MTA Officials Give Update For LIRR Riders Ahead Of Penn Station Repair Work

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The MTA provided an update Thursday for Long Island Rail Road riders ahead of major repair work set to begin next week at Penn Station.

As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, you know it is going to be bad beginning Monday when Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota gets on a teleconference call to outline LIRR’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan and right away says his agency is the victim.

“We’ve become the victim of Amtrak and what they’ve decided to do at Penn Station,” Lhota said.

He was saying when commuters are miserable starting next week, they shouldn’t blame the LIRR.

Riders — already confused over exactly how Penn Station emergency track work will impact them — just wanted details. Starting Monday, July 10, tracks at Penn will be closed during eight weeks of emergency rail repairs, cutting service by 20 percent.

“I’m very worried,” said Yehuda Gutkind of Far Rockaway, Queens.

“I have no idea what’s happening,” said Garry Cummings. “I just know things will be changing.”

Banker Mike Lazear said he will attempt his normal routine Monday and “hope for the best.”

On Thursday, they did get new information about plans for the period from this coming Monday through Sept. 1 that MTA leaders admit are initially confusing and could change.

The MTA says 200 extra buses have had dry runs and the ferries are ready to go.

Meanwhile, with fewer trains going into Penn Station, the ones that still do are getting longer. Lhota said rush hour trains will have two extra cars to accommodate limited schedules next week, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.

“We have put together enough train capacity in the morning equal to number of riders that we have, so I would entourage as many people as possible to take the train,” Lhota said. “If you take the train now, you should take the train next week.”

But that change alone brings no relief to writers who must check the latest schedule to find out the destination they thought was Penn Station might be Atlantic Terminal.

“I think it’s going to make a lot more traffic here a lot more people on trains,” said Bridget Donoghue of Lindenhurst.

Another place that will likely get more crowded is Hunterspoint Avenue station. From Hunterspoint Avenue, commuters may hop a shuttle bus to the Long Island City Ferry Pier to travel on the water to East 34th Street.

Another ferry option is From Long Island’s Glen Cove Ferry to Wall Street.

Preparations are under way to ready the never-used terminal in Glen Cove, but there is only room for 375 passengers on two ferries. Others will be turned away.

“They have an alert system electronically that the minute that the ferries are full, they’ll be able to advise all of the, you know, would-be passengers to divert to buses or trains,” said Glen Cove Deputy Mayor Barbara Peebles.

Even though the Ferry Service is Free, some riders are incredulous, asking “Take a what? A boat?”

“You’re going all over the planet to get to work and that’s ridiculous,” said Jimmy Devine of Bellerose.

But Lhota said, “We’re asking Long Islanders to change their habits; to try something different.”

MTA Interim Executive Director Veronique Hakim also said riders should “consider doing things a little differently.”

“If you have the option of traveling near the start or end of peak periods, that will help steer clear of crowds,” she said, adding that regular LIRR off-peak service is not impacted by the work.

But when Lhota gave Hakim her turn to answer teleconference questions, she too said conditions would be ugly — with congestion likely to fan out across roads, over bridges, and down into the subways.

“We know this is going to be a tough couple of months,” she said. “But it is temporary.”

Hakim said extra work crews will also be on hand in case of train trouble.

“We are very sensitive to being able to respond to an incident quickly,” she said. “There will be an extra locomotive should we need to pull train out for any kind of problem.”

Many riders were not reassured.

“They haven’t taken care of their trains, buses, roadways, bridges,” said Damian Stringer of Hollis, Queens. “It’ll drive you up the wall. What are you going to do?”

LIRR commuters Hanna Zaretsky and Ethan Szerlip take the Port Washington Line to and from Penn Station on weekdays. Both told CBS2’s Jessica Layton the ride has been going downhill for a while.

“It’s truly in a state of emergency,” said Zaretsky, of Great Neck.

When it comes to the changes Monday, Zaretsky said she was expecting “more chaos, more congestion, confusion.”

“Oh my God, you know what? I may not come to work,” added Szerlip, of Roslyn.

CBS2 boarded the train to Great Neck with them and found other passengers absolutely dreading what is ahead for the next eight weeks.

“It’s going to be a nightmare,” said Risa Serin of Roslyn. “They’ve already told us they’re combining trains, dropping trains.”

Serin said she would be working a lot at home this summer.

Still, many saw the repairs as a necessary evil.

“You have to do it,” said Paul Jacobs of Great Neck. “Should have been on top of it all these years though. I think that’s really what the problem is.”

Some people said they will squeeze onto the roads.

“I’m renting Zip Cars. I’m doing whatever I can to avoid the railroad, because it sounds like a disaster,” one man said.

And the MTA leaders plead with commuters to stick to mass transit — offering a head-spinning array of the alternatives for Long Islanders that also include eight Long Island park-and-rides with buses leaving for the city starting at 6 a.m.

While Monday morning is considered a test for these Plan B’s, if many riders use their cars early next week as expected, the full picture of what this means on the rails will not emerge right away.

A special summer schedule is in effect from July 10 through Sept. 1. For more information, click here.

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

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