Spin the roulette wheel before you take a Long Island Rail Road train into Penn Station.
The odds may be in your favor if you land on black, but the little white ball bouncing on the red could mean serious delays, sharp cutbacks in service and even a possible derailment.
Even though Amtrak had strong financial results last year from increased ridership, the railroad is struggling to maintain its Penn Station service. Within a 10-day period, two NJ Transit trains derailed in Penn Station, the nation’s busiest rail hub, and Amtrak was at a loss to repair the damage quickly.
In the second incident April 3, a NJ Transit train jumped the track at a vital switch point, damaging eight of the 21 tracks in Penn Station, which is owned by Amtrak. Chaos reigned for the next five days, spreading pain to Long Island Rail Road riders who faced the suspension of up to 14 trains a day as the three rail systems shared the remaining tracks. Hardest hit NJ Transit passengers spent hours trying to commute to work, but got some relief from an impromptu ferry service that is now going to be permanent.
There were delays and cancellations on Amtrak.
Amtrak acknowledged it knew about the track defects that caused both derailments, but did not appreciate the immediacy of the problem.
Hundreds of thousands of people were inconvenienced by the accidents, millions of dollars were lost to the New York City economy and Amtrak was in the dark about the serious failings in its own infrastructure.
This should be a wake-up call to our elected officials — Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie are playing the blame game on this one — to put pressure on Congress to hold hearings into the state of the aging rail service in the Northeast.
Amtrak has fought mightily over the years to become financially self-sufficient, but in the end, Congress has bailed out the national railroad — in no small part because the heavily trafficked New York-to-Washington service is used by so many lawmakers. But who knows what will happen in the Trump era?
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer wants action on a Democratic infrastructure plan that would give $5 billion to Amtrak for critical repairs over the next 10 years but is languishing in Congress.
Amtrak also is responsible for the East River tunnels, which serve the LIRR, and the Hudson River tunnels, where NJ Transit riders were stranded for 3½ hours last week because of a power failure.
Enough already! Washington must move to rehabilitate Amtrak so that it can provide safe and reliable service for LIRR riders in Queens and other Northeast Corridor destinations.