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Penn Station train tracks fixed but not for morning commute

In this Wednesday, April 5, 2017 photo provided by Amtrak, workers repair rails inside New York's Penn Station. Amtrak says it hopes to restore full service to New York's Penn Station by Friday, four days after a second derailment in less than two weeks. Monday's derailment of a New Jersey Transit commuter train damaged switches, signals and rails at a spot where two tracks emerge from a tunnel and diverge to 21 tracks. (Chuck Gomez/Amtrak via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Rail commuters who endured days of aggravation after a train derailment at Penn Station woke up Friday morning with assurances that track repairs would be completed and service restored, but soon discovered that wasn’t entirely accurate.

Amtrak, which owns and maintains tracks used by New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road, said at 7:30 a.m. that testing and inspections were completed. But NJ Transit said work was still being done and warned that delays were possible.

By that time, the Long Island Rail Road had already canceled 10 rush-hour trains into Manhattan and terminated four others at stations in Queens.

By late Friday morning, NJ Transit tweeted that its trains were running on or close to schedule, though some trains already en route were experiencing residual delays. Buses, ferries and other rail lines continued to cross-honor NJ Transit rail tickets, as they did all week.

The LIRR unleashed its ire Friday, issuing a statement that said: “Because Amtrak crews did not finish track repair work by 4 a.m. as promised and because they did not grant access to tracks overnight so that Long Island Rail Road could pre-position trains, LIRR is forced to once again operate a reduced morning rush-hour schedule.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Friday that NJ Transit officials have been given permission to accompany federal railroad officials and Amtrak when they inspect the damaged tracks at Penn Station. However, he said he hasn’t coordinated that yet with Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman.

The Republican again pledged that NJ Transit would withhold funds it normally pays Amtrak for maintenance and repairs “until we are satisfied that the tracks are in safe operating condition.”

The derailment of an NJ Transit commuter train Monday as it approached the station platform knocked out eight of the station’s 21 tracks maintained by Amtrak. It also ignited a spat between Amtrak and Christie, who angrily demanded a refund of money already paid by the state to Amtrak.

The disruptions and delays to rail service up and down the Northeast apparently were caused by a weakening of the timber ties sitting under a piece of track in Penn Station. Amtrak officials said Thursday that the ties were inspected days before the derailment and deemed to be in need of replacement eventually, but didn’t appear to pose an imminent threat.

It was the second derailment at Penn Station in less than two weeks. On March 24, an outbound Amtrak train derailed and scraped against an inbound NJ Transit train.

The two derailments highlighted the challenges posed by Amtrak’s aging infrastructure and the myriad ways in which the system can go awry.

On Friday, New Jersey U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker sent a letter to their colleagues on the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development urging them not to cut federal dollars for Amtrak.

The Democratic senators urged subcommittee members not to accept Republican President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget, which they say would drastically cut funding and support for Amtrak and jeopardize the $20 billion-plus Gateway project to build a new rail tunnel into New York from New Jersey and expand Penn Station to accommodate more trains.

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