Elaine Phillips blasts Amtrak for infrastructure failures

Janelle Clausen
State Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill)

State Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-C-Manhasset) blasted Amtrak, the operator of Penn Station, for systemwide delays affecting thousands of commuters on Tuesday.

Problems with an electric third rail in an East River tunnel spawned delays averaging over an hour for thousands of commuters. This also caused the LIRR to temporarily suspend service into the Manhattan terminal during the morning rush.

“The ‘summer of hell’ is already beginning for Long Island commuters, with yet another Amtrak infrastructure failure causing massive LIRR service disruptions,” Phillips said, referring to recent remarks by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

It is the latest in a long string of woes for Amtrak, such as signal problems on May 8 and May 3 that created cancellations, delays and temporarily suspended service between Jamaica and Penn Station. There were also train derailments on March 24 and April 3.

Those problems prompted Amtrak to announce several proposed improvements at Penn, including a major infrastructure renewal effort that is expected to disrupt LIRR rush-hour service for much of July and August.

These repairs will likely close three of the station’s 21 tracks at a time.

“While those repairs are necessary, it doesn’t change the fact that they will severely impact local commuters,” Phillips said. “Estimates are that this project will cause LIRR service to be reduced by approximately 20 percent throughout the summer.”

“The MTA and Amtrak must work together to minimize the disruption to LIRR riders,” Phillips added.

She said that riders of the LIRR “deserve better” and should see their fares reduced “because they are not getting the service they paid for.”

“Commuters are fed up, and rightfully so,” Phillips said. “They’re dealing with unacceptable conditions and will be forced to deal with reduced service all summer long because of construction at Penn Station.”

Phillips’ said people in her district, which covers Port Washington, Manhasset, Floral Park, Mineola, Manhasset, the Willistons, New Hyde Park and Old Westbury, sometimes spend hundreds a month on LIRR commuting.

“Commuters in my district are paying as much as $297 a month in LIRR fares,” Phillips said. “Like any tenant, they deserve a refund if the landlord isn’t providing services. If their service is being cut, their fares should be too.”

Phillips, a freshman state senator, authored Senate bill S6421, legislation allowing the MTA and LIRR to discontinue payments to Amtrak and redirect those funds towards free rail tickets for affected commuters.

Payments would only resume after Penn Station reaches a 95 percent on-time performance for trains arriving and departing at Penn Station for at least one month.

Phillips said Amtrak receives over $150 million a year from New York State and New Jersey for the use of Penn Station. By withholding such funds and compensating consumers, she said, it would hopefully push Amtrak to make quick repairs.

Phil Boyle, Thomas Croci, John Flanagan, Kemp Hannon, Kenneth LaValle, John E. Brooks, Carl Marcellino and Todd Kaminsky, all Long Island state senators, co-sponsored the bill.

The bill cleared the New York State Senate on May 22, passing 55 to 6.

“The bill was approved in the Senate with broad bipartisan support;  I am hopeful that Long Island’s Assembly delegation will push for its passage in their house as well,” Phillips said.

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