By ERIN ROLL
Montclair commuters are resigned to continued frustration this summer, as Amtrak starts on some overdue repairs at Penn Station, but they’re keeping their eyes on the goal.
“I haven’t really thought about it too much. I try not to — it’s too painful,” Anne Blatz said. But the repairs were badly needed, she said. “Stuff needs to get done. It needs to get fixed.”
Amtrak announced that it would be closing down several sections of track in Penn Station in July and August for much-needed repairs. The track and infrastructure repairs are part of a long series of improvements and overhauls taking place at the station over the next year.
“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,” Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman said in a statement posted on the railroad’s website. Moorman became CEO of Amtrak in 2016.
“Using our limited resources, we have made this renewal project a priority to ensure the continuity of travel in the region,” Moorman said in the statement. “Without these improvements, Amtrak, NJ Transit and the Long Island Rail Road could continue to see major disruptions, which could also have an impact on passenger safety.”
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The infrastructure repairs, according to the Amtrak statement, will include the western part of the station area, and will include the tracks and switches that bring in trains from the Hudson River tunnels and the LIRR’s West Side Yard.
This spring, a series of derailments and signal and switch problems led to track closures and massive delays on NJ Transit and LIRR. “These projects will require track closures, operational coordination and schedule changes, which will impact the service of all the railroads operating in Penn Station,” the statement said.
NJ Transit spokesman Steven Santoro released a statement that was posted on NJ Transit’s website last week, indicating that the transit agency was in discussions with Amtrak. “Our planning experts will be keenly focused on developing any and all strategies to minimize delays to our customers as much as possible.”
The derailments and signal problems this spring made it difficult for trains to get in and out of Penn Station. Last week, a sewer main broke over the LIRR concourse, causing filthy water to drip down onto the concourse floor, and on Friday, heavy rains sent water flooding down into some of the station entrances.
At train stations in Montclair, some commuters indicated that they weren’t concerned about the potential schedule impacts. Others said they wanted to know more about the extent of the work, while others expressed long-standing dissatisfaction with NJ Transit.
“Honestly, I have been impressed with NJ Transit, and I think I’ve been one of the few,” Michele Hardy said as she waited for a train at Bay Street on Friday morning. The one exception was on Good Friday, when a track issue resulted in a train getting stuck in the tunnel. She had learned that Amtrak owns the tracks and tunnels and leases them to NJ Transit and LIRR and thought, “‘Oh, shoot … they’re going to get preference.’”
Shawn Joberdhan and Chris Barbieri were waiting for a train at the Watchung Avenue station on Monday. “We commute once a week, twice a week, max,” Joberdhan said. “I know for regular people it’s going to be a hassle.” Joberdhan said that this summer they might drive into the city instead of taking the train.
Sarah Levine, who was also waiting at Watchung, said NJ Transit’s service was unsatisfactory.
“They suck either way,” said Levine. “It’s just exhausting. I just think that we are not treated well as commuters.”
She said that the transit agency had had issues with delays for a long time, and that the tracks and tunnels were in terrible condition. “And now it takes me an hour and a half to get into the city.”
She added, “And I get sick on the bus, so I can’t take the bus.”
Montclair resident Stacie Hawes was waiting for a train at Bay Street Station on Monday. “I’ve been riding NJ Transit for over 10 years now, so delays are something that are predictable,” she said.
“I’m not saying it’s a good thing, because the monthly passes keep going up.”But the infrastructure upgrades were badly needed, she said. “Might as well get it done so you don’t have people complaining every other week or every other day about delays on the train,” Hawes said. It if means solving the issue then I’m all for it.”