NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Crews were making progress on repairs at Penn Station Wednesday following a second derailment in less than two weeks that has wreaked havoc for hundreds of thousands of commuters.
As CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported, Amtrak said late Wednesday that its crews hope to restore regular service at Penn Station by Friday.
Until then, the Long Island Rail Road, NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak will continue to operate on reduced schedules.
As it is, train movements are limited by major switch damage from the Monday derailment, and eight station tracks cannot be used as normal.
“The damage from the April 3 incident includes multiple switches, signals and the mechanisms that control them, several rails, a rail crossing point, signal wires and other components,” Amtrak spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta said in a statement. “This work is ongoing with safety as the first priority as crews operate heavy machinery with energized power lines overhead and trains moving by at reduced speeds on adjacent tracks.”
Riders have been living a transit nightmare since the derailment.
“It is a big problem because all the lines are delayed and the truth is you are waiting forever sometimes, no announcement,” commuter Lisa Simon told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond. “You have no idea as to what is going on and it’s happening a bit too often.”
“The PA systems that are rapidly shouting things once that you can’t understand anyway are not doing us any favors,” another rider told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
“It is frustrating,” another commuter told CBS2’s Andrea Grymes. “Hopefully it’s resolved soon. They’re not really saying when it’s going to be resolved, so that’s the big concern.”
The LIRR announced late Wednesday that more trains will be canceled Thursday morning as the repairs continue.
The LIRR canceled or combined 13 westbound trains during the morning due to reduced track capacity at Penn.
The railroad also terminated three trains at Jamaica and divert one train to Hunterspoint Avenue in Queens on Wednesday.
NJ TRANSIT’s Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Lines trains continue to operate on a holiday schedule with extra trains added. MidTown Direct trains are still being diverted to and from Hoboken.
Buses and New York Waterway ferries are honoring NJ TRANSIT rail tickets and cross-honoring is also in effect on PATH.
Amtrak said it is operating on a modified schedule on the Northeast Corridor through Thursday and said customers on trains arriving and departing Penn may experience delays.
For many, the service disruptions have caused commuter chaos.
“It’s just nuts to me that this is happening so often,” said LIRR passenger Dan Reilly.
“We just had a derailment and now another derailment? They should get it together,” said commuter Teresa Winfield. “This is crazy, we can’t get to work.”
“Usually we take the train here from Penn but we have to take the PATH and go to Journal Square and from there, we went to Newark and from there to New Jersey,” said commuter Priya Thukaram.
The derailment happened Monday when three cars in the middle of an inbound NJ TRASNIT train dislodged from a track as it approached a platform.
“Amtrak has advised us that the repairs to damaged track will take a matter of days, unfortunately,” said LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski. “Because of that, we must continue to operate on a reduced schedule until all repairs have been safely completed.”
The derailment damaged the track and a switch and knocked out service on eight of 21 tracks, said Scot Naparstek, chief operating officer of Amtrak. The train was moved back onto the rail early Tuesday, he said.
Naparstek didn’t speculate on what might have caused the derailment. He said because of the location and the track components involved, it was not believed to be related to a March 24 incident in which an outbound Amtrak train derailed at Penn Station and scraped against an inbound NJ TRANSIT train.
No serious injuries were reported in either derailment. The causes are still under investigation.
Naparstek also didn’t offer a guess on when all 21 tracks would be operational.
“Any guesstimate I’d have right now is too, is premature and is likely to be wrong until I have more information,” he said.
On Wednesday, the executive director of NJ TRANSIT said Wednesday that Amtrak must be held accountable for repeated derailments, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority also demanded a sit-down with the head of Amtrak — accusing the organization of negligence.
The remarks by NJ TRANSIT executive director Steven H. Santoro said NJ TRANSIT has paid $62 million to Amtrak toward a maintaining a state of good repair work for the tracks at Penn Station, and is set to contribute $74 million more. Amtrak must hold up its part in maintaining safety for the tracks it owns and that NJ TRANSIT uses, Santoro said.
“We expect results, we expect more focus, and we expect better service from Amtrak for our customers,” Santoro said.
Meanwhile, MTA Acting Chairman Fernando Ferrer and Interim Executive Director Veronique Hakim penned a letter to Amrak President and Chief Executive Officer Charles Moorman on Wednesday.
“This week’s derailment at New York’s Pennsylvania Station is, unfortunately, the latest in a series of unacceptable infrastructure failures that have impacted and inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of Long Island Rail Road riders who depend on the station each day,” the letter read.
Amtrak released a statement Wednesday saying it values its partnership with commuter railroads and shares their frustration. Amtrak said it has requested to join the Federal Railroad Administration in a review of Penn Station infrastructure.
“New York Penn Station is our busiest and most important station, and we take our role as host seriously and make every effort to keep it operating smoothly. We are investigating the causes of these recent derailments and will take prompt action to address them,” the statement said. “We will continue to work with our partners at LIRR and NJ TRANSIT to ensure that adequate work windows and funding are available to keep these heavily-used and aged assets functioning reliably as we pursue the long term goal of modernizing Penn Station infrastructure.”
The two derailments also renewed calls for accelerating progress on an ambitious, $20 billion-plus project, known as Gateway, to add a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and expand Penn Station.
“A minor derailment can cause massive delays throughout the system for people who don’t even ride the train for many days,” Regional Planning Association Tom Wright told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “And that’s just indicative of how thin our margin of error is right now in this whole system and how fragile the whole thing is.”
The current tunnel is more than 100 years old and operates at capacity during peak commuting hours. It suffered extensive saltwater damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and is a regular source of delays due to overhead wire problems.
The cost of the tunnel, estimated at roughly $10 billion, is to be split among New York, New Jersey and the federal government, but supporters fear President Donald Trump’s budget released last month could jeopardize the federal slice of the project by proposing to pay only for projects that have advanced to the final contract stage.
John Porcari, a former deputy U.S. secretary of transportation who is the interim head of the development corporation overseeing Gateway, said a new tunnel wouldn’t have stopped the two recent derailments from happening. It would, he said, lessen the aftershock to commuters because the eight tracks currently out of service would have been able to connect to the new tunnel.
“It would have been a minor blip instead of a major nightmare for commuters,” he said.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)