Video: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

Even on a good day, New York’s antiquated Pennsylvania Station is a commuter’s nightmare, a windowless warren of crammed platforms, motionless escalators and rank restrooms. One Wednesday in May brought sewage raining in the corridors. Two days later, a flash flood turned stairwells into waterfalls and closed the main entrance.

Worse is coming in July and August for 600,000-plus weekday sufferers at North America’s busiest train terminal. Rail maintenance by the station’s owner, Amtrak, means that a rotation of tracks and platforms will be closed.

Construction at Penn Station

Total track replacement

Switch panel replacement

Switch steel replacement

Platforms

Hudson

River Tunnel

Tracks

NJ

NY

Total track

replacement

Switch panel

replacement

Switch steel

replacement

Platforms

Hudson

River Tunnel

Tracks

NJ

NY

Total track replacement

Switch panel replacement

Switch steel replacement

Hudson

River Tunnel

NJ

NY

Tracks

Platforms

Bloomberg Graphics
Source: Amtrak

That will dramatically reduce service for Amtrak trains and those run by its tenants, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit. To soothe the crabby masses, planners have discounts and alternative transportation in the works. But no one expects to zip in and out of Manhattan. “Summer of Hell” is the phrase New York Governor Andrew Cuomo coined to describe what’s ahead, from July 10 to Sept. 1.

Hell isn’t just for passengers. It costs Manhattan employers $14.5 million for every hour train commuters from New Jersey and Long Island are delayed, according to the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit business-advocacy group. The group in 2015 called for major investment in regional mass transit because London, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong “prioritize efficient, reliable and modern” systems and New York must compete with them as a financial capital.

Commuters navigate a doorway toward a New Jersey Transit outbound train at New York's Penn Station. Video: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

The most misery will be heaped on New Jersey Transit’s Morris & Essex line, the financial elite’s direct-to-Manhattan route, which serves 34,000 people a day. Even though residential development and real estate values soared when the service started in 1996, the railroad failed to keep up with demand. Crowding, cancellations and delays became routine.

New Jersey Transit Average Weekday Ridership in 2016

Morris & Essex Lines

NY

80

Hackettstown

Secaucus Junction

Newark Broad St.

Gladstone

NJ

NJ

Penn Station

Hoboken

Summit

78

25K

5K

1K

NY

NJ Transit

Manhattan

NY

NJ

Penn Station

PA

Hoboken

33rd St. PATH Station

NJ

Trenton

PATH

Hoboken Ferry Routes

DE

Morris & Essex Lines

NY

80

Secaucus

Junction

Newark

Broad St.

Hackettstown

Gladstone

NJ

Hoboken

Summit

Penn Station

78

Manhattan

25K

5K

NY

1K

PA

Trenton

NJ

NJ Transit

NY

NJ

Penn Station

Hoboken

33rd St. PATH Station

PATH

Hoboken Ferry Routes

Morris & Essex Lines

80

Hackettstown

NJ

NJ

Summit

Hoboken

Gladstone

78

Penn

Station

25K

5K

1K

NY

Manhattan

PA

NJ

Trenton

DE

NJ Transit

NY

Penn

Station

NJ

Hoboken

33rd St.

PATH Station

PATH

Hoboken Ferry Routes

Bloomberg Graphics
Sources: New Jersey Transit, GIS-Transportation, New Jersey Office of Information Technology, New Jersey Office of Geographic Information Systems, NYC OpenData

Stations on that line now will see the straight shot to Manhattan canceled for trains scheduled to arrive after 7 a.m. That means diversion to the Hoboken terminal on the Hudson River waterfront. That commute has already been dicey, with repairs continuing through 2019 after a fatal crash in September. From there, it’s a ferry, bus or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey subway for the last leg.

The Hoboken shuffle will add as much as 90 minutes total to the daily commute, according to Steve Santoro, executive director of New Jersey Transit.

“I expect nothing to be on time,” said Natalie Santiago, a hospital care coordinator who spends $600 a month on the commute between suburban Philadelphia and New York. “It’s going to be an influx of frustration and lack of communication.”

The consternation isn’t without mitigation. Riders will get monthly-pass discounts. New Jersey is picking up the tab for the trip over or under the river. But as a hypothetical journey from Morristown, New Jersey, to Midtown Manhattan shows, there are many opportunities for the trip to go awry.

Commute From Morristown, N.J. to MetLife Building in Manhattan

Normal Commute From Morristown, N.J. to MetLife Building in Manhattan

CATCH NJT AT MORRISTOWN

TRANSFER TO 1-2-3 MTA PLATFORM

ARRIVE AT PENN STATION

SHUTTLE TO GRAND CENTRAL

WALK TO METLIFE BUILDING

1-2-3 TRAIN TO TIMES SQ.

