrak / Emily Moser

Amtrak is planning another infrastructure renewal project at Penn Station that will take three tracks out of service for five months beginning in January, Long Island Rail Road president Patrick Nowakowski said Monday.

At a Manhattan meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR Committee, Nowakowski offered the first details of Amtrak’s follow-up to its “summer of hell” project, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo dubbed it.

That project, which lasted eight weeks during the summer, entailed replacing track infrastructure in a portion of Penn Station not typically used by the LIRR. Still, the LIRR was affected because it had to share tracks it usually has to itself with Amtrak and NJ Transit.

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Nowakowski said for its next project, Amtrak plans a “total reconstruction” of tracks 15, 18 and 19 — all of which are used by the LIRR. The work will be performed one track at a time and only rush hour service would be affected, Nowakowski said.

“While we’re not ready to identify what the service impacts will be . . . it will not be as much as we experienced last summer,” Nowakowski said. “We are doing the due diligence currently that we did during the summer service to try and accommodate as many riders as possible, as many trains as possible into Penn Station.”

In a statement, MTA spokesman Jon Weinstein clarified that the volume of trains that would be affected “isn’t expected to be anywhere near what our customers experienced this summer.”

“ . . . We’re currently negotiating with Amtrak to ensure the minimal impact to riders as possible — but we expect no more than a few trains will be involved,” Weinstein added.

A source with knowledge of the plan said up to five trains each in the morning and evening rush hours would be affected by the work.

Nowakowski said he expected that some regularly scheduled Penn Station trains would have to be diverted to other stations during the project, which would last “probably until May.” Over the summer, the LIRR diverted some rush hour trains to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and Hunterspoint Avenue in Queens.

Amtrak began its aggressive efforts to modernize some of its aging track infrastructure in the 107-year-old Penn Station — the busiest railroad station in the United States — following a series of major service disruptions there in the first half of this year. That included three train derailments in less than four months at the station, which is used by about 650,000 travelers each day.

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“It is an important project for the safety of our trains and our operations,” Nowakowski said of the upcoming work. “But it will be an impactful project.”

Also at the meeting, Nowakowski announced that LIRR ridership was up in October as compared to October of last year. The increase comes after the LIRR lost riders in six out of seven months since March, and five months in a row.

Before March, the LIRR increased ridership for 23 consecutive months.