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Rail News: Amtrak

Amtrak's Moorman speeds up Penn Station work, taps Prendergast to review operations

Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman
Photo – Amtrak


Amtrak will accelerate a series of infrastructure renewal projects at Penn Station in New York City that will require track closures and schedule adjustments, President and Chief Executive Officer Wick Moorman announced this morning.

The projects will begin in May and are expected to be completed in September, speeding up an earlier program that called for the projects to be completed over two to three years.

In addition to improving the infrastructure, the renewal program includes efforts to improve operations and preparedness at Penn Station, the nation's business rail station and transportation facility, Amtrak officials said in a press release.

"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, who became CEO 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, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road could continue to see major disruptions, which could also have an impact on passenger safety."

The news follows Amtrak's acknowledgment earlier this month that track disrepair played a role in two recent train derailments at the station. The derailments — one involving a NJ Transit train and the other an Amtrak Acela train — caused severe service disruptions at the station.

In addition to Amtrak, both NJ Transit and MTA Long Island Rail Road rely heavily on Penn Station.

Moorman said Amtrak will work with the other two railroads to plan the work in a way that minimizes disruptions and inconvenience for riders.

"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 infrastructure renewal program will include major track and switch renewal projects, beginning with the western portion of Penn Station. The first set of projects will occur in the area of tracks and switches known as A Interlocking, which serves as the critical sorting mechanism routing trains that enter Penn Station from the Hudson River tunnels and the LIRR's West Side Yard to the various station tracks and platforms. 

Although Amtrak has made repairs to the A Interlocking section, full replacement of the components is now required. That work will begin in May and stretch into September. Initially, work on that project had been planned to be done on weekends over two to three years, but it's clear that it needs to be completed more quickly, Moorman said.

In addition to the A Interlocking, further renewal work of various station tracks will be performed through June 2018, with a majority of that work done on weekends.

Besides the infrastructure renewal, Moorman announced that Amtrak has commissioned former Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast to independently review the interaction, coordination and collaboration between the railroads' various passenger concourses within Penn Station.

Prendergast's review will focus on the current methods of managing daily operations within the station concourses, including during disruptions, events or incidents, as well as seek opportunities to strengthen coordination between all parties to improve the passenger experience, safety and security.

Although Amtrak is the station owner, concourse operations and control of other areas in the station are managed individually by Amtrak, LIRR and NJ Transit. Prendergast will review those relationships and develop recommendations on how the three railroads can improve the passenger experience, Moorman said.

Additionally, Amtrak is proposing that the three railroads serving Penn Station develop a joint station concourse operations center that brings together the managers of the various Penn Station concourses and technology to strengthen coordination, enhance the passenger experience and improve responses to disruptions, incidents and other events that occur anywhere in the station.

During a conference call with news media this morning, Moorman said the cost to implement the Penn Station projects is still being developed, but he estimated that the final figure would be in the "tens of millions of dollars."

"And we will be funding that. We developed plans to defer some other work around technology" to meet the cost, Moorman said.