1st day of Penn Station repairs: crowds, delays, mostly OK

Commuters in and out of New York City handled Monday's first day of extensive repair work to the nation's busiest train station without any major issues.

Hundreds of thousands of commuters dealt with some confusion, a bit of overcrowding and some delays at the start of what figures to be an arduous two-month period.

While some seem bewildered by a new routine devised to accommodate the major repairs to the tracks and signals at Penn Station, others said the commute wasn't much different than normal and the transit agencies were exhaling.

"A lot of confusion and too many people gathered in one space," Lex Marshall, 35, of Morristown, New Jersey, said at New Jersey Transit's Hoboken Terminal. "Everybody's just bumping into each other, pushing each other, to get to their destination."

Jesse Krakow, of South Orange, New Jersey, who transferred through Hoboken, described being packed "like sardines" on a Port Authority Trans-Hudson train that stopped several times between stations as it waited for other trains up ahead. He said his trip took about 45 minutes longer than normal.

Elsewhere, some took advantage of alternative modes of transportation put in place by the Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit to accommodate overflow due to reduced rush-hour train service.

Vicki Kapotis, of West Orange, rode the ferry for the first time from Hoboken in the morning and took a shuttle bus to her job at a private equity firm. She planned on taking a PATH train home from a station a long block from Penn Station.

"The morning was good, it has gone well so far," she said. "I am a little nervous because NJ Transit was kind of empty this morning. I don't know if a lot of people were staying home. We'll see what happens by the end of the week."

The work was initially scheduled for nights and weekends over a few years, but two recent derailments and other problems that spotlighted the station's aging infrastructure convinced Amtrak to accelerate the schedule.

For commuters on the Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit — as well as Amtrak passengers who ride between Boston and Washington, D.C. — the Penn Station work means fewer trains during peak periods.

The station handles about 1,300 daily train movements. Roughly 600,000 people pass through each day on the three railroads and on New York City subways.

NJ Transit spokesman Charles Ingoglia declared the morning commute a success, but said there was room for improvement, including directing people to a less crowded PATH entrance.

"We're pleased with what we saw," he said. "Our customers seem to have done their homework."

The work is scheduled to last through the end of August. When it's completed, rail riders will benefit from increased reliability from the up-to-date equipment in and around the station, but could still fall prey to other problems, such as electrical wire failures in the tunnel between New York and New Jersey, and signal and track problems in northern New Jersey east of Newark.

Those problems will have to wait for the completion of the Gateway project, which calls for building a second rail tunnel under the Hudson River, repairing damage in the existing tunnel from 2012's Superstorm Sandy and making substantial improvements on the New Jersey side and in Penn Station.

That work is expected to take at least another decade to complete, although federal funding for the project is in question after President Donald Trump proposed changing a federal grant program that was supposed to be used for it.

Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Cory Booker called on the Trump administration to honor that commitment at a news conference near the spot on Manhattan's west side Monday where preliminary work has already begun.

Booker said it's time for Trump to "put up or shut up."

While Monday's commute had gone about as well as it could for most, the real test for the "new normal" won't come until the weather, equipment problems or police activity somewhere along the train line interrupts service.

"The measure is how good are you when things are bad," Ingoglia said.


Neumeister reported from Hoboken, New Jersey.