Amtrak 'a little bit ahead of schedule' for Penn's track work

The first leg of Amtrak’s planned repairs to Penn Station’s tracks has been finished on schedule, the railroad said Friday in a report outlining progress during the so-called “summer of hell.”

This week’s work, which began Monday, included switch replacement, removing an old rail and a third-rail that powers the trains, and preparing the track for further work later in the summer, according to the progress report, released Friday morning.

“If anything, we’re a little bit ahead of schedule right now,” Scot Naparstek, Amtrak’s chief operating officer, said Friday afternoon in a conference call with reporters.

Although “we’ve had a very good week,” Naparstek said, it was “too soon” to say whether the work would be finished earlier than Labor Day, as the railroad has promised.

Friday ends week one of what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has called the “summer of hell,” when the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit must reduce rush-hour trains through Penn to allow Amtrak, which owns and operates the station, to perform the critical track repairs.

Since Monday, the LIRR has curbed service to Penn Station, because Amtrak is taking at least three of the hub’s 21 tracks out of service through Labor Day.

Amtrak has promised similar end-of-week progress reports until the work’s completion, which the railroad said would improve reliability at Penn Station and throughout the Northeast Corridor.

Naparstek declined to rebut Cuomo’s skepticism, voiced in an interview earlier this week on News 12 Long Island, that Amtrak would finish all the work on time.

“My focus is on getting the work done. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who have — whatever. In the end it doesn’t matter,” Naparstek said. He added: “I feel pressure because it’s my job to do it, and because I have passengers of Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road and NJT who are counting on us getting the job done.”

Ridership was close to normal this week, but passengers tended to shift to alternative stations like Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and Hunterspoint in Queens, and before or after the typical crunchtime in the morning, from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., and evening, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., said Joseph Lhota, the newly appointed chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the LIRR.

He urged passengers to continue to use their detours and not return to Penn.

The bulk of passengers diverted to Atlantic, Lhota told reporters in his own conference call.

Despite fewer bus riders than expected, Lhota said, the schedules are unlikely to change, at least in the short term.

“You know, people may have been on vacation this week, and they may want to take the buses, so we have to monitor that over a couple of weeks, to be able to determine whether or not we roll any of it back,” Lhota said.

Riders before the report was released said they’ve been pleasantly surprised by how uneventful their commutes have been. Nearly a week of reduced-rush hour service at Penn Station has passed without a major incident on the LIRR or connecting subways.

“Keep talking to us. The MTA, Amtrak — they gotta communicate,” said Carl Siciliano, 48, a commercial insurance underwriter who commutes to Penn from Babylon. “Service has been great so far but that can change at any minute.”

Siciliano and his fellow commuters are still expecting the worst in weeks to come. And many doubt that the critical track repairs will actually be completed by Labor Day, as Amtrak has insisted.

“I don’t believe anything Amtrak, the MTA or the LIRR tells me, and that’s from experience,” said George Taggart, 57, an applications support manager from Hicksville, who added he’s commuted on the railroad for 29 years. “I’m not bitter about them, I’ve just seen it all.”

There was at least one hiccup on the final day of the first week of the “summer of hell” — one of the ferry routes between Glen Cove and Manhattan had to be canceled because of technical problems.

The morning ferry to East 34th Street had to be turned around shortly after it departed. The MTA later announced it would also not be operating the return ferry scheduled to leave Manhattan at 6:20 p.m.

The MTA will offer express bus service from the 34th Street ferry dock for customers ‎returning to Glen Cove. The agency also said customers could take the 6:16 p.m. train from Penn Station to Glen Cove.

The MTA attributed the cancellations to “electrical issues.” An agency official apologized to customers and said he expected the ferry service to resume Monday morning.

With Vincent Barone and Alfonso A. Castillo


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