Amtrak offered a closer look today at the crisscrossing tracks underneath Penn Station slated for emergency repairs in July and August. An estimated six weeks of repair work on a network of aging New Jersey Transit and Amtrak tracks on the station's western end was confirmed last month, in the face of mounting service delays and residual commuter headaches.
Michael DeCataldo, Vice President of Amtrak Operations East, told a group of reporters that he's confident in the timeline. The end goal is maintenance of the "tangle and mangle of switches" that make up the so-called A interlocking, he said, rather than expansion.
"This is basically replacement work," DeCataldo said. "Really no new technology is going in. It's just replacing something that's been in the ground for 20 or 25 years, if not longer."
"We'll go in, we'll make cuts in the steel, we'll demo[lish] that, we'll rip it out, we'll cut the ties out," he added. "Meanwhile, the replacement components are being assembled over in New Jersey. They'll be brought in intact."
"A interlocking" is a wide track configuration that allows train dispatchers to route trains entering the station from New Jersey and Washington. Early Thursday afternoon, technically off-peak, reporters saw about a dozen trains cross through the track network in less than an hour.
"This just highlights how difficult it's going to be," DeCataldo said.
Reports on service disruption during the scheduled July 7-25 and August 4-28 repairs have varied, ranging between 20 and 25 percent reductions in service during peak hours. DeCataldo declined to get more specific on Thursday, saying, "Right now we're working on the schedule of reductions."
This is the A interlocking in penn, the site of your summer 2017 NJTransit delays and service changes pic.twitter.com/FfSq6wKwHe
— Emma Whitford (@emma_a_whitford) May 25, 2017
Penn Station is already bursting at the seams, with 600,000 daily passengers—more than triple the station's intended capacity, according to the Governor's Office. The planned repair work will take three of the station's 21 tracks out of commission for weeks at a time. That's 14 percent of the total tracks, and 19 percent of the 16 tracks that serve NJ Transit and Amtrak.
"It seems like not a lot—three tracks," DeCataldo said. "But it really is a huge impact on capacity."
Amtrak owns Penn Station jointly with the federal government, leasing track space to the LIRR and NJT. LIRR passengers will be less impacted during the summer 2017 repairs, according to Amtrak, as their tracks are on the eastern end of the station well away from the repair work area.
Thursday's press tour came days after Governor Cuomo publicly questioned Amtrak's ability to maintain Penn Station, the largest transit hub in its network, and suggested that Penn Station management be privatized or taken over by Port Authority or the state of New York. "Amtrak has had a track record of coming up with a schedule and the actuality has no connection whatsoever to a schedule," the Governor chided.
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has also criticized Amtrak, and joined Governor Cuomo in calling for privatization. "I still agree with Gov. Cuomo that the long-term solution for this as we jointly recommended last week is to get a private operator in to make sure that a private operator runs Penn Station and that infrastructure given Amtrak's duplicity, their dishonesty," Christie told reporters.
DeCataldo declined to comment on Governor Cuomo's criticism on Thursday, saying only that, "We have excellent working relationships with both the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit."
"There are plenty of reasons why we reached this situation at Penn Station, but we are now taking the concrete steps, with funds we already have, required to fix it," Amtrak President Wick Moorman stated earlier this week.
Amtrak would not confirm reports that it's planning to re-route some rush hour trains to Grand Central during repairs. "We're considering all options," DeCataldo said.