On a call with reporters this morning, Amtrak CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman discussed the railroad’s plans for the future at Penn Station, the nation’s busiest rail station. After a multitude of train derailments, power failures, and anger expressed by the region, Amtrak has laid out an ambitious preliminary plan for how to tackle the aging infrastructure that transports hundreds of thousands of people every day. The plan tries to solve many different issues at the station — both mechanical and political.
The first part of the plan starts to address mechanical issues at the 107-year old station. Beginning in May, and lasting through the fall, Amtrak plans to repair sections of “A Interlocking”, a large junction of tracks at the west end of the station. This section of track is critical for New Jersey Transit customers as it connects the station to the Hudson River Tunnels, and is also important for Long Island Rail Road trains travelling in and out of West Side Yard. The federal railroad did not mince words when saying that this section of the plan would “[…] require track closures, operational coordination and schedule changes”. Expect delays while this key maintenance work is being performed.
Another section of the plan deals with political issues at the station — the way that the railroads at Penn Station, the LIRR, NJ Transit, and Amtrak interact with each other. While station operations are controlled by Amtrak at its Penn Station Control Center facility, there is no centralized control center for concourse operations. Amtrak has asked former MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast to come up with recommendations for how to improve the situation, possibly including the creation of a “joint station concourse operations center”.
Finally, the plan tries to address passenger security and safety by making investments in the law enforcement elements in Penn Station. The lack of coordination between different police forces was made clear a few weeks ago, when there was a stampede at the station when some thought shots were fired.
In trying to set expectations, Amtrak said that their plan was “[…] designed to try to minimize disruptions when possible”, but did not shy away from the negative side of things. The railroad denoted that schedules would need to be rearranged, and customers would experience delays while riding the rails. It remains to be seen how much or little these proposals by Amtrak will affect commuters.