Amtrak may return to Grand Central temporarily this summer

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NEW YORK — A major track and switch replacement project at New York Penn Station this summer may result in Amtrak trains temporarily returning to Grand Central Terminal.

Amtrak has been studying switching Empire Service trains back to the historic terminal as the Penn Station work will reduce track capacity there by 25 percent when work starts July 7, the Albany Times-Union reports.

While Amtrak officials did not confirm that trains will use Grand Central, a source told the Times-Union that train and engine crews are being offered the chance to bid on the opportunity to be qualified for runs into the original New York Central terminal. All Amtrak trains from upstate New York used Grand Central until 1991, when work was completed on the West Side Connection, a once out-of-service freight line that now brings trains from the Hudson River line into Penn Station. Before 1991, Amtrak ran dedicated shuttle buses between Penn Station and Grand Central to connect through passengers.

In testimony before a New York State Assembly committee on May 11, Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman said that Grand Central has double the number of tracks that Penn Station has, but handles two-thirds the number of trains that Penn does. This suggests that Amtrak’s temporary use of the station would not cut into Metro-North’s capacity. Grand Central also has a two loop tracks (one on each level) allowing trains to reverse direction, while trains that terminate at Penn must be brought through the tunnel into Sunnyside Yard in Queens to be wyedgo around a loop track.

Since 1991, Amtrak has only used Grand Central as a temporary station once during work affecting upstate trains’ access to Penn Station. One complicating factor is that the third rail system that Metro-North trains use to access Grand Central is different from that which Amtrak uses at Penn Station. The former use pick-up shoes that gather electricity from underneath the third rail, while the latter’s shoes glide atop the third rail.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect Amtrak operations. May 17, 2017, 2:30 p.m. Central time.

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