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Muoio Questions Amtrak’s Failure to Address Aging Wire System Powering Northeast Corridor

Notes System Dates Back to FDR Administration, Yet No Plans in Place for Upgrades

Assemblywoman Elizabeth Maher Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) questioned Amtrak officials Wednesday on the fragility of the aging electrical wires that power trains along the Northeast corridor during a joint legislative hearing with officials from NJ Transit, Amtrak, PATH, and New York Waterways.

Amtrak trains running along the Northeast and Keystone corridors are powered by overhead wires called a catenary system, which provide electrical power to trains, enabling them to move up and down the corridor. However, dramatic swings in temperature can cause the catenary wires to expand and contract, causing components in the system to fail and forcing power to be shut down along segments of the corridor in order for repairs to be conducted – causing consistent disruptions in service.

“The failure of the catenary wire system has proven to be the source of persistent headaches for New Jersey rail commuters. Given that this power system dates back to the FDR administration, there will be an increasing number of service disruptions as wires continue to age and become brittle, especially if they’re encased in hardware that prevents inspection.

“This makes it all the more dismaying that Amtrak seems to have no plan in place for long-term upgrades or replacement of this system. Over the last several hearings we were told there is no funding in place for the catenary wires, no idea if progress is being made to secure funding, and no answer as to how long it will be until these wires start posing a serious risk to rail service.

“We’ve been given a litany of excuses and an array of non-answers, all of which are extremely unsettling and no source of comfort to beleaguered commuters. The system supporting the busiest rail corridor in the nation is a dinosaur. If Amtrak continues to bury its head in the sand, this will pose a massive threat to our economy and our quality of life for the foreseeable future.”