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Rail Delays Expected As Amtrak Plans 'Major' Repair Work For Penn Station

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Penn Station commuters are in for a summer of pain.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Amtrak officials said Thursday that NJ TRANSIT and Long Island Rail Road riders will likely be facing more delays as accelerated repair work in the wake of recent breakdowns at Penn Station.

Tracks will be closed, trains will be rescheduled, and riders will be inconvenienced to make long-term repairs to a system put in place 40 years ago.

Every commuter who uses Penn Station – and there are more than 600,000 every single day – is going to be inconvenienced, and many are dreading it.

"The commute is already pretty long. It's already over an hour," said Anna Kiper of Millburn, New Jersey. "So it's going to turn into a two-hour commute."

"It's going to be an interesting doozy, especially when it��s hot and humid," said Catriona Brunelli of Morristown.

But another commuter said, "Let them fix the tracks."

Pushed against the wall by weeks of derailments and service disruptions that have frazzled commuters and frustrated politicians, Amtrak – which runs Penn Station – finally announced its crash course in repairs. They wills start sometime in May – a month that begins this coming Monday.

Daily construction continues through the summer on – largely on weekends, but sometimes on weekdays – with weekend repairs continuing in the fall and ending in June 2018.

Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Charles "Wick" Moorman detailed the plans in a conference call Thursday morning, but said he didn't know yet just how bad the potential delays may be.

He said those details would be finalized during discussions with the two commuter railroads in coming days.

"We will give everyone plenty of notice on what the impacts of that work will be but we want to go ahead and say today that we're going to be doing that work," Moorman said.

Amtrak said it will begin a series of "major track and switch renewal projects" at Penn, starting with the western portion of the station area.

"It's a full replacement if all the complete timber steel, switches," Moorman said. "All of that is at a point where it needs to be renewed rather than us trying to stretch it out over a longer period of time."

Moorman said he expects the bulk of the work to be complete before the fall.

"We expect the majority of the work to be done this summer," Moorman said. "That work will stretch on past the summer, but it is our anticipation right now that the work after the summer, will for the most part if not all be done during weekend hours. But this summer we will have weekday outages."

Additional track work will be ongoing through June of next year, with a majority of that work done on weekends, Amtrak said.

The repair and replacement of tracks and signals was to have been performed over the next two to three years, mainly during off hours, Moorman said.

"Weekend work is not enough to get the most complex work done, and we've made the decision that the prudent thing to do is to get this done more quickly," he said. "But it will have a bigger impact on the station."

He said recent events at Penn Station added urgency.

"The events of the past month have shown that we have to step up our game," he added.

Moorman also said Amtrak and the commuter railroads will review the coordination between their different passenger concourses in the station, with the aim of developing a joint operations center to improve responses to service disruptions.

He said former Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Tom Prendergast will lead the review.

An NJ TRANSIT spokeswoman said the agency has been in constant communication with Amtrak and has been "reassured that we will be part of the discussion when the plan is finalized.''

The move comes on the heels of several electrical and track failures at the station that have led to countless cancellations and delays for commuters.

Two derailments and other problems since late March have caused chaos for hundreds of thousands of NJ TRANSIT and LIRR commuters as well as for travelers up and down the corridor between Boston and Washington.

The problems are happening so frequently, NJ TRANSIT has started giving out late notes so people have proof of their travel issues for their bosses.

And despite the accelerated repair schedule, officials said they cannot promise an end to the unexpected derailments and service disruptions that have lately been a steady diet.

"I don't make any guarantees about disruptions," Moorman said.

Commuters insist all three railroads should make contingency plans to help them through the worst of the delays this summer – including apps, alerts, or alternate means of transportation – or just something; anything.

"Hopefully, they'll have buses to commute the people back and forth, thinking ahead of time," said Wanda Lang of Orange, New Jersey. "It's really going to be a terrible inconvenience if they don't have plans set ahead of time. That's going to be their downfall."

Several commuters suggested that the railroads should offer reduced fares and discounts as compensation.

"They should be rolling back the prices, because we're sitting here waiting for you guys to finish something that should have been done years ago," said Michael Lopez of the Bronx.

"They should absolutely give you a discount this summer, 100 percent for the inconvenience," another commuter added. "Your work isn't going to accept the fact that you're late."

NJ TRANSIT officials refused to say what they will do to help commuters, explaining that they cannot make plans until they have more details.

An MTA representative said the LIRR already has apps and phone alerts.

In addition to the repair work, Amtrak said it will also assemble a task force in the next several weeks with its partner railroads, first responders, law enforcement and others to review protocols for disabled trains.

It will also look at the need "for additional equipment and technology and review the functions of personnel during an incident to ensure that existing protocols are comprehensive and appropriate."

A mobile response unit is also being created to address any station overcrowding during peak periods as well as further equipping officers with multi-band interoperable radios to improve intra-agency communication.

Late Thursday, sources said as many as four to five tracks could be out of service at any one time during the renovation project.

There was no word Thursday on any possibility of rebates.

For more information on Amtrak's plans, click here.

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

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