After a week of delays at Penn Station, commuters question if new track work will help

MIDTOWN, Manhattan — At the same time that a new, major infrastructure improvement project has gotten underway at Penn Station, delays have plagued the transit hub — the busiest in the nation.

Some of those delays have been severe.

Amtrak, which owns the tracks at Penn Station, says that it’s mere coincidence that track work and delays have happened simultaneously.

Passengers are saying otherwise.

“I would hope that it would improve,” said NJ Transit commuter Robb Donaldson about the potential outcome of the track replacement and repair project that’s now wrapping up its first week. “But for the past 30 years,” he continued, “I haven't seen any improvement. All I've just seen are price increases.”

Every commuter with whom PIX11 spoke was skeptical about the new track work project, which some have dubbed the Winter of Worry. It’s a variation on the so-called Summer of Hell last year. That’s when Amtrak carried out a rail replacement and repair project that affected one of every five rush hour trains.

The new rail replacement project will last longer than last summer’s construction — 21 weeks, versus eight, but the number of morning rush trains affected this time drops to five, from 15 last summer. Only three evening rush hour trains will be affected by the new track work, as compared to 17 last year, according to Amtrak.

Still, optimism about the situation is not strong.

“I’m not confident at all,” said Mary Wilson, an LIRR commuter. “My confidence is at an all time low right now.”

An NJ Transit commuter who only gave his first name, Nick, shared her lack of optimism.

“Unless the new governor [of New Jersey] does something to fix this problem,” he said, “it's gonna be madness and chaos.”

PIX11 News has confirmed that incoming New Jersey governor Phil Murphy has sent a letter to top managers at NJ Transit. Its contents cannot be confirmed, for personnel reasons, but it apparently demands their resignations.

Meanwhile, New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, spent Friday morning touring the installation of dual tracks on the LIRR, designed to improve service that the governor described as long-neglected.

“We did nothing” for years, Cuomo said. “So now we got to a point where delays are intolerable.”

For its part, Amtrak acknowledges that replacements and repairs have to be made, and that commuters were inconvenienced last summer.

As for this winter’s track replacement, however, “This is less work than the summer work that we did,” said Jason Abrams, an Amtrak spokesperson. “We completed that on time and under budget, so we expect a smooth repair season for our customers.”

Customers were not so convinced.

“I would say [the track work] is definitely needed,” LIRR commuter Zack Lyon said. As to whether or not it will get done effectively and in a timely manner, “I would be surprised,” he said.