Amtrak fast-tracks NY Penn Station renewal
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Amtrak fast-tracks NY Penn Station renewal

Following a pair of derailments that made a mess of the busiest U.S. rail commuter hub, Amtrak today rolled out plans to speed upgrades of track, operations and safety at New York’s Pennsylvania Station.

“After only a short time here at Amtrak it has become apparent to me that we need to accelerate major renewal work in New York Penn Station,” said Moorman, the former Norfolk Southern chief who was named by President Barack Obama as Amtrak President and Chief Executive in September, 2016. “Using our limited resources, we have made this renewal project a priority to ensure the continuity of travel in the region. Without these improvements, Amtrak, NJ Transit and the Long Island Rail Road could continue to see major disruptions, which could also have an impact on passenger safety.”

Amtrak owns Penn Station and is responsible for its upkeep. NJ Transit and the LIRR both make payments for its use.

Moorman said the work will continue “throughout the summer and beyond” to compete improvements originally scheduled to stretch over years. He said Amtrak would work in concert with NJ Transit and the LIRR to minimize disruptions and inconvenience for passengers.

Amtrak was roundly criticized for derailments involving an Acela train in March and a NJ Transit commuter train in April. After the latter, Moorman visited Penn Station and said that his railroad knew about deficiencies at the location of the derailment but had not yet fixed them. He called on Congress to adequately fund Amtrak so that it could properly maintain its infrastructure.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Chrsitie at the time said his state would withhold some $60 million in payments to Amtrak for use of its track and facilities until he was satisfied NJ Transit was getting its money’s worth.

“The simple fact of the matter is that some of the track and infrastructure in service today at Penn Station was built in the 1970s at a time when we were handling half the trains and a third of the customers that we do today,” Moorman said. “While a substantial amount of reconstruction has already been done at New York Penn Station, the remaining renewal work has been scheduled to take place over the next several years in order to minimize impacts on scheduled services. We can’t wait that long. This work needs to be done now.”

The New York Penn Station Infrastructure Renewal Program includes a series of major track and switch projects, beginning with the western portion of the station area. The first set of projects will occur in the area of tracks and switches known as “A Interlocking,” which routes trains that enter Penn Station from the Hudson River tunnels and the Long Island Rail Road’s West Side Yard to the various station tracks and platforms. Amtrak plans full replacement–originally scheduled over several years–to begin in May and continue through the fall. Other renewal work of various station tracks will begin in June 2018, with a majority of that work done on weekends.

Track closures, operational coordination and schedule changes during construction will affect the three railroads which share Penn Station.

At the same time, Amtrak has commissioned former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chief Executive and Chairman Tom Prendergast to conduct an independent review of operations of the passenger concourses by each railroad, and make recommendations for improvements. Amtrak also is proposing a Joint Station Concourse Operations Center to manage the concourses, similar to the Penn Station Control Center for train and other operations.

In conjunction with the concourse review, Amtrak will assemble a safety task force in the next several weeks with partner railroads, first responders, law enforcement and other stakeholders to review procedures relating to disabled trains. Amtrak also is creating a mobile response team to address potential station overcrowding during peak periods, equipping its New York Division Amtrak Police Department officers with multi-band interoperable radios to improve intra-agency communication, and is already in the process of updating its Video Surveillance and Access Control System design for Penn Station platforms, tunnels and ventilation shafts.

Several weeks ago a stampede resulted in injuries to several bystanders after station security tased a man in a crowded concourse.

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