Amtrak CEO admits Penn Station problems are 'disrupting lives'

Chaos and confusion gripped Penn Station at the height of the Wednesday evening rush when the Long Island Rail Road canceled nearly 80 trains because of a dispatcher routing issue with Amtrak, which owns and operates the tracks. Add that to the long list of recent disruptions to service in and out of Penn, from two low-speed derailments to a New Jersey Transit train getting stuck in a tunnel for hours.

"We are extraordinarily aware of the frustration and I completely understand it," Amtrak president and CEO Charles "Wick" Moorman Moorman told reporters Thursday. "We are disrupting people's lives and we need to do a better job."

Moorman testified Thursday before a New York Assembly committee on how the railroad plans to improve what many people say has become a dire situation at Penn Station.

"Old infrastructure, decades of underinvestment by all of the users of the track and the station concourse levels, and a massive increase of use have created a very fragile state," Moorman testified.

This summer Amtrak will begin a major project to upgrade tracks at Penn, which date back to the 1970s. That will mean significant weekday service outages of up to a quarter of trains during much of July and August, as well as weekend and overnight outages. Moorman also announced that Amtrak will bring in a private sector partner to help manage the concourse at Penn Station.

"At the track level and concourse level, the status quo is no longer sustainable," he said.

LIRR Senior Vice President David Kubicek also testified Thursday and vowed his railroad will improve its customer service.

"We're not pleased," he said. "We're not satisfied with the customer service that we're delivering."

Lawmakers on the committee, including Assemblywoman Michaelle Solanges who herself was stuck in Wednesday's LIRR commuter mayhem, said they are not satisfied with the railroads' response.

"With riders paying more and getting less, it's just despicable that they can sit there and legitimize it," Solanges said. "I hope that they do better, I'm a hopeful person, but I'm not confident."

Amtrak said it will try to announce more details of the summer service outages next week to give riders a chance to plan. Even after that repair work, Amtrak anticipates another weekday outage sometime in 2018.