Spring was a season of frustration for Long Island Rail Road commuters. Two trains derailed in March and April, crippling LIRR service for days. Later in April, the New York City Police Department, fearing for commuters’ safety, was forced to partially shut down Penn Station because it had become so packed with disgruntled passengers.
So commuters braced for the worst when Amtrak, which owns and operates Penn Station, announced plans to close several tracks at the station this summer for major repairs. Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the repair period an ominous name: the summer of hell.
But over the past three months, there has been no fire or brimstone.
Herald reporters talked to dozens of commuters across the South Shore in June, July and August. The vast majority said they had no problems getting to and from work despite a reduced schedule. There were no derailments or major delays. In fact, the LIRR — the largest commuter train network in the nation, carrying some 600,000 people in and out of the city on 1,300 trains every day — performed better in July and August than it had in months.
According to Amtrak, extra crews and equipment were positioned in the tunnels during the summer to rapidly respond to any incidents. In order to provide the service that LIRR passengers need and expect, perhaps Amtrak should re-evaluate its permanent staffing needs.
Amtrak officials also said in May that Tom Prendergast, the former Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO and chairman, would review coordination and collaboration among the LIRR, NJ Transit and Amtrak, each of which has its own concourse at Penn Station. Better communication is needed among the three railroads to limit service disruptions and confusion in times of emergency. We hope that the lack of problems on the railways this summer indicates that communication has improved — and that this cooperation will continue in the future.
We also applaud the LIRR for offering transportation alternatives during the construction. North Shore residents can now take a ferry from Glen Cove. We hope this new service will relieve some train congestion in the future.
Full LIRR service was restored on Sept. 5, but questions about Penn Station’s viability remain. We encourage Amtrak to continue to be transparent about repair and construction projects. Hundreds of thousands of people depend on it.