Rail officials say derailment disruptions could last days

NEW YORK (AP) — Rail officials said Tuesday it could be days before full service is restored at Penn Station following a second derailment in less than two weeks that wreaked havoc for hundreds of thousands of commuters and long-distance travelers on the Eastern Seaboard.

Amtrak and New Jersey Transit officials said crews were working to repair the damage from Monday’s derailment. Three cars in the middle of an inbound NJ Transit train dislodged from a track as it approached a platform.

“Amtrak has advised us that the repairs to damaged track will take a matter of days, unfortunately,” said Long Island Rail Road President Patrick Nowakowski. “Because of that, we must continue to operate on a reduced schedule until all repairs have been safely completed,” he said. “We have offered support and any assistance they need to help speed these repairs.”

Amtrak and New Jersey Transit also were operating on a reduced schedule Tuesday evening.

The derailment damaged the track and a switch and knocked out service on eight of 21 tracks, said Scot Naparstek, chief operating officer of Amtrak. The train was moved back onto the rail early Tuesday, he said.

Naparstek didn’t speculate on what might have caused the derailment. He said because of the location and the track components involved, it was not believed to be related to a March 24 incident in which an outbound Amtrak train derailed at Penn Station and scraped against an inbound NJ Transit train.

No serious injuries were reported in either derailment.

Naparstek also didn’t offer a guess on when all 21 tracks would be operational.

“It is our plan to have service restored as quickly as possible,” he said.

Penn Station travelers whose trains were canceled because of the derailment were scrambling to get home Tuesday.

Tim Willins was trying to get to Secaucus, New Jersey. He said he was on an NJ Transit train into New York at the time of the derailment Monday and it was “chaos.” On Tuesday he was trying to figure out if he needed to go through Hoboken to get home but couldn’t get any information online.

“Fifteen, 20 minutes I’m waiting for the next train out to Secaucus,” he complained.

It’s estimated about 750,000 people ride trains between Washington, D.C., and Boston daily, either on Amtrak or on various commuter rail lines.

NJ Transit is operating on a limited schedule it normally uses on holidays, Executive Director Steve Santoro said. That has caused delays and frustration for the estimated 100,000 people who ride into New York each weekday.

The Long Island Rail Road canceled 10 trains to Penn Station on Tuesday morning and 18 more in the afternoon and evening. Eight more evening trains were being diverted to other stations.

Amber Wiley, a professor of American Studies at Skidmore College who was in the city to give a lecture at Columbia University, had a ticket on a 5:47 p.m. train to Albany on Tuesday but got an email Monday night telling her the train was canceled. She’s taking a 4:40 instead.

“I have no idea why they canceled the later one,” she said. "... I was on hold with Amtrak for about 40-some-odd minutes last night trying to get onto this 4:40.”

The two derailments renewed calls for accelerating progress on an ambitious, $20 billion-plus project, known as Gateway, to add a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and expand Penn Station.

The current tunnel is more than 100 years old and operates at capacity during peak commuting hours. It suffered extensive saltwater damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and is a regular source of delays due to overhead wire problems.

The cost of the tunnel, estimated at roughly $10 billion, is to be split among New York, New Jersey and the federal government, but supporters fear Republican President Donald Trump’s budget released last month could jeopardize the federal slice of the project by proposing to pay only for projects that have advanced to the final contract stage.

John Porcari, a former deputy U.S. secretary of transportation who is the interim head of the development corporation overseeing Gateway, said a new tunnel wouldn’t have stopped the two recent derailments from happening. It would, he said, lessen the aftershock to commuters because the eight tracks currently out of service would have been able to connect to the new tunnel.

“It would have been a minor blip instead of a major nightmare for commuters,” he said.