Amtrak changes no sweat for Metro-North customers

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Amtrak trains passing through Spuyten Duyvil will take a different route this summer, but Metro-North says its customers need not fret because the diversion isn’t expected to affect schedules.

Amtrak is planning work in the city over the warmer months, spokesman Jason Abrams said, with details to come later.

The railroad service is gearing up for a shift of its upstate trains back to Grand Central Terminal for about three months. The plan is to close the double-track Empire Connector that runs from the Metro-North commuter railroad mainline at Spuyten Duyvil to Penn Station for rehabilitation work — including repairs of the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge damaged by flooding after Hurricane Sandy — diverting all upstate trains to Grand Central.

Sandy’s flooding damaged the base of the bridge, according to officials, but track and tunnel repairs also are long overdue since much of the Empire Connector hasn’t seen upgrades since the 1980s and 1990s.

As to how any of the work could impact Amtrak’s schedules, Abrams couldn’t say — yet.

Metro-North officials confirmed, however, there will be no changes to its own timetables as a result of Amtrak’s re-routing. The planned work is for Amtrak’s Empire line, which diverges from Metro-North’s Hudson line at Spuyten Duyvil and then runs to Penn Station via the west side of Manhattan. 

The Empire service offers daily trains between New York City and Albany, as well as others that continue to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. 

Amtrak won’t do any work on tracks used by Metro-North trains, and Amtrak itself has no stops in Riverdale — the closest stops are found in Yonkers and Penn Station.

Bruce Becker, vice president of operations for the Washington-based Rail Passengers Association — a nationwide rider advocacy organization working to expand train service between cities — expects existing Amtrak service will operate on a revised schedule. That’s because its trains will need to be accommodated into Metro-North’s timetables traveling into Grand Central, as Metro-North is the host railroad.

“Metro-North is concerned, of course, that their customers are not impacted or inconvenienced in any way,” Becker said.

This isn’t the first time Amtrak’s trains have been diverted into Grand Central because of repairs, he added. In fact, the most recent diversion came as recently as last summer. And given how extensive the task of rebuilding the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge is anticipated to be, diversion is necessary once again.

While some Amtrak riders may be unhappy about the route changes this summer, others are expected to welcome them as a kind of temporary blessing in disguise.

“Certainly, some passengers will be inconvenienced by this diversion,” Becker said. “But we do know that there are certainly passengers in New York State who take Amtrak who like going to Grand Central better than going to Penn Station. As with everything, not everybody likes everything.”

In fact, there have been, for many years, Amtrak passengers calling for at least some service to Grand Central, Becker said.

And while there has been ongoing discussion about the prospect of expanding its service into the iconic railroad terminal at East 42nd Street and Park Avenue, that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

“With Metro-North service and ridership ever-increasing, the capacity at Grand Central is already strained,” Becker said.

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