Amtrak, LIRR officials grilled at hearing on Penn Station commuter chaos

Thursday, May 18, 2017 10:34PM
Stacey Sager reports on Thursday's hearing on the problems at Penn Station.

JAMAICA, Long Island - Railway representatives came under fire Thursday at a public hearing on Penn Station's renewal plan and ongoing commuter headaches.

A New York State Assembly committee scheduled the hearing about the plan to replace tracks and other equipment at Penn as soon as this summer.

The improvements were announced following a series of delays and cancellations in April caused by derailments and other issues.

Representatives of the key affected rail lines, Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit, attended.

Amtrak CEO Charles "Wick" Moorman acknowledged Thursday that Penn's system just isn't designed for the modern load of commuters. "We sincerely apologize for the disruptions that were caused by these events. We do recognize the significant impacts that they've had on Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and Amtrak passengers," he said.

Amtrak has acknowledged that the projects will require track closures and schedule changes for Amtrak, LIRR and NJT this summer.

Full details of the modified schedules because of the track shutdowns are expected to be released next week.

Up to 25 percent of trains will be out of service during two continuous periods of work, July 7 - July 27, and August 4 - August 28.

"During this longer outage, these two that we're talking about, at any point in time there will be some number of platforms that are not available," said Moorman.

To beleaguered commuters and those who represent them, that undoubtedly means more train rides where people carve out space anyplace they can.

"People stand in the bathrooms for space, missing work, missing their families," said New York State Senator Todd Kandinsky.

"But it's really ridiculous, fares go up and the service is lousy. It's crazy," said LIRR commuter Bob Darby.

The meeting began at 11 a.m. at the Assembly Hearing Room, 250 Broadway, in Manhattan. Those wanting to testify were asked to fill out a form. Testimony was by invitation only.

Moorman announced Thursday that the next step in the effort to improve Penn was the creation of a new entity to partner with the private sector to manage and improve Penn's concourse areas. Amtrak invited the LIRR and NJT to join the entity, to establish joint management.

The hearing came a day after about 80 Long Island Rail Road trains - roughly half the lines - were canceled during the evening commute Wednesday.

At several times during the three-hour debacle, police had to temporarily close the gates to the platforms because the crush of people was simply too unsafe.

The railroad's Wednesday evening rush hour commute was snarled by limited service and suspensions before the problem was cleared up.

New Jersey Transit also was affected with 40- to 60-minute delays.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the MTA have largely pinned the problems on Amtrak, which runs Penn Station and, in the case of Wednesday's problems, blamed Amtrak dispatchers who they now say were having routing issues.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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