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Penn Station’s ‘summer of hell’ shouldn’t affect Boston passengers much, Amtrak says

Amtrak workers repaired tracks in New York's Penn Station MondayRichard Drew/Associated Press

For New York City commuters, it’s been dubbed the “summer of hell.”

Starting Monday, track repairs at Penn Station, the city’s transit nexus, will disrupt regional commuter rail service and suspend some trips between the Big Apple and the nation’s capital for about two months.

But, Amtrak said, Boston passengers traveling to and through New York City should not expect delays or disruptions from the track work, though some trains may be a little more crowded.

The reason is that Amtrak will close just a few of Penn Station’s 21 tracks at any one time and has canceled three trains that run between New York and Washington. That, said spokesman Mike Tolbert, should leave enough capacity at Penn Station for Boston trains to run on time.


“For the most part, your journey should be unaffected,” Tolbert said.

The Penn Station track work, from July 10 to Sept. 1, follows several derailments and delays at the station. The Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s busiest route, is reportedly facing a $38 billion backlog of repairs.

Amtrak said it will not have to adjust schedules for trains on its Northeast Regional service or the faster Acela Express that start or end in Boston.

Because the number of trains coming into Penn Station during the six-week period will be limited, those that are operating should pass through easily enough, he said.

“The capacity will be lower, and the idea was to allow that work to continue but also facilitate a number of trains from the station,” Tolbert said. “The service that is provided, we expect to run normally.”

But passengers may find themselves on more-crowded cars, especially south of New York, said Thomas Girsch, Northeast division leader for the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

That’s because more passengers between New York and Washington may be forced to squeeze aboard trains that start or end their journeys in Boston, due to the canceled New York-Washington trips.


A Metropolitan Transit Authority employee helped commuters transfer from Long Island railroad service to a New York City subway.Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

These rails are already busy. More than 11.9 million people traveled along the Northeast Corridor in the last fiscal year, when the Northeast Regional service set a ridership record, according to Amtrak. However, in 2016, July and August were among the slower months on the corridor, according to Amtrak data.

Amtrak will add cars to Northeast Regional trains ”as ridership warrants,” Tolbert said, though Acela trains cannot add cars.

Girsch warned that the crowding could be worsened if any additional trains between New York and Washington are canceled for unforeseen reasons, such as mechanical issues, and passengers have to be reaccomodated.

“When things start to go wrong, things tend to snowball more quickly. Those problems will spill over” to service that starts and ends in Boston, he said.

A worker inspected some of the tracks leading into and out of Penn Station.JUSTIN LANE/European PressPhoto Agency

Moreover, Amtrak has long struggled to run its trains on time. Even its better-performing lines, the Acela and Northeast Regional, have on-time performance of under 80 percent, based on the last 12 months of data from the service.

Boston passengers may also be affected by the Penn Station work if they are planning a long train trip beyond the Northeast Corridor, Girsch said.

A passenger travelling from Boston to New Orleans would ordinarily switch in New York. But because the New York-New Orleans service is being diverted from Penn Station during repairs, passengers will now need to transfer elsewhere along the line.


Those inconveniences aside, Girsch said, the track work at Penn Station is overdue.

“Be flexible. Allow extra time. Understand that problems can and do happen, and it’s somewhat more likely now,” Girsch said.

Passengers in New York's Penn Station rode the escalators.Richard Drew/Associated Press

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @adamtvaccaro.