Passengers board a New York-bound train at Walnut Street in Montclair on Tuesday morning, July 11. The day before marked the start of Amtrak’s summer repair work at Penn Station, which is expected to bring delays and schedule changes.
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Summer of hell?

Or just summer of a cooler circle of purgatory?

Monday marked the first official day of Amtrak’s summerlong repair work at Penn Station. In anticipation, commuters were told to brace themselves for chaos.

But on Tuesday morning, a number of Montclair commuters reported that the Monday commute had been surprisingly uneventful.

After a number of derailments and breakdowns in close succession earlier this year, Amtrak officials announced that the western portion of Penn Station would be closed for repairs from July 10 until at least Sept. 1. An area of tracks and switches that routes trains coming from west of the Hudson must be completely replaced, according to Amtrak, which means fewer trains will be going into and out of the station during peak rush hours.

Though the main work is to be done this summer, Amtrak expects to complete the entire project in 2018.

NO RIPPLE EFFECT

On Tuesday morning, Michael Morgan was waiting for a train at Walnut Street station. “It’s actually gone exceptionally well,” he said. The PATH trains running into the World Trade Center hub had also been doing well, he said. “So I haven’t experienced any difficulty coming in, certainly.” For the commute home, he said, the 5:50 p.m. train had been running late, so he had to take the 5:55.

“Busier. PATH was more crowded,” said Lisa DeGironimo, who works in Hoboken.

“Not that bad compared to what they thought it would be,” said Gabrielle Lasko, who works in Newark.

DeGironimo said that it was rather early to tell what the summer would be like for commuters, and that any issues so far this week had been more like ordinary train delays.

At Bay Street Station, a number of commuters also reported a relatively quiet Monday.

“It’s been great. It’s actually been no issues. It was kind of a surprise,” said Bill Borland. “No insane Penn Station stories.” He added, “It’s not the Summer of Hell that people were expecting.”

One Hoboken-bound passenger who declined to give his name said that the Monday commute had been generally quiet. The train had not been as crowded, he said, but he noted that there had been an extra car on the train.

Joshua Crandall is the founder of Clever Commute, an online notification service with travel alerts for NJ Transit users. He set up a special “Transitgeddon” page on the Clever Commute website, with information on train delays.

Some bus commuters were bracing themselves for a strange summer as well.

“I plan on getting through this summer by gritting my teeth and bearing it — what can you do, really?” asked Fred Guterl, a former Montclair resident who now commutes by bus into Port Authority. Most recently, he said, one of his biggest problems has been the large amount of traffic on the roads. “For the month of June I was shocked at how bad the traffic was, and although it’s lighter this week the journey is still pretty bad — about 45 minutes to an hour. I typically leave the house at 8:15 and get to work, at 50th and 6th Ave., by 9:45 — which is way too long.”

On Monday evening, Crandall reported that the action on the website had been surprisingly quiet. “People did well. Overall, the story of the commute is that it really was NOT a story,” Crandall said.

User posts on the site indicated that trains were running on time or else slightly behind, and that the train stations were no more crowded.

One train line, the Morris and Essex Line, will be diverted to Hoboken for the duration of the work, and NJ Transit will be providing extra busing along the route.

For the Montclair-Boonton Line, travel into New York will continue, but commuters have been warned to expect delays.

Penn Station was the scene of several derailments in March and April, which resulted in massive delays on NJ Transit, LIRR and Amtrak.
On Thursday night July 6, there was another derailment in Penn Station involving an NJ Transit train. Service resumed on a limited scale just after midnight Friday and continued on a full schedule later that morning.

DeCamp Bus Lines has agreed to cross-honor Morris and Essex rail tickets for the duration of the work, while PATH and NJ Transit’s bus service will cross-honor rail tickets on different lines.

Officials at DeCamp did not return multiple calls seeking comment.