Amtrak will begin work on the decaying infrastructure at Penn Station beginning in May, taking several tracks out of service at a time, which will affect all railroads using the station.
Major work to replace tracks and switches will take place over the summer on both week days and weekends, and then primarily on weekends through June 2018. The first part of repairs will affect the western portion of Penn Station, Amtrak officials said in a conference call on April 27, organized to reveal details of the plan.
During that period, four of the station's 21 tracks could be taken out of service at a time to make repairs, according to a source close to the project. Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman declined to comment on which tracks will be closed, but said there will be some parts of the station where work will be continuous.
“It is our goal to cause the least amount of disruption in that station that we can,” Moorman said.
While Amtrak is still working to finalize plans with the MTA and NJ Transit before announcing any service changes, some dates have emerged, though they're subject to change as operators continue to review the plans.
Certain tracks will be out of service for 19 days from July 7 through July 25, according to the plan. Another project will last 25 days from Aug. 4 through Aug. 28, to replace timber, tracks, signals and concrete.
Switch and track replacements will also cause some sections to be out of service for 30 days at a time, in February 2018 and again in April and May of next year.
Amtrak plans to publicly release its plan as soon as next week, after the railroad, as well as NJ Transit and the LIRR agree on a "unified approach," according to Amtrak spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta.
Commuters on Amtrak, NJ Transit and the Long Island Rail Road have been plagued with delays in recent months caused by a rash of infrastructure issues, including mismatched pieces of rail, dangling overhead electrical wires and faulty switches.
Moorman said on April 27 that Amtrak had known of the issues at the station "some time ago" and they have been on the "renewal list for a long time." But recent incidents, including two train derailments in just over a month and multiple train stallings, have shown that the renewal work must be accelerated.
"The simple fact of the matter is that some of the track and infrastructure in service today at Penn Station was built in the 1970s at a time when we were handling half the trains and a third of the customers that we do today," he said.
"While a substantial amount of reconstruction has already been done at New York Penn Station, the remaining renewal work has been scheduled to take place over the next several years in order to minimize impacts on scheduled services. We can't wait long. This work needs to be done now."
Instead of completing the repairs over an extended period of time, as originally proposed, Amtrak will advance the work through a series of projects set to begin in May and continue through the fall. Then, more renewal work will take place, mostly on weekends, up until roughly June 2018, they said.
The first set of projects will focus on the area of tracks and switches known as "A Interlocking," which are used to route trains entering the station from the Hudson River tunnels and the Long Island Rail Road's West Side Yard to various tracks and platforms.
Amtrak is also bringing in former MTA chief Thomas Prendergast, who stepped down in January, to "independently review the interaction, coordination and collaboration between the railroads' various passenger concourses within Penn Station."
The company is also proposing a joint operations center with the MTA and NJ Transit to improve responses to disruptions and incidents, such as the stampede at the station after Amtrak police tasered a man. Additionally, Amtrak said it will assemble a task force to review safety and security protocols at the station.
The MTA and NJ Transit did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Amtrak's announcement.
NJ Transit sent a letter to Amtrak on April 27, 2017, requesting information on the condition of Penn Station's infrastructure, including inspection reports and spending plans.
"NJ Transit deserves and requires a true transportation partner in Amtrak," the letter reads. "This partnership is essential for NJ Transit to properly serve our customers, especially since our customers do not care who owns the asset."
With Newsday and Reuters