Morning commuters during rush hour at Jamaica Station in Queens on Monday.
Day one of the Summer of Hell was more like purgatory for commuters across the city who squeezed into trains and buses amid the much-ballyhooed track work at Penn Station.
Instead of the fire and brimstone that was expected to accompany a 20% cut in Long Island Rail Road service to accommodate Amtrak repairs, passengers were pleasantly surprised by trains that ran — relatively — on time, even if they needed a shoehorn and a running start to get on board.
“It was great,” commuter David Cohen, 64, said of his ride into the city from Long Island. “No complaints. I assume so far from what I see it doesn’t look like there’s any kind of problem right now.”
“Hell” seemed surprisingly bearable, too, for Tiajuana Garrett, 63, a social worker who caught a 7:30 a.m. ferry from Hoboken, to Midtown.
“You know, I want to be upset with the changes. But I’m having a joyful ride. This is lovely,” said Garrett, who usually takes NJ Transit into Penn Station to get to work. “It’s a pleasure of a way to start my day.”
More than 600,000 suburban straphangers were bracing for an apocalyptic day on the rails amid warnings, announcements and color-coded survival guides aimed at easing the expected headache.
In anticipation of the chaos, officials urged riders to work from home. Failing that, they said to use alternative entry points, including Hoboken Terminal, Atlantic Terminal and ferry service — and they provided incentives for riders to avoid Penn Station.
Repair work begins on Track 10 in Penn Station on Monday morning.
PATH trains and city subways were beefed up to absorb the extra load, and the MTA added park and ride bus options throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.
“I think the riders did everything perfect today,” said a happy MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, who was among the day’s passengers. “When it works well it works very well, and this morning it worked very well. I wish I had a piece of wood to knock on.”
After months of service disruptions and derailments, Lhota stopped short of taking a victory lap through the system’s stations and tunnels, acknowledging that something as simple as Tuesday morning’s expected thunderstorms could rain on the passengers’ parade.
“Tomorrow is another day. Every day is starting fresh,” he told reporters. “It’s only one day. We have to figure out over a period of time what Long Islanders prefer and we’ll adjust accordingly.
“This is what happens when you plan,” Lhota said. “There was a lot of planning that went into this, and this was the result of that planning.”
Among the upbeat observers was Lhota’s boss, Gov. Cuomo, who took a page from the headline writer’s manual and dubbed the July and August repair period the “Summer of Hell.” Cuomo also warned that the feel-good flying start would probably not last.
MTA Chairman Joe Lhota speaks to the media at Jamaica Station in Queens on Monday.
“We had a couple of months notice, so we put together an entire emergency master plan,” Cuomo told NY1.
“We have done everything you could possibly do short of calling the military with some type of parachuting ability. But it is not sustainable for us long-term.”
Cuomo said he also remained skeptical of Amtrak’s two-month repair timetable.
“I am dubious about Amtrak’s ability to run Penn long term in the first place,” he said.
Transit experts and riders believe LIRR and NJ Transit commuters were saved in the morning because there was an effort to keep as many people out of Penn Station as possible.
Meanwhile, riders already burned out by terrible commutes may have decided to stay home or take a long weekend to avoid the first day of the track repairs, officials said.
Ferry passengers from Hoboken arrive at the 39th St. Ferry Terminal in Midtown on Monday during the first day of the so-called Summer of Hell.
Smooth sailing or not, many passengers were still upset over the service disruptions.
“It was a crazy, crazy morning in the station today,” said Tracey Tong, 23, who commutes from Jamaica to Penn Station daily for work. “The Long Island Rail Road is not an efficient mode of transportation, by any standard, and there is a lot that needs to happen before it runs smoothly.
“With the subway still available to me in Jamaica, there are definitely alternatives if I need them. But it is disruptive to my morning routine to have to wake up earlier in the morning instead of taking my time to start my day.”
About 230,000 LIRR riders use Penn Station each day, and about 100,000 people use NJ Transit to get into the city daily.
The service shakeup forced commuters to change their habits, and boosted numbers across the system for the morning commute.
There were 3,000 more people commuting across the MTA’s transportation network than usual — 3% more in the system, from 100,000 to 103,000.
A transit worker gives instructions to passengers arriving from an LIRR train at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn on Monday.
There were 7,000 fewer people — 79,000 in total — commuting through Penn Station, a drop of 8%.
Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn got a 7,100-rider boost, a 67% increase. Nearly 18,000 commuters moved through the busy LIRR-subway hub.
“I woke up early today because of the repairs,” said Azana Lord, 19, who arrived at Atlantic Terminal at 7:15 a.m. and was on a Manhattan-bound 3 train five minutes later.
Azana walked by MTA employees with megaphones at Atlantic Terminal directing passenger traffic.
“It’s going to be a long eight weeks,” Azana said.