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"Summer of hell": Amtrak working to replace tracks in NYC's Penn Station

Amtrak CEO on Penn Station repairs
Amtrak CEO says Penn Station is the "single worst place" for repairs 03:47

After three derailments since March, long delays, commuter chaos and even a raw sewage leak — New York's Penn Station is about to begin a crucial "renewal" project on a key section of track known as A-Interlocking. Starting Monday, Amtrak will spend about two months replacing the track, raising concerns of commuter chaos in what some are calling the "summer of hell."

A-Interlocking at New York's Pennsylvania Station CBS News

More than 650,000 people and more than 1,300 trains each day pass through Penn Station, the country's busiest train station, with an annual ridership that exceeds 10 million.

"When this work is done, will things work the way they're supposed to?" CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave asked Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman.

"Things will be much improved. We have more renewal work to carry out, but I will tell you we're dealing with the most critical part of the station right now," Moorman said. "It's the single worst place I've ever seen in terms of degree of difficulty to do this kind of work. The track work's extraordinarily complex, trains are running around you 24/7."

Crews have already started the work, but to finish it, three to five of the station's 21 tracks have to be shut down until September 1, forcing Amtrak to cancel three daily trains to and from Washington and re-route several others — some through Grand Central, located across town.

For New York-area commuters, the track work may force many to use their cars as an alternative. Drivers using the bridges and tunnels already endure delays in and out of the city.

"It's gonna be hammer time. We've heard the phrase 'car-pocalypse' before to describe situations of excess traffic due to whatever reason. I think that term could be applied to what we're going to be seeing in the next four to six weeks," AAA's Robert Sinclair said.

U.S. railways work to update aging infrastructure 04:00

The problems plaguing the aging station come as crucial infrastructure projects to replace aging bridges and build additional tunnels have stalled. Until those long-term projects are realized, 2017's "summer of hell" could last longer than expected.

"Is it fair to say that it sort of snuck up on you? It sort of feels like it snuck up on commuters," Van Cleave said.

"It felt like that, but I think what you really were just seeing was the fact that, as the assets continued to age, as we continued to run more trains over them, they were just reaching a point of criticality," Moorman said. "And the time came for what I think is the appropriate, but more decisive action, to restore the station to where it should be."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have openly questioned if Amtrak should even be left in charge of the construction work. Cuomo has asked President Trump to declare this an emergency to free up additional funds. 

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