NJ Transit delays could get worse before they get better
NEW YORK — A fallen overhead wire that caused more headaches for New Jersey Transit commuters was fixed by Amtrak, but maintenance and inspection work is expected to still create delays on Wednesday, with even more before things get better.
Commuters leaving New York Penn Station faced 40-minute delays on Tuesday afternoon as the NYPD closed off access to the overcrowded station filled with fuming commuters. Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert told New Jersey 101.5 in an email that "all first responders and law enforcement personnel at New York Penn Station maintain constant contact through the NYP command center which was activated."
NJ Transit riders were already warned that maintenance work by Amtrak this week would cause 15-minute delays during the work week and 30 minutes on Saturday "until further notice."
20 minute delays in-and-out of New York Penn Station developed around 8:40 a.m. due to "congestion." Service was back to normal by 10 a.m.
NJ Transit Executive Director Steven Santoro posted a message to riders apologizing for this week's delays and thanking them for their patience. "These delays have caused considerable frustration, inconvenience and stress for many of you as you travel to work, appointments, events and then back home. Traveling on NJ Transit should be the easy part of your day, not the most challenging," Santoro wrote.
He said he met with Amtrak CEO Charles Moorman to impress upon him the importance of NJ Transit "having a voice at the table around prioritization of track and other maintenance, tunnel evacuation protocols and customer flow" at the station, which is operated and maintained by Amtrak.
Santoro offered passengers a "delay letter" at NJ Transit's Customer Service offices for them to present to employers.
After Santoro, Moorman and Gov. Chris Christie called for a complete inspection of all tracks and equipment at Penn Station, the New York Times reported that Amtrak is considering an aggressive plan that would close multiple tracks at New York Penn Station for days or weeks to make repairs, which would also cause extensive delays.
Amtrak believes that the infrastructure at New York Penn Station has become so bad that the need for an overhaul is urgent. Such a plan, according to the report, would be a deviation from their long-standing policy of causing the least amount of disruption to passengers.
"We are putting together plans to renew the infrastructure at New York Penn Station that will result in some delays and cancellations. This renewal effort will replace and rejuvenate the selected infrastructure, providing needed updates, and is different than the ongoing repair work in New York Penn. We’ll have more on the plans in the coming days and will be working with Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit to schedule this work and minimize service impacts," Tolbert wrote in an email.
Santoro said of the plan that "it’s imperative that NJ Transit see Amtrak’s plan to review its impact on our customers and the region’s economy."
Earlier this week, Amtrak implemented a policy to fix problems as they are found during this latest inspection. Engineers are working on the concrete foundation of a 120-foot-section of Track 7 that Tolbert said would take several days to repair because of the confined area.
Michael Phelan, co-founder of the NJ Commuters Action Network, lays blame with NJ Transit, Amtrak and Christie alike. He is calling for a "house cleaning" that cannot wait until the end of Christie's term as governor to remove "political appointees" in favor of "serious railroad professionals who can start making changes on Day One that begin to bring us back to the days when NJ Transit was one of the safest and most reliable commuter railroads in the country."
"What most NJ Transit riders are most upset about, on both a daily and ongoing basis, is the poor communication from NJ Transit and the failure of Gov. Christie to have acknowledged the agency's failures over the years," Phelan wrote in an email. "While Amtrak may be responsible for the initial cause of many of these problems, NJ Transit's response is always poor and ineffective, causing communication and safety problems.
"NJCAN doesn't support any of the boycotts or refund demands making the rounds on social media, but we feel that commuters and taxpayers need to see our governor take accountability for the agency and present a cogent bipartisan plan to change its senior leaders in the coming weeks," Phelan said.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.
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