Amtrak CEO discusses scope and complexity of NY Penn track work

NJ Spotlight News | July 10, 2017 | Transportation
Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman says NY Penn Station is a really difficult place to work.

Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman has been at Penn Station all day. He spoke with Correspondent Briana Vannozzi.

Vannozzi: We’ve been out here since the wee hours of the morning, I know you have been, too. It’s been relatively quiet. What have you been hearing as far as reports of the day’s events?

Moorman: Well, we’ve certainly had a good commute here at Penn Station. I think that overall we’re hearing that the passenger counts are down a little bit. You would expect that in a way because there are fewer trains. We’re going to have to see as the week goes by and the weeks go by, I think we’ll get a little higher passenger count. But the good news is the trains all ran well and we had a good morning. Now comes the next test and that’s the evening commute and we’ll be seeing what happens what that very soon.

Vannozzi: A lot of the talk has been about there being three to possibly up to five tracks being out. How many tracks were out today and will passengers know and be able to feel if more than three are taken out of commission?

Moorman: Well they certainly would, but our plan for the summer is three. Now, that will change a little bit as time goes by and the work locations change. One track is out all summer and that’s to renew that track itself. The others are being use to store equipment. But our plan is three tracks throughout the summer and that allows us to maintain the same train schedules all summer.

Vannozzi: A lot of people refer to this A interlocking as the spaghetti bowl of lines. Why is it so difficult to work on and repair these specific lines?

Moorman: It’s the most difficult place I’ve ever seen and I started my career in track maintenance. It’s extraordinarily complex, custom track work because you bring a lot of tracks together and have to give a lot of different routes for every train to move. So it’s custom design, specially engineered and it’s in this really difficult environment where you’ve got trains going by all the time, you’ve got overhead wires so you can’t go up and then there’s all this other machinery around it to make it work. It’s just a hard place to work.

Vannozzi: Do you anticipate, we’ve been hearing that commuter traffic was a little bit lighter today than typical, people working from home, people anticipating some of these delays. Was today a good pulse on what we can expect for the rest of the summer.

Moorman: I think that needs to be seen in terms of passenger count. The one thing I can tell you is that the key for Amtrak and really the commuters is getting the trains in and out of the station on time. And first morning, we did well. We’ll have to see how that goes, but at least it’s an indication that the schedules that we put in will work. Now, I will say this, the caveat always is in addition to track and signal and everything else, there are a lot of different ways Penn Station can be disrupted because it’s always so full. So I would never say we’re going to go through the summer without some issues. But we’ll see how this evening works and I anticipate it’ll go well, and then we’ll hopefully have a good summer.

Vannozzi: Are you confident this work will be done by Labor Day Weekend as promised?

Moorman: Yes, I am very confident about that. We’ve done an extraordinary amount of planning. We have a very competent and qualified work force down there. They got off to a great start with this major work this weekend. And we do have the ability towards the end to be a little flexible if we absolutely have to and button some things up and then maybe finish them later. We obviously don’t want to do that because it will just increase complexity, but we’re going to get it done by Labor Day.

Vannozzi: You heard it there. Wick Moorman, president and CEO of Amtrak. Thank you very much for speaking with us.