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LIRR Riders Adjust To New Routine As Penn Station Repairs Now Underway

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Long Island Rail Road riders faced adjustments to their commutes Monday as a two-month repair project began at Penn Station.

In a press conference during the height of Monday's evening commute, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota said so far, so good.

"Tomorrow is another day, and we have to be vigilant and in keeping up with making sure the trains stay on time and everybody is able to get to work or get to school or whatever it is they are doing," Lhota said.

As CBS2's Emily Smith reported, the first day of the new reduced commuter schedule -- touted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the "summer of hell" -- went off without a hitch.

Some commuters say it's just beginner's luck, while others say it's because many people stayed home today anticipating nothing but issues.

Rhonda Freeman of Brentwood said she left earlier than normal to get to work and was able to get a seat.

GUIDE: Penn Station Repairs: What You Need To Know | PHOTOS: 'Summer Of Hell' Begins

"It was crowded," she said. "I felt bad for the regular people who had to stand."

Some passengers were seen squeezing in tight, despite the two additional cars on each train heading into Penn Station. Passengers there say they expected worse.

"So far, so good, but we don't know what tonight will look like," said Islip resident Scott Eifert.

"I think as the day progresses, the schedule will probably go away and it will be a little more chaotic," said Melville resident Noelia Gomez said.

For LIRR riders at Jamaica Station, transferring to the subway was free, but it cost valuable commuting time.

"It'll add an extra 30 minutes, but I'm hoping for the best," said one commuter.

The work was initially scheduled for nights and weekends over a few years, but two recent derailments and other problems that spotlighted the station's aging infrastructure convinced Amtrak to accelerate the work schedule.

The focus of the eight-week-long project, which is also disrupting NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak, is on interlocking tracks. Amtrak, which owns and operates the tracks, says the repair work is especially challenging.

"The absolute worst in terms of degree of difficulty," said Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman. "Tracks are a mess, trains are running around you 24/7."

One LIRR rider at the Hicksville station Monday morning said it never should have gotten to this.

"All these years and all the fares that have been collected, all the fare increases and nothing has ever really been maintained," she told 1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria.

Throughout the project, LIRR train service into Penn will be cut by 20 percent. Lhota said riders really need to consider changing their routine. He applauded commuters for cooperating early Monday morning.

"I gotta thank all the Long Islanders who got up a little bit earlier to get on because during the middle of the rush hour, the heart of the rush hour, that's when Amtrak reduced the number of slots we have at Penn Station," Lhota told 1010 WINS.

Twice as many commuters used Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn Monday morning, transferring away from Penn Station where extensive work is being done on the tracks.

Riders can also hop on a ferry from the never before used Glen Cove Ferry Terminal, but get there early because there's only room for 375 passengers on two ferries.

"This is my first option because I figured it's easier than trying to mess with crowds on the train and the subway and stay away from Penn Station," one woman who took the ferry Monday morning told WCBS 880's Sophia Hall.

In addition, there are 200 extra coach buses that will be leaving from eight depots on Long Island.

"So far today, I got up early so not bad," a commuter at Jamaica station told WCBS 880's Sean Adams.

Should you need help navigating this new system, MTA ambassadors wearing orange vests will be available to guide you to your destination.

The MTA says there will be multiple war rooms set up-to monitor the system in place and make necessary changes as track work continues.

"It's my hope that whatever adjustments we have to make, we make this week," Lhota told WCBS 880.

On Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all non-emergency road construction work would be suspended from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. and that all lanes would be open on major roadways in the New York City area starting Sunday night.

It was hoped that would clear major arteries for expanded bus service into Manhattan from Long Island.

"I'm going to pack Advil with me every day," said commuter Hanna Fruchtman.

The repairs are slated to take two months.

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

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