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OpinionEditorial

Amid scramble, Amtrak still on wrong track

Track maintenance workers walk along train tracks used

Track maintenance workers walk along train tracks used by both New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains at Pennsylvania Station on April 26, 2017 in New York City. Following two recent derailments at the crowded Manhattan station, Amtrak officials are now considering closing tracks at the station for an extended duration to make long-term repairs. Commuters fear that these temporary closings would only add to recent delays and cancellations of trains. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

The commuter horror will get worse before it can get better.

Amtrak, which owns and controls Penn Station, has been shamed into planning repairs to its tracks earlier than anticipated after recent problems pushed officials to act. Still, there is little hope anything will improve with Amtrak in charge. What’s not on the schedule is an emphasis on leadership. The political and financial complexities involved in wresting control away from Amtrak mean local and state officials have to work with federal officials.

While Amtrak finally understands the urgency and is stepping up efforts to squeeze years of necessary repairs into a few months of track work, it’s too little, too late.

And while commuters wait for trains, there is another pressing concern: security. At any given time, up to six security forces patrol the claustrophobic station. Without coordination and clear direction, that’s a toxic brew. It boiled over in April when a Taser mistaken for a gunshot led to widespread panic and multiple injuries. What would happen in a real emergency? How can we respond effectively to chaos? They’re questions without good answers. City, state and federal officials have to find them.

Amtrak cops lead on Penn Station security. But Penn also hosts Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New Jersey Transit police, the NYPD, and the New York State Police and National Guard. There are questions about whether there are too few officers on duty, and about coordination and communication — all of which demands a central command center. And Amtrak needs better ways to notify passengers in an emergency — through the public address system, social media or text alerts.

And then there’s the issue of who should be in charge.

State, city and Amtrak officials admit there’s work to be done but defend existing practices. Should state law enforcement or city police take the lead from Amtrak? If multiple agencies must be involved, personnel must have the same training and equipment, and a joint command center.

Penn Station faces long-term infrastructure upgrades, but its security needs are immediate. Delays on all these tracks are unacceptable.

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