NJ asks Coast Guard to stop screwing with rush-hour train commutes
NEWARK — Amtrak and the state's top Democrats are asking the U.S. Coast Guard to limit or eliminate requests to open the Portal Bridge during morning and afternoon rush.
The request comes after an opening on Oct. 30 just before the afternoon commute. The bridge opened to allow marine traffic to pass at 3:24 p.m but didn't safely lock back into place until almost 5 p.m. Nearly 80,000 riders on 164 NJ Transit and Amtrak trains were affected by the 90-minute delay.
The delays caused chaos on the platforms at New York Penn Station as riders waited to board delayed trains.
Commuter Alexandria Pisauro on her Twitter account called the trip "hands down the scariest, most inept, and truly horrendous one ever."
"I have never seen such lack of leadership, sheer panic or abuse of power in Newark Penn as I did tonight. Cops were barricading passengers from catching their trains, screaming at us that the departure board was wrong -- it wasn't -- and physically blocking off our commutes home," she wrote about the day's delay.
According to the letter dated Dec. 4, Amtrak is required to open the century-old bridge with an hour's notice during the two busiest times of the day. Amtrak, which owns and maintains the bridge, joined Gov. Phil Murphy and U.S Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker in asking for an adjustment as to what is considered rush hour (6 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m.) and to allow for no openings during those times.
The letter also requested that federal holidays come under the rush hour rules and require 24 hour notice for all openings.
Murphy, Menendez and Booker said the ultimate solution for the issue is a proposed new Portal Bridge, which would be high enough to accommodate all marine traffic.
"We ask that you help us find a short term solution to mitigate the consequences of Portal's failures as we work to convince the Trump Administration of the clear and compelling need to replace the bridge immediately," the letter to the Coast Guard says.
The Gateway Project is hung up on the release of $250 million in federal funding.
Stephen Sigmund, Chief of Public Outreach for the Gateway Program Development Corporation supported the idea of restricting the hours the bridge can open but called it a good short term solution.
"The long-term solution is a 21st Century, higher Portal North Bridge that allows trains to run faster and more reliably and doesn’t have to open and close," Sigmund said.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Allyson Conroy said they are reviewing the request.
"Once that request is formally reviewed, we will take the next steps to change regulations as we are able," Conroy said.