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After NJ Transit and LIRR delays, Amtrak vows to fix Penn Station but warns of more disruptions

Penn Station was chaotic due to Amtrak power

Penn Station was chaotic due to Amtrak power issues on April 25, 2017. Pictured, MTA Police direct people away from a closed entrance at 34th Street at Seventh Avenue. Photo Credit: Vin Barone

Amtrak vowed on Tuesday to repair aging infrastructure in and around Penn Station, while acknowledging the work will cause delays and cancellations for Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit commuters who once again endured a miserable evening rush hour.

Amid mounting pressure from transit providers, New York and New Jersey elected officials and commuters that it address the infrastructure failures at Penn that have resulted in a spate of recent service problems, Amtrak announced Tuesday it is putting together a plan to “renew the infrastructure at New York Penn Station” that could further disrupt rail operations there.

“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,” Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said Tuesday.

LIRR and New Jersey Transit riders dealt with another round of delays and cancellations during the peak evening commute on Tuesday. 

Normal service was restored to NJ Transit trains around 9:48 p.m, hours after the first delays and cancellations started rolling in. LIRR trains returned to normal service around the end of the evening peak commute at 8 p.m.

The service changes were due to overhead wire problems in one of the East River tunnels, the two agencies said. Amtrak, which is responsible for track and equipment maintenance in and around Penn Station, said a downed catenary was the cause.

Commuters at Penn Station Tuesday night were running low on patience.

"It's out of control," fumed Jesse DiBenedetto, 29, a construction worker who was waiting for a train to Long Beach. "This is every week."

"They're stealing our money," DiBenedetto continued. "I pay $300 for a monthly ticket to Long Beach. That's more than my car payment. And this is what we get."

This is just the latest in a string of infrastructure issues impacting NJ Transit, LIRR and Amtrak service in and out of Penn Station in recent weeks. Commuters on Amtrak and NJ Transit also dealt with delays Tuesday morning after an Amtrak train stalled outside of Penn Station, officials said.

About a week ago on April 19, a disabled NJ Transit train caused 30-minute delays in and out of Penn Station. And on April 14, another disabled NJ Transit train resulted in delays of up to two hours as travelers made their way to their Easter weekend destinations in the middle of the evening's peak commute.

There were also two minor train derailments that snarled service in late March and early April.

After the derailments, Amtrak announced it was conducting a joint inspection of all of Penn’s infrastructure along with the Federal Railroad Administration, as well as reviewing its maintenance practices. It has separately been replacing some components of its East River Tunnel tracks since 2011.

The repeated equipment breakdowns and derailments have also caught the eye of elected officials. Just last week, senators from New York and New Jersey urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to examine firsthand the decaying train tunnels that threaten to cripple regional travel if they fail.

Amtrak said it would have "more on the plans" to fix Penn Station within the next few days and vowed to work alongside NJ Transit and LIRR in order to minimize the repairs' impact on commuters.

Beth DeFalco, spokeswoman for the MTA, the LIRR’s parent agency, said the agency “will thoroughly review the plan once it is presented.”

“We expect Amtrak will coordinate with the MTA and LIRR as they’ve committed to do to make the improvements necessary while minimizing impact to riders,” DeFalco said.

No timetable was given for the plan’s rollout.

Back at Penn Station Tuesday evening, Grace Marin, 47, who was trying to get home to Long Beach, admitted that her commute was ruined. 

"I usually get the 8:30 [p.m.] train from Penn and get home around 9:30," she said. "I got out early today but it looks like I'll be getting home at the same time." 

Karen Belt, 43, of Glen Cove, lamented that these types of delays have become commonplace and expressed a sense of hopelessness. 

"It's typical at this point," said Belt, who works in marketing. "What else can I do? Take a subway to Jamaica? That's ridiculous."

As some have begun advocating for the MTA to take over Penn Station from Amtrak, commuter Joe Horan, 24, voiced frustration with Amtrak's management. 

"It seems like every problem has to do with Amtrak," Horan said. "You can catch a subway or a train out of Grand Central, but here it's issue after issue."

With Alfonso A. Castillo, Joan Gralla and Reuters

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