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If you’re taking Amtrak in or out of New York City, you have the pleasure unique experience of passing through Pennsylvania Station. Like death and taxes, there’s no avoiding it. Come July 10th, it’s going to get a lot more stressful, as Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit have no choice but to curtail service in order to perform dire infrastructure maintenance.

a train moving through a tunnel

A-INTERLOCKING (NYP) is one of the most complex interlockings on the Northeast Corridor – A Interlocking – the critical sorting mechanism that routes trains entering and exiting New York Penn Station (NYP) from the Hudson River tunnels and the Long Island Rail Road’s West Side Yard across 21 tracks. Image courtesy of Amtrak Media.

The Backstory

It’s been a rough couple of months for Penn Station. Since March, there have been two derailments, one by a NJ Transit train and one by an Amtrak Acela train. The derailment of the NJ Transit train was so bad, it caused cascading delays for FOUR days closed eight or Penn Stations 21 tracks. According to the NY Times:

The derailment on Monday [April 3] was connected to a weakening of timber ties beneath the tracks that caused rails to widen and the wheels of the affected cars to derail. The derailment on March 24 was caused by a mismatch between two pieces of rail that connected together at a curve.

Mr. Moorman, speaking to reporters at Penn Station on Thursday, said that Amtrak had been aware of the defective ties involved in the derailment as a result of regular inspections, but had not properly assessed the immediacy of the problem.

Clearly, the infrastructure was (and still is) in bad shape, and Amtrak did not replace or maintain the tracks in a proper fashion.

So What’s the Plan?

Starting July 10th, and extending all the way until September 1st, Amtrak plans to complete a full replacement and renewal of infrastructure in A-interlocking. What is A-Interlocking you ask? The bane of your existence this summer:

A-Interlocking is an area of tracks and switches that serves as the critical sorting mechanism routing trains that enter Penn Station from the Hudson River tunnels and the Long Island Rail Road’s West Side Yard to the various tracks and platforms in the station.

If you’re a visual person, take a look:

a diagram of a train track system

A-Interlocking is the switch that allows you to access a bunch of tracks and platforms. With that out of commission, say goodbye to three of Amtrak’s seven platforms. Anything in orange? Poof! Gone–for eight weeks!

Reduced Service on Amtrak

With three platforms out of service, get ready for canceled trains and modified service this summer:

  • Acela Express: No changes
  • Northeast Regional Service: Three round trip trains (six total trains) between New York and Washington cancelled. Service between New York and Boston will operate at currently scheduled levels
  • Keystone Service: Three round trip trains (six total trains) will start and end in Philadelphia, and one round trip train (two total trains) will start/end at Newark. Service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg will operate at currently scheduled levels
  • Empire Service: To be announced shortly
  • Long-Distance Service: The Crescent — operating between New York and New Orleans — will originate and terminate in Washington daily during work period. Connections will be provided on other Northeast Corridor trains

What we don’t know:

  • How this affects many of Amtrak’s lines, from the Adirondack (to Montreal) to the Vermonter. I’m curious to see how this will affect the Lake Shore Limited and the Maple Leaf, two long distance trains I take frequently.
  • How much this will delay trains. Amtrak has a hard time running on-time service in and out of Penn Station on a normal day, so prepare for the worst.

Final Thoughts

If you’re booked for travel within that timeframe, it may be best to check the status of your train, especially if you’re booked on the Northeast Regional between NYC and Washington, D.C. We’ll have an update when we no more about the Empire Service and other long-distance trains.

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