NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — NJ TRANSIT riders are dealing with service changes as Amtrak begins major repairs at Penn Station on Monday.
Riders who rely on Midtown Direct trains to Penn on the Morris and Essex lines are among those most impacted.
Four early morning trains on those lines still ran into Penn, but after 7 a.m., those trains were diverted to Hoboken. From there, passengers had to take a PATH train, a bus or a ferry to get to New York.
Afternoon commuters were likewise affected.
WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman talked with some of them in Hoboken. Some were willing to shrug off the inconvenience.
“It’s a beautiful day, so they offered free ferry rides, so I took the ferry – it was great,” one commuter said.
There were a couple of canceled trains, but no major issues in the evening rush.
“I thought the most that would happen would be more crowded,” a commuter said. “It was more crowded this morning going on to the path, but not terrible.”
NJ TRANSIT said about 12,000 more people came through the Hoboken terminal than on a normal day. Spokesman Charles Ingolia said they are prepared for more if it turns out people avoided the trains entirely on day one:
“Our plan took into account these maximum numbers – larger numbers of people than we’re actually here today,” Ingolia said. “We’re confident we’re still in the green zone when it comes to those numbers.”
Earlier in the day, as CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, commuters had advised leaving early.
“I came in early, and I’m leaving early so I’m hoping to avoid the rush,” one rider said.
Since the early birds get to skip Hoboken, NJ TRANSIT platforms in Chatham and Summit were unusually packed around 6 a.m. with commuters who woke up early to catch the last direct train to Penn Station Monday.
“To take a train to Hoboken back uptown to New York is difficult and long,” one rider said.
CBS2’s Ali Bauman boarded a train in Summit at 7:26 a.m. and arrived in Hoboken about an hour later without any major problems.
“I think more people are trying out the buses, more people driving in and I think a lot of people said ‘Screw it, I’ll take a vacation,'” one commuter said.
Once at the Hoboken Station, crowds of riders tried to navigate their new and unfamiliar route. Signs indicated where to go and transit workers were stationed to help direct, but it was a shoulder to shoulder shuffle to the PATH train as commuters were slowly funneled through a single turnstile. People then squeezed onto PATH trains as best as they could.
“This is hell,” said commuter Judi Eskenazi. “As you can see it’s pretty bad over here. I actually moved to Hoboken to not deal with this from Bergen County because Penn Station was so bad and now I feel like we’re dealing with it all over again.”
Despite a little crowding on some trains, most NJ TRANSIT riders arriving at Penn Station had no complaints about the morning commute.
“It was alright, a little bit crowded, but it was fine,” one rider said.
“It looks like things are going relatively smoothly this morning but this is day one of an eight week process so we’ll see how this proceeds from here on out,” said Nick Sifuentes, Deputy Director of the Riders Alliance.
Between now and Sept. 1, as many as five of Penn Station’s 21 tracks will be shut down for repairs.
“I’m going to pack Advil with me every day,” said commuter Hanna Fruchtman.
One official from Amtrak, which owns and operates the tracks, said that instead of a “summer of hell,” he prefers calling it “a summer of renewal.”
With the uncertainty of how painful their commutes may be, some say they may avoid NJ TRANSIT all together.
“I might think about driving in,” one commuter said.
New York Waterway ferries will be running every 15 minutes between Hoboken and New York during rush hour.
“The ferry is a stress-free commute because it’s a guaranteed commute, it’s a 99 percent on-time performance we have,” said Jennifer Schuck, from the New York Waterway.
PATH is cross honoring NJ TRANSIT ticket holders and will have trains running every five minutes during the morning and evening commute.