Ahead of summer repairs, Amtrak explains scope of work

By David Cruz

It’s a typical weekday afternoon at New York Penn Station and delays are, well, typical. The facility goes by many names — most of which we can’t share on a family news program. But as officials prepare for what will be a long, hot summer of truncated travel schedules and rerouted rides, Amtrak officials want you to know why.

“Behind me is railroad west. That is facing towards New Jersey; that is where all the NJ Transit trains come in, all the Amtrak trains come in from the south and also from Washington. That is the area where predominately we will be doing the major work this summer, that is what’s called A Interlocking. When we get further in, you’ll be able to see switch arrangements and everything we’re going to out there,” explained Mike DeCataldo, senior vice president and general manager for Northeast Corridor operations at Amtrak.

In other words, the tangled web of 21 tracks and switches that operate as a funnel. It’s the site of long-overdue repair work expected to begin in July.

“All 21 tracks get used during the rush hours, so when you reduce by, it seems like not a lot, three tracks, it really is a huge impact on capacity,” he added. “What we’re going to do is, we’re going to be removing and replacing some of the switches out there, and, if you look, you can see that those switches control a lot of the movements within the station. When we do that what happens is it reduces the flexibility of the dispatchers to be able to move trains efficiently throughout the station. So that is the primary reason we’re going to have to reduce some of the schedules, as well as the fact that in order to complete the work, a couple of body tracks are going to have to come out for … logistics.”

Meaning many more delays than you’re already used to. The work is expected to take as much as eight weeks to complete and will necessitate redirection (and limited) midtown direct service on the Morris & Essex line into Penn, about 25 percent of NJ Transit customers. Gov. Chris Christie made the announcement earlier this week.

“Riders … of the Midtown Direct train on the Morris and Essex lines during eight weeks of repair will be diverted to Hoboken to be able to access Midtown Manhattan,” he said.

The governor was outwardly none too pleased with Amtrak, which he blames for not keeping up its share of the bargain.

“Given Amtrak’s duplicity, their dishonesty and their inability to be able to keep this infrastructure in the state of good repair, we can’t any longer, for a longterm solution, rely on Amtrak,” said Christie.

When it comes to track, switch and station maintenance, its led to some unpleasant exchanges, which DeCataldo acknowledged but insisted has not affected the planning process.

“While there are other issues and other things occurring, at the working groups we’ve been very successful and very cooperative in getting the work done collaboratively to make this work for everyone,” shrugged DeCataldo.

So, this summer, when you’re delayed and delayed and delayed again, know that the important work that’s going on down here is going to make your future delays a little more tolerable.