Federal Authority Shoots a Hole in N.J. Transit Director’s Scheduling Excuse

Following a first day of investigative hearings for which N.J. Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro was notably absent, a federal authority is shooting holes in Santoro’s excuse that he had a scheduling conflict because of a meeting with the Federal Railroad Administration.

FRA spokesman Matthew Lehner said after the hearing that the agency would have “gladly rescheduled.”

State Transportation Commissioner Richard T. Hammer testified in Santoro’s place Friday, and Assembly Judiciary Committee chairman John McKeon was not pleased, telling Observer that officials at the commuter railroad will have until November 4 to appear or face subpoenas.

McKeon received a text message from Santoro Thursday night, just hours after the lower house moved to grant the committee the power to issue subpoenas. The Democratic Assemblyman has said that he wants the investigation following the fatal train crash in Hoboken last month to be as civil as possible, without the need to compel officials to appear.

In a joint statement, McKeon and State Senator Bob Gordon expressed their disappointment that top officials did not participate in the first round of testimony on the railroad’s precipitous decline in funding, safety standards and fending off fare hikes over the last seven years.

“It’s disheartening to hear that the Federal Railroad Administration would have gladly rescheduled its meeting with NJ Transit today to allow the agency to testify today before the joint legislative committee,” they wrote.

“Commissioner Hammer certainly made it seem like the FRA meeting could not be rescheduled, so once again we question whether the commissioner was misleading legislators. We do not appreciate it.

“Commissioner Hammer and NJ Transit are not off to a good start, but hopefully they’ve gotten the message and will do better. If they don’t, we are prepared to act with subpoena power. We are taking NJ Transit safety and operations seriously. We expect the same from the Commissioner and NJ Transit.”