Amtrak Expects 2-3 Major Summer Outages At Penn Station For Repairs

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Accelerated repairs at Penn Station this summer will require two or three “significant” disruptions to service, Amtrak’s CEO told New Jersey lawmakers who want answers about recent rail problems at the transportation hub that have created chaos for commuters.

A joint committee in Trenton on Friday heard from Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman and Vice President Scot Napastek, as well as NJ TRANSIT Executive Director Steve Santoro.

Hundreds of thousands of commuters have endured delays lately due to two derailments and train breakdowns in the tunnels leading into Penn Station.

Moorman issued an apology to commuters at the start of his testimony.

“We understand the disruptions and the problems and the hardships that are caused when there are delays in the commute,” he said. “Commutes are never fun at the best of times and when they are lengthened for any reason — and particularly when those reasons have to do with Amtrak — we understand that, we apologize for that. It is our goal and our job to make sure that we do everything humanly possible to minimize any impact on the traveling public. That is our mission, and we are dedicated to carrying out that mission.”

Moorman also defended the agency saying, “I do want to address upfront this notion that somehow Amtrak is not maintaining the Northeast Corridor. That is just categorically incorrect. To the contrary, we have done a good job in maintaining somewhat old and fragile infrastructure that supports the highest density of train traffic in North America.”

Moorman announced Thursday that Amtrak would perform extensive repair work at Penn Station this summer to upgrade aging equipment and said that would create more delays, but didn’t give specifics.

The repairs were initially scheduled to be done over the next few years, but Moorman said Penn Station handles double the amount of traffic it handled in the 1970s and much of its infrastructure needs to be replaced.

“Everyone needs to understand that the railroad is not, and frankly for a long time has never been, in a true state of good repair, meaning that many of the assets that make up our infrastructure are now past the point where they would normally be replaced,” Moorman said. “That doesn’t mean the assets are unsafe — they’re not — but it does mean that they are prone to problems that impact reliability and performance and also increase the maintenance requirements in the station.”

He hopes to have the work done by Labor Day.

State legislators demanded immediate action from Amtrak, the owner and operator of NJ TRANSIT’s tracks, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported.

“We cannot afford to play Russian roulette with the lives and livelihoods of our commuters,” said Sen. Robert Gordon.

“These delays and cancellations affect people’s lives,” said Assemblywoman Elizabeth Maher Muoio. “These are missed soccer games, missed school productions, missed family meals.”

Amtrak’s response is a very rough plan. The 14-month track renewal project will cause major delays on weekdays and full outages on weekends.

There was no schedule given for exactly which commuter lines will be affected and when because Amtrak has yet to sit down with NJ TRANSIT and Long Island Rail Road officials.

“Why does that have to happen at the end of this process? Couldn’t they have been talking all the way along and perhaps even anticipated these problems?” transportation expert Martin Robbins said to Baker.

NJTRANSIT leaders say they are continuing to upgrade their contingency plans.

If problems occur right now, it will cross-honor with bus, light rail, PATH and ferries, but admitted Plan B still may not be enough to carry the 300,000 daily riders.

Amtrak officials plan to meet with LIRR and NJ TRANSIT officials next week with the hope of publishing a plan for track closures by the second week in May so that commuters can plan ahead.

Amtrak said more details about how the repair work will impact commuters will be released in the coming days after consultation with the Long Island Rail Road and NJ TRANSIT.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has threatened to withhold the state’s required payments to Amtrak over the recent infrastructure failures.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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