Amtrak President/CEO Wick Moorman, NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro to testify Friday at joint Senate Legislative Oversight/Assembly Judiciary Committees hearing in Trenton
Citing the looming commuter crisis, Senate Legislative Oversight Chair Bob Gordon and Assembly Judiciary Chair John McKeon said their joint hearing Friday will focus on the wave of Amtrak and NJ Transit breakdowns, planned repairs at New York Penn Station, and contingency plans by NJ Transit and other agencies to continue to move hundreds of thousands of trans-Hudson commuters in the event of reduced service at NY Penn Station or other problems.
Amtrak’s top two officials, President/CEO Wick Moorman and Executive Vice President/COO Scot Naparstek, will testify first at the 10 a.m. hearing to be held Friday, April 28 in Committee Room 4 of the State House Annex in Trenton, followed by NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro. The hearing, scheduled during the week of delays that followed the April 3 Amtrak derailment in New York, comes on the heels of reports that trans-Hudson rail service may have to be curtailed to make repairs at NY Penn Station.
“After years of neglect, it is clear that our trans-Hudson commuter network is in a state of crisis,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The overcrowding, frustration and delays that followed the April 3 derailment was followed by a breakdown that trapped 1,200 NJ Transit riders in the Hudson tunnel for three hours, another Amtrak breakdown and electrical problems that have made rail commuting a nightmare. We need to know not only how Amtrak is going to fix the problems at NY Penn Station, but what NJ Transit and other agencies can do to improve the lives of their commuters while repairs are made and when breakdowns occur.”
“Passengers do not care whether Amtrak or NJ Transit is responsible for the delays and disrepair that interfere with their commute. The two entities playing the blame game doesn’t get people to work on time,” said Assemblyman McKeon (D-Morris/Essex). “When people pay hundreds of dollars per month for rail service, they have all right to expect that it will be reliable and that NJ Transit personnel – including the agency’s top executives – will be responsive to customers’ concerns about quality and safety. Given the amount of dysfunction related to our transportation infrastructure that has affected passengers this month alone, it is imperative that both Amtrak and NJ Transit work to improve service on behalf of commuters.”
Senator Gordon and Assemblyman McKeon, whose committees launched joint hearings on NJ Transit issues in the wake of the fatal derailment at Hoboken last fall, said they wanted answers from Amtrak on why emergency repairs were not made to the New York Penn Station tracks prior to the derailments when Amtrak officials knew that the condition of the creaking timbers under the tracks posed a safety threat.
“NJ Transit pays Amtrak for use of the Northeast Corridor and New York Penn Station, and we have a right to expect a state of good repair at a level that ensures both safety and on-time service,” said Senator Gordon. “But this is not a time for finger-pointing. We know that both Amtrak and NJ Transit have suffered from years of underfunding and deferred maintenance. We need to know how we are going to fix the problem going forward, and we need to know how NJ Transit and Amtrak are going to work together to avert continuation of this commuter nightmare in the months ahead.”
“More than just a matter of on-going frustration, the subpar status of mass transit in New Jersey is a serious public safety issue,” said McKeon. “Commuters should be able to rest assured that every time they step onto an NJ Transit vehicle, everything – from the tracks they’re traveling on, to the engineer operating the train, to the train itself – meets the highest standards for a safe trip. Regaining the public’s trust after the horrific crash in Hoboken and the multiple incidents since then requires absolute dedication to the task from all parties involved.”
Senator Gordon and Assemblyman McKeon said the wave of breakdowns and delays at NY Penn Station and in the Sandy-damaged Hudson rail tunnels underscored the need for the federal government to make the Gateway Project, including the construction of the new Gateway rail tunnels and the expansion of New York’s Penn Station and the Northeast Corridor Line, an immediate national priority.
Both legislators criticized President Trump’s budget plan for proposing the elimination of the New Starts program that was expected to be a principal source of funding for the Gateway project, as well as for the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail extension to Englewood.
“We cannot afford any delays in the Gateway project,” Senator Gordon said. “Construction is ready to go on the Portal Bridge in July, and tunnel construction work could begin this fall, but only if the federal funding is there. We cannot afford to play Russian roulette with the lives and livelihoods of our commuters by gambling that the Sandy-damaged tunnels will be able to stay in service until the Gateway tunnels are finished. We are seeing more and more breakdowns and electrical problems in the tunnels. Time is not on our side.”
“If President Trump has a legitimate interest in rebuilding infrastructure, there’s no better place to start than with the Gateway Project,” said McKeon. “Having one of the busiest transportation systems in the entire world depend on two dilapidated 100-year-old tunnels is entirely irrational. There is an indisputable need for funds from the federal government to support this project immediately.”