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AP: Amtrak Plan Includes 6 Weeks Of Disruptions This Summer For Penn Station Repairs

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Rail commuters would face about six weeks of significant service disruptions this summer under a preliminary plan to make repairs at Penn Station.

In documents obtained by The Associated Press, Amtrak describes work scheduled between July 7 and July 25 and again between Aug. 4 and Aug. 28 as causing "significant service impacts" and requiring service adjustments.

Those service changes aren't specified, and the plan is not final. Last week Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman said negotiations would continue this week with the Long Island Rail Road and NJ TRANSIT, which also use the nation's busiest rail station.

Other work will continue through next spring and will be performed primarily on weekends, according to the proposal.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said meetings were held Monday with representatives of the LIRR and NJ TRANSIT and that the parties would reconvene on Thursday to review the plan.

"All groups are working with the common goal of creating service schedules that minimize impact on the traveling public when we do the necessary upgrades to Penn Station,'' spokeswoman Christina Leeds said in an email.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the LIRR, said the agency was in discussions with Amtrak and would ensure that riders' best interests are represented.

On Tuesday, NJ TRANSIT Executive Director Steve Santoro released a statement saying planning experts would focus on developing strategies to "mitigate disruptions and minimize delays" to riders.

"A comprehensive service plan will be put into place that will maximize all alternative resources to keep our customers moving during this challenging time," he said, "Once a service plan is finalized, an extensive communications outreach will be announced to allow our customers sufficient time to react and plan their commute accordingly."

Web Extra: Full Statement From NJ TRANSIT Executive Director Steve Santoro

Rebecca Hu takes the Morris and Essex lines to commute. On Tuesday, her connecting train Secaucus was delayed an hour, and then cancelled.

"It's really frustrating," she said.

She knows more headaches are ahead this summer.

Some New Jersey legislators criticized the plan Tuesday for not taking advantage of the July 4th and Labor Day weekends to minimize impact on commuters.

"New Jersey commuters endured a week of massive overcrowding and unacceptable delays in the week following the April 3 Amtrak derailment when eight tracks were shut down,'' Sen. Bob Gordon said. "We can't expect them to suffer through an entire summer like that.''

"My first reaction was to think 'Why aren't they making use of the holiday periods?'," Gordon told CBS2's Meg Baker. "They could encompass the 4th of July weekend. And during the second period, if they extended it a few days beyond August 28, they'd be into Labor Day. So they'd be able to do the work when fewer people were going to be affected."

"I hope this is Amtrak's first cut because it's unacceptable," Assemblyman John McKeon told Diamond. "There's better ways that they can lessen the pain to the commuter."

The repairs were initially scheduled to be done over the next few years, but Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman said last week that Penn Station handles double the amount of traffic it handled in the 1970s and much of its infrastructure needs to be replaced.

"Many of the assets that make up our infrastructure are now past the point where they would normally be replaced," Moorman said. "That doesn't mean the assets are unsafe — they're not — but it does mean that they are prone to problems that impact reliability and performance and also increase the maintenance requirements in the station."

The Director of the Regional Plan Association, Mark Lohbauer said communication is key, but so are the upgrades.

"We think it's high time we take this moment to invest in repairing," he said, "Had we been properly investing in maintenance all along we might have been able to avoid this."

Aging equipment has been blamed for recent delays including two derailments and train breakdowns in the tunnels leading into Penn Station.

Commuters at Secaucus Junction said they need to know sooner rather than later if their line will be out of service so they can plan ahead.

"I want to know what's going on, how will they repair, and is there any other available options," Hu said.

Some frustrated NJ TRANSIT commuters launched a social media campaign dubbed "No Pay May," saying they deserve a free month following all the disruptions.

Now, riders want to know if they should buy their monthly passes.

Amtrak would not go on camera to answer questions from CBS2. LIRR and NJTRANSIT officials have met with Amtrak and expect a plan next week.

State Senator Gordon wants a full contingency plan. He has proposed relying more on buses to take people to ferries rather than sit in traffic at the tunnels. Maintenance work will continue through the following year with mostly weekend disruptions.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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