Amtrak’s Penn Station plan calls for 44 days of work this summer
NEWARK — Amtrak's preliminary plan for construction at New York Penn Station would make for a long, hot summer for NJ Transit riders with 44 days of weekday work including most of August.
Amtrak plans for "continuous rail service curtailments" during weekdays and rush hours from July 7 to 25 and Aug. 4 to 28, according to state Sens. Bob Gordon and Loretta Weinberg.
The North Jersey lawmakers said NJ Transit met with Amtrak on Monday to discuss the plan that will replace switches and tracks.
"Work is under way to develop and refine our Penn Station Renewal Plan," Amtrak spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta told New Jersey 101.5 in an email. "Amtrak met with NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road on Monday, and our commuter partners are currently reviewing the initial plan and developing individual service plans. We will reconvene with both partners on Thursday for further development. All groups are working with the common goal of creating service schedules that minimize impact on the traveling public when we do the necessary upgrades to Penn Station. We will jointly communicate this information once a unified approach has been agreed to, potentially next week."
Gordon is questioning why officials are waiting to begin work until after the Fourth of July weekend and before the week leading to Labor Day rather than taking advantage of the low commuter volume during the holidays.
“We are going to take a hard look at whether the full 19-day and 25-day rail service curtailments are absolutely necessary,” Gordon said. "We know those are big travel weekends for Amtrak, but NJ Transit commuters shouldn’t have to bear the full brunt.”
Gordon was also concerned that PATH, which also uses the station, has not been part of the planning meetings.
Assemblyman John McKeon was also critical of the preliminary plans.
“The utter disregard for commuters from Amtrak just continues, and it’s unacceptable. Amtrak ought to listen to the many frustrated rail passengers in New Jersey and arrange for repairs to have the least possible effect on commuters.”
Weinberg, meanwhile, is pushing a transit guru's "One Penn Station" recommendation to have Amtrak, NJ Transit and the LIRR run Penn Station as a joint operation. The station belongs to Amtrak, the railroad corporation created by Congress.
The biggest part of the project is the Infrastructure Renewal Program, a full replacement of the tracks and switches known as “A interlocking,” which is a critical mechanism that routs trains entering Penn Station from the Hudson River tunnels and the LIRR West Side Yard.
Amtrak CEO Witt Moorman told a legislative committee on Friday there could be "two or three" weekday track closures, but did not have specifics.
NJ Transit did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday afternoon about Amtrak's preliminary plan. However, a message from executive director Steve Santoro posted on their website said that their operating staff is "thoroughly reviewing the plan to determine its impact on our customers."
Santoro wrote that NJ Transit "needs to fully scrutinize the information and negotiate with Amtrak in terms of our needs on behalf of our customers" and that its planning experts "will be keenly focused on developing any and all strategies to mitigate disruptions and minimize delays to our customers as much as possible."
"Once a service plan is finalized, an extensive communications outreach will be announced to allow our customers sufficient time to react and plan their commute accordingly as Amtrak upgrades its infrastructure in the upcoming months," the executive director wrote.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.
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