Routine 10-minutes-

or-longer delays at

Secaucus Junction as trains queue for single incoming track

Commute During Penn Station Construction

WALK TO HOBOKEN FERRY TERMINAL

CATCH NJT AT MORRISTOWN

ARRIVE AT HOBOKEN STATION

FERRY TO 39TH ST/MIDTOWN

WALK TO 34TH ST/HUDSON YARDS MTA STATION

7 TRAIN TO GRAND CENTRAL

WALK TO METLIFE BUILDING

Up to 30-minute delay at any point due to Amtrak maintenance

Temporary repairs to train platform may mean extra crowding

Normal Commute From

Morristown, N.J. to

MetLife Building

in Manhattan

Commute During

Construction

at Penn Station

CATCH NJT AT MORRISTOWN

CATCH NJT AT MORRISTOWN

Up to 30-minute delay at any point due to Amtrak maintenance

Routine 10-minutes- or-longer delays at

Secaucus Junction as trains queue for single incoming track

Temporary repairs to train platform may mean extra crowding

ARRIVE AT HOBOKEN STATION

ARRIVE AT PENN STATION

WALK TO HOBOKEN FERRY

TERMINAL

TRANSFER TO 1-2-3

MTA PLATFORM

1-2-3 TRAIN TO TIMES SQ.

FERRY TO 39TH ST/

MIDTOWN

SHUTTLE TO GRAND CENTRAL

WALK TO 34TH ST/

HUDSON YARDS MTA STATION

WALK TO METLIFE BUILDING

7 TRAIN TO GRAND CENTRAL

WALK TO METLIFE BUILDING

During

Construction

Normal

CATCH NJT

AT MORRISTOWN

CATCH NJT

AT MORRISTOWN

Up to 30-minute delay at any point due to Amtrak maintenance

Routine 10-minutes-

or-longer delays at

Secaucus Junction as trains queue for single incoming

track

Temporary repairs to train platform may mean extra crowding

ARRIVE AT

HOBOKEN

STATION

ARRIVE AT

PENN STATION

WALK TO

HOBOKEN FERRY

TERMINAL

TRANSFER TO

1-2-3 MTA

PLATFORM

FERRY TO 39TH

ST/MIDTOWN

1-2-3 TRAIN

TO TIMES SQ.

SHUTTLE TO

GRAND CENTRAL

WALK TO 34TH

ST/HUDSON

YARDS MTA

STATION

WALK TO

METLIFE

BUILDING

7 TRAIN TO

GRAND CENTRAL

WALK TO

METLIFE

BUILDING

Normal Commute From

Morristown, N.J. to

MetLife Building

in Manhattan

Commute During

Construction

at Penn Station

CATCH NJT AT MORRISTOWN

CATCH NJT AT MORRISTOWN

Up to 30-minute delay at any point due to Amtrak maintenance

Routine 10-minutes-

or-longer delays at

Secaucus Junction as trains queue for single incoming track

Temporary repairs to train platform may mean extra crowding

ARRIVE AT HOBOKEN STATION

WALK TO HOBOKEN FERRY TERMINAL

ARRIVE AT PENN STATION

TRANSFER TO 1-2-3 MTA PLATFORM

FERRY TO 39TH ST/MIDTOWN

1-2-3 TRAIN TO TIMES SQ.

SHUTTLE TO GRAND CENTRAL

WALK TO METLIFE BUILDING

WALK TO 34TH ST/HUDSON

YARDS MTA STATION

7 TRAIN TO GRAND CENTRAL

WALK TO METLIFE BUILDING

Bloomberg Graphics
Sources: New Jersey Transit, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York Waterway, Google

New Jersey Transit says other lines won’t be nearly as disrupted. But weekday passengers to and from Penn already experience rush-hour delays of 30 minutes or more, and they will do so indefinitely because Amtrak stepped up track and signal maintenance in April after two of its trains derailed at Penn.

Commuters at New York's Penn Station. Video: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg

Unfortunately for commuters, the pain won’t much dissipate once Penn Station repairs are complete. Passengers face any number of delays that won’t be fixed this summer.

In extreme heat or cold on the Northeast Corridor line, the railroad’s busiest, the 112-year-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River often wigs out and fails to close properly, halting trains between Newark and Penn Station. In recent years, the bridge has caught fire at least twice, and a 1996 derailment led to a permanent speed-limit reduction. About $1 billion is needed for a replacement.

All Amtrak and New Jersey Transit rail lines will still have to traverse the Hudson River via the North River Tunnel, with one incoming and one outgoing track. Just 25 trains per hour can use the century-old link, crumbling because of flood damage. Amtrak has proposed a $24 billion project for a second tunnel and related improvements. Federal funding, though, is uncertain, even as the tube has less than 20 years of service remaining. If one track fails or must be closed for repairs, traffic will be cut 75 percent.

Amtrak crew members work at a repair site in a tunnel under the Hudson River. Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

On the other side of the tunnel, 1,300 trains—double the figure in 1976—jockey for 21 tracks every weekday. ReThinkNYC, a planning group, says Penn’s non-uniform platform heights and widths, plus the use of five power types, limit train movements. A major inefficiency, too, is its “dead-end” design: Trains must empty before new passengers, bound for the opposite direction, can board.

Growth in Ridership at Penn Station

Percent change in average weekday total passengers

Amtrak

NJ Transit

LIRR

Amtrak

NJ

Transit

LIRR

Amtrak

New Jersey Transit

LIRR

2010

Bloomberg Graphics
Sources: National Association of Railroad Passengers, New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road

In January, New York Governor Cuomo announced a $3 billion project to increase train capacity, improve signs and pedestrian traffic and turn the grand James A. Farley Post Office Building into a sunlit hall for Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road passengers.

For New Jersey Transit, no such relief awaits. Long after the Summer of Hell, riders will face stairways for makeshift seating, a waiting room long outgrown and arrival and departure boards pocked with delays—a return to quotidian purgatory.