As NJ Transit mess builds, Christie says no more Amtrak payments until we know tracks are OK
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie is withholding payment to Amtrak because of the delays from Monday's derailment at New York Penn Station, and wants to get a refund on money already paid.
In a letter to Amtrak chairman Anthony Coscia Christie wrote that he has directed New Jersey Transit to "cease making any payments to Amtrak under (NJ Transit's agreement) until there has been a thorough and independent examination of the tracks, signals, switches and other equipment maintained by Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor and full and unqualified verifications that the assets are in a state-of-good-repair."
NJ Transit executive director Steve Santoro made a similar demand during a press conference on Wednesday. Santoro said he would be in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to meet with the Federal Railroad Administration about conditions at Penn Station.
Also on Wednesday, Amtrak said normal service would return on Friday, but did not specify if it would be in time for the morning commute.
Christie said that three recent derailments "continue to frustrate the travel of tens of thousands of NJ Transit customers," and raise "serious questions about the condition of tracks and other assets maintained by Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor, and Amtrak's ability or willingness to properly maintain them in a state-of-good-repair."
The most recent derailment was Monday, when three cars on a 10-passenger NJ Transit train derailed at New York Penn's Track 9 which, according to Amtrak, damaged "multiple switches, signals and the mechanisms that control them, several rails, a rail crossing point, signal wires and other components."
The derailment took eight tracks out of service, forcing NJ Transit onto a limited holiday schedule. That has created overcrowding on trains, and limited service.
The governor also wrote a letter to state Attorney General Christopher Porrino to "consider initiating appropriate legal action as necessary to recover a $62 million payment made last week along with other sums and other sums NJ Transit paid to Amtrak" under the Northeast Corridor Services Agreement, which makes Amtrak responsible for maintenance of the tracks and equipment on the NEC.
Following Santoro's comments on Wednesday, Amtrak President/CEO Wick Moorman wrote that his agency is frustrated as well.
"We value our partnership with the commuter railroads and share the frustration these recent issues present to all of our customers. For this reason, Amtrak has requested the FRA join in a thorough review of infrastructure at Penn Station to evaluate current conditions," Moorman said.
Moorman said that Amtrak continues to investigate the recent derailments and will act quickly to address whatever issues led to them.
"We will continue to work with our partners at LIRR and NJ Transit to ensure that adequate work windows and funding are available to keep these heavily-used and aged assets functioning reliably as we pursue the long term goal of modernizing Penn Station infrastructure," he said.
Christie, who called the delays reduction in service "unacceptable" in a statement on Wednesday, ordered NJ Transit executives to visit stations to discuss the situation with passengers.
The commute on Thursday continued to be a crowded one. Megan, a rider on the North Jersey Coast Line who boarded at Matawan said her train has less cars than Wednesday. "It's getting worse. Just passed Woodbridge. People can't get in anymore. No standing room," Megan said, adding her train was so crowded that people could not breath.
New Jersey Fast Traffic's Bob Williams said delays at the Hudson River crossings reached 60 minutes without any crashes or incident on Thursday morning indicating heavier volume
A sampling of tweets about Thursday morning's commute:
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.
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