New York transportation officials finally came up with a novel plan to avoid the inconvenience of Penn Station: Don’t go to Penn Station.
The railroad station on the west side of Manhattan is the busiest in the country, with 650,000 commuter and long-distance passengers daily. But Amtrak began a $40 million project on Monday to replace the spaghetti of tracks – called the interlock – that allows 1,300 trains to navigate daily among the station's 21 tracks.
That means sharply curtailed service at the station and a grab bag of alternative, and often convoluted routes, for both commuters and tourists seeking to get into or out of Manhattan.
Transit authorities hope the repairs will reduce the breakdowns that have caused frequent train delays and recent service suspensions. A New Jersey Transit train derailed at the station July 6, another derailed April 3 with four injuries and an Amtrak train derailed March 24 after scraping a transit train.
“This work, along with other station improvements, will ensure that commuters and travelers alike can count on more reliable rail service in the future,” said Wick Moorman, Amtrak’s CEO.
For anyone trying to reach Penn Station between now and Sept. 1, the result is:
New York to Washington: Amtrak will continue to run the same number and frequency of its express-service Acela trains south to Washington, D.C., but the less expensive Northeast Regional service will be cut in half, to three round-trips daily.
New York to Harrisburg, Pa.: Amtrak’s Keystone service west to Harrisburg, Pa., will instead have three round-trips daily halt at Philadelphia and one round-trip ending at Newark, N.J.
New York to Albany: Amtrak’s Empire service north to Albany will shift to Grand Central Station, in Midtown Manhattan near 42nd Street, with three round-trips.
New Jersey: New Jersey Transit is funneling 23,000 commuters along its Morris and Essex lines through Hoboken onto buses, ferries and Port Authority Trans-Hudson trains, which will honor NJ Transit customers.
Long Island: Long Island Rail Road trains that carry 10,000 daily passengers into Penn Station will instead end at other stations, such as Jamaica or Atlantic Terminal, where riders can catch subway trains into the city.
Despite the service changes, passengers Monday described trouble-free trips.
"Since it's the first day of the new commuting schedule, I expected things to be a lot crazier,” said Michelle Maurice of Dumont, N.J., at the New Bridge Landing station. “But so far it feels calmer.”
Each of the rail lines urged travelers to plan their trips ahead of time because of the different stations and possible use of buses or other options.