Amtrak suffered another delay Thursday, this time on the information highway — when officials told lawmakers they won’t be able to say until next week how track work at Penn Station will affect commuters.
They also told lawmakers at an Assembly committee hearing that commuters, who will suffer through the track work this summer, will have to brace for another set of disruptions sometime next year. But they could not say exactly how long or when.
Even the cause of Wednesday night’s Wednesday night’s service disruption at Penn Station was still unknown, attributed only to a “dispatcher routing” error.
There were few answers for the five Assembly members who grilled Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road officials about the summer track closures needed to ramp up a repair program in light of constant disruptions and two derailments.
Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman did say the rail agency is trying to minimize the commuting chaos when riders are hit with daytime service outages from July 7 through August.
“Our goal is that the work that effectively is highly disruptive happens at night, and we kind of skinny it down during the day so we can operate as much at the station as possible,” Moorman said.
Amtrak owns and manages service at Penn Station, and is responsible for maintenance. Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit, however, carry more than 90% of travelers through the station.
Lawmakers questioned why Amtrak crews won’t be doing major repair work during the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends, when commuters are off.
Amtrak officials said the crews want the time off, too.
In addition, holiday rail work would adversely affect riders who use the LIRR to get a respite from the city.
Amtrak also said it needs to bring in a private company to manage the concourses used by each of the three rail agencies that run through Penn Station.
Passengers are often stuck in the middle of Amtrak, LIRR and NJ Transit’s ownership of their slices of Penn Station.
That plan incensed State Sen. Todd Kaminsky of Long Island, who attended the Assembly hearing.
“We heard a pretty stunning admission about how unsafe and uncoordinated Penn Station is,” he said criticizing Amtrak’s wish to get outside help to run the hub.
Kaminsky said Amtrak’s testimony failed to convince him the agency should continue to run Penn Station.
“I was disappointed with the plan I heard today, which was bite the bullet, it’s gonna be a pretty bad summer — too bad, so sad,” he said.
On Thursday night, Gov. Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie endorsed Amtrak’s decision to look for a private operator to manage the concourses at Penn Station.
“As Amtrak’s management of Penn Station continues to produce multiple failures, we believe systemic changes cannot wait,” the governors wrote in a joint letter. “A professional, qualified, private station operator must be brought in to take over the repairs and manage this entire process going forward.”