Friday night’s rush hour marks the last of what passes for normal commutes in and out of New York’s Pennsylvania Station.
All three railroads that use the nation’s busiest terminal have warned their riders, veteran sufferers of delays and crowding, of fewer trains during rush hours while Amtrak makes track and signal repairs. On Thursday night, a New Jersey Transit train derailed at Penn, the third such incident at the station since April, and the railroad suspended its service while Amtrak warned of extensive delays.
For the next eight weeks, few of the 650,000 people who use Penn Station every day will be immune from what New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called the “Summer of Hell.”
Here’s what you need to know:
*Schedule: Amtrak work will take place from July 10 to Sept. 1. Projects will continue through June 2018, though Amtrak, the station’s owner and landlord to New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road, says those next stages won’t be as disruptive.
*Scope of work: Amtrak is replacing aging equipment that routes trains entering Penn. The station handles more than 1,300 weekday trains on 21 tracks. Two derailments in April and May at the station led Amtrak to accelerate the repairs.
*Tight squeeze: All tracks being taken out of service are longer sections. Five of the tracks remaining at Penn can’t accommodate New Jersey Transit’s longer trains. Several NJT trains that normally operate with 10 cars instead will operate with nine.
*Scarce Midtown Direct: Commuters who rely on the Morris-Essex line to get to Manhattan in less than an hour will be hardest hit, with their paths shifted to Hoboken, except for four trains that reach Penn by 7 a.m. Later riders will have to board ferries, buses or Port Authority of New York and New Jersey trains for the final leg, adding as much as 90 minutes a day to their trips. As compensation, those customers will pay lower fares and the state will cover their ferry and PATH tickets. Warning: For the trip home, all Morris-Essex trains will depart from Hoboken.
*Hoboken add-ons: PATH is adding trains during rush hours. New Jersey Transit rail tickets will be cross-honored at 33rd Street and the World Trade Center, but not at Newark Penn Station’s PATH platform. New York Waterway will operate ferries between Hoboken and West 39th Street every 15 minutes from 7-10 a.m. and 4-8 p.m. Buses will be added on the 126 Route to and from the Midtown terminal.
*Other New Jersey Transit routes to New York: The railroad says that 75 percent of customers won’t experience service changes. Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast, Raritan Valley and Montclair-Boonton trains still will go to and from Midtown. The Main-Bergen, Pascack Valley and Port Jervis routes will be on their regular schedules, though riders may have to adjust connections at Secaucus Junction.
*Port Authority Bus Terminal: Morris-Essex train riders who want to skip the Hoboken morning shuffle have an option, free to those with New Jersey Transit tickets: express buses from Summit and Maplewood train stations from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., and from South Orange and Newark Broad Street stations from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Return service varies, though, and anyone taking the train home must go through Hoboken, so check njtransit.com/theupdate. Between Morristown and New York, chartering service Skedaddle is charging $17.50 each way per reserved coach seat, with three express departures morning and night.
*Carpool: NJ Rideshare registers and connects commuters to share transportation costs.
*Advice from New Jersey Transit: Allow additional time for parking and commuting, expect crowding and delays, consider off-peak travel and try not to lose your temper. At stations, look for extra customer-service staff wearing bright yellow vests. Discard outdated printed schedules and pick up the new eight-week timetables, or check www.njtransit.com. “This will not be a normal commute for any of us,” said Steve Santoro, executive director of New Jersey Transit.
*Amtrak: The national railroad has raised the 10 mph speed limit at Penn to 15 mph to ease back-ups of New Jersey Transit trains on Penn Station property. It’s also canceled three round-trip trains between New York and Washington, and transferred three Empire Service runs, to Albany and beyond, to Grand Central Terminal. The Acela, between Boston and Washington, will operate as scheduled.
*Long Island Rail Road: Schedule changes will affect about 10,000 riders and the railroad is discounting their fares an average 25 percent and adding alternative transportation. Extra cars will be added to peak trains on the Babylon, Hempstead, Long Beach, Port Jefferson, Port Washington and Ronkonkoma branches. Updated schedules will be posted on www.LIRRsummerschedule.com. “We’re going to hold them to the fact that this will be done by Sept. 1,” Joseph Lhota, chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR’s operator, said of Amtrak.
*Free buses: Midtown drop-offs and pick-ups will be available to park-and-ride customers from North Hempstead Beach Park, Belmont Racetrack, Valley Stream, Roosevelt Field mall, Nassau Coliseum, Bethpage State Park, Seaford and Melville.
*Subways: LIRR trains shut out of Penn will divert to Hunterspoint Avenue, Jamaica and Atlantic Terminal for free transfers to subways. The MTA is adding subway cars to the affected lines.
*Free ferries: A shuttle will run between LIRR’s Hunterspoint Avenue rail station and Long Island City for access to the 34th Street ferry. Boats also will run between Glen Cove and 34th Street, Pier 11 and Wall Street.