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Two Trains Stall at Penn Station, Temporarily Stranding 750 Passengers

A platform at Penn Station A platform at Penn Station
A platform at Penn Station A platform at Penn Station

Two trains lost power at Penn Station Saturday, temporarily stranding a combined 765 passengers, Thomas Tracy of The New York Daily News reports. Officials have attributed both malfunctions to “electrical issues with overhead wires,” Tracy says. A third train, sent to aid in rescue efforts, stalled due to the same problems.

The first train, an Amtrak train arriving from Miami with 165 passengers, “became disabled just west of [Penn] station,” an Amtrak spokesman said. After the first rescue train failed to reach the stranded passengers, a second locomotive “was sent in and towed everyone to safety,” Tracy says.

The whole ordeal persisted for about two hours, halting Amtrak travel between New York and New Jersey until 1:15 pm. Commuters using New Jersey Transit, another railway line serving Penn Station, suffered half hour delays.

At 4:45 pm, a New Jersey Transit train carrying 600 lost power on its way into Penn, between the tunnel and the platform. Its passengers were stuck on board without air conditioning for 20 minutes before a rescue train arrived to tow the failed machine back into the station.

Saturday’s incident marks the first trouble at Penn since Amtrak and the MTA began a joint renovation effort Monday. The project, which is scheduled to continue until September, will necessitate the closure of several lines as old tracks are refurbished. Tracy and others have dubbed this summer the “Summer of Hell” at what Tracy calls the “beleaguered transit hub.”

But, Amtrak’s chief operating officer, Scot Naparstek, said on Friday that 90% of inbound trains were on time at Penn this week. Of course, that percentage has dropped as a result of the weekend’s events, but officials say the renovation project played no part in either malfunction Saturday.

According to Tracy, commuters acknowledge that the “first week of the project went mostly smoothly.” But service cuts at the USA’s busiest train station are bound to have a considerable effect on the efficiency with which commuters will be able to travel. According to a New York Times report by Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Patrick McGeehan, many of the hundreds of thousands of people who travel through Penn Station daily are considering “alternate routes into Manhattan by ferry, subway, and bus. Some commuters are thinking about changing their hours or working from home or in satellite offices.

“I think we have to react a little bit like the crisis mentality after Hurricane Sandy,” Scott Rechler, the chief executive of a Realty firm with offices in Manhattan told The New York Times. “There’s going to be a need for some behavioral adjustment to reduce the demand at peak hours.”

Long Island Rail Road, one of the three railroads that run in and out of Penn Station, is offering a ferry route out of Glen Cove on the North Shore of Long Island. Gib Chapman of Oyster Bay is looking into taking a boat of his own to his finance job in Manhattan every day, possibly with a group of friends. Others, including Riten Jaiswal, plan to drive into Manhattan. Needless to say, as more and more people do as Jaiswal intends to do, New York’s roads could fall into gridlock.

“One of the lessons that we’re all learning from what’s going on this summer is that we need to have multiple options for commutation,” said Seth Pinsky, a vice president at the aforementioned Manhattan realty firm. “We have infrastructure that requires significant investment, and as a result of that there are going to be periods of time when Method A may be more challenging and people should have the option of going to Method B.”

Hindrances unrelated to the project, such as the electrical issues that caused Saturday’s delays, are like salt in the wounds of an already debilitated transportation system. Though week one of the Summer of Hell went on more or less without a hitch until Saturday, travel in and out of Penn station is bound to grow increasingly hectic.

So, the railways that service Penn Station will need to work together to reduce the frequency of “unrelated incidents” like the one that happened Saturday.

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