Summer nightmare for commuters

The Commodore, as he was known, built one of the largest railroad systems in the United States at the time. Leaving his shipping business behind, Cornelius Vanderbilt, along with other financial titans of the time, saw the future in the railroad. By 1870 he had established both the New York Central Railroads and the Hudson River Railroads, as well as Grand Central Station in Manhattan.

These lines may be the saviors of commuters west of the Hudson this summer, as repairs begin on the North River Tunnels coming into Penn Station. Commuters can drive to Beacon and pick up Metro North into Grand Central Station to avoid the delays that are promised by using the New Jersey Transit lines going into Penn Station.

The arch rival of the Commodore, John Edgar Thomson, also saw the future in the railroad and built among others the Pennsylvania Railroad. His corporation grew west of the Hudson and eventually acquired the rights to build two North River rail tunnels under the Hudson that would lead into a station in Manhattan bearing its name. Construction began in 1904, 113 years ago, and opened passenger service into the new Penn Station in 1910.

In 1968, Amtrak was established by the Federal Government, giving it sole rights to access to the tracks and access to Penn Station. The rights, however, never included the necessary funding for critical upkeep, repair and maintenance. Almost 50 years of neglect have finally taken their toll. New Jersey Transit runs on these lines, and has no control over the tracks or access into Penn Station unless Amtrak agrees to the schedule. Therein lies the fate of the commuters who in many cases this summer will see longer commutes adding hours of delays to an already long trip. Port Jervis commuters will see a 2.5- to 3-hour commute grow to 3.5 or 4 hours—each way.

Long time commuters like myself will tell you that the trip into Penn Station has been hampered by delays for years. The repairs that were done were mere Band-Aids through the years, and this was before Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Sandy raged havoc on the system, especially the two North River tunnels, which flooded for the first time in its history. The flooding damaged the electrical system and the switches, and more Band-Aids were applied to get the tunnels back up and running.

That brings us to the summer of 2017 and the nightmare that is scheduled to begin on July 7 and run to September 1. It is a very good bet that it will linger longer into the fall with additional delays.

Most of the NJ Transit trains will be diverted to Hoboken, as Amtrak will retain its exclusivity coming into Penn Station. In Hoboken the choice is the PATH system, which has many delays of its own, or the New York Waterway ferry, which is much more expensive. Having done this before, I can tell you firsthand that the crowds at the PATH platforms in Hoboken will be four to five people deep on both sides of the train. Only one side opens at a time, and by the time the doors open on the other side, the train is packed. It is a stampede as the flood of people occupy the train car, doors are delayed in closing as people hold them trying to squeeze on. People will push and shove and in the dog days of summer, tempers will flare to be sure.

Hopefully cool heads will prevail. Commuters may be able to work from home or change their schedules for the summer, coming in early or late as their workplace allows. Worst case scenario is that the system adapts the use of “pushers” who will push the people into the cattle cars to get them going. I recommend using that vacation time we may have accrued this summer and skipping this summer nightmare altogether.


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