By Hilary Russ
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Amtrak said on Thursday that it plans to hire a private company to manage the concourse-level areas it controls in New York's outdated and overcrowded Pennsylvania Station.
Amtrak will create a new development entity tasked with selecting a management firm for its concourse areas, President Wick Moorman said at a New York State Assembly committee hearing in Manhattan.
The Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit - which control their own concourse sections under long-term leases with Amtrak, the landlord - will also be asked to oversee the new entity and use it to coordinate operations among all three railroads, Moorman said.
"The status quo is no longer sustainable," Wick told committee members.
The national passenger rail company has been under scrutiny after two recent derailments, for which it was at fault, disrupted travel for hundreds of thousands of commuters.
Those and other disturbances have drawn attention to problems the station's concourse-level areas, which can quickly become crowded with delayed passengers when one disruption ripples to other trains.
Last month, the station was crammed with commuters after a power outage. Chaos broke out because of unfounded rumors that someone was shooting a gun. Thirteen people were injured.
Part of the problem is growth in the region. Penn Station, the busiest U.S. transit hub, now handles double the number of trains it did when Amtrak took it over from bankrupt private operator Penn Central Transportation Co. in 1976, Moorman said.
Separately, Amtrak is also addressing track problems with a new program to expedite long-planned repairs that would otherwise take years to complete. Large sections of Penn Station track will be taken offline for weeks at a time this summer.
The derailments "highlight the vulnerability and the fragility of Penn Station," Moorman said, apologizing again for delays and disruptions.
About half the trains that roll through the station are operated by Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which leases Amtrak's rails along with NJ Transit.
Amtrak is working with LIRR and NJ Transit to figure out precisely how tracks will be taken offline and other trains rerouted this summer. A detailed plan of outages is expected next week, Moorman said.
The most complex, disruptive jobs that require more tracks to be taken out of service at one time will be performed at night, he said. Amtrak is planning to issue alerts during the summer months to keep customers updated.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ; editing by Daniel Bases and Cynthia Osterman)