TRENTON – Testifying this morning in front of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, Steve Gardner of Amtrak cited outdated, deteriorated infrastructure – worsened by the impact of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – as the culprit for massive train delays during the week of July 20th.
Gardner said that on the week of transportation infamy, a 1930s vintage circuit breaker tripped, triggering the trains’ stoppage. The Amtrak rep noted that the problems did not occur in a vacuum, however, noting that “Amtrak has [long] been sounding the alarm” for the need for modernizing and expanding options for the Northeast corridor. The railroad needs $1 billion per year just to bring the current infrastructure up to speed- and that’s not including additional expenses for other means to improve service.
“We’re spending ten percent of what is necessary… to reliably serve today’s riders,” Gardner said.
In the aftermath of the delays, Gov. Chris Christie blamed Amtrak, but Gardner insisted that only a partnership among the stakeholders will fix the problem. New Jersey, New York, Amtrak and the federal government must partner to advance the Gateway program, an augmentation of transportation services to remove the weight of pressure on the 450 trains now operational under the Hudson River.
In 2010, Christie cancelled a Hudson River tunnel project backed by the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) called Access to the Region’s Core.
According to Amtrak, the Gateway Program is still in the planning and design phase and a reliable program cost estimate has not yet been developed. “Amtrak has directed more than $300 million, mostly from federal sources, to the Gateway Program since 2012. This includes approximately $74 million for planning and pre-construction work and $235 million to the Hudson Yards concrete casing from federal Sandy Resiliency funding under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.
“By eliminating the bottleneck in New York and creating additional tunnel, track, and station capacity in the most congested segment of the NEC, the Gateway Program will provide greater levels of service, increased redundancy, added reliability for shared operations, and additional capacity for the future increases in commuter and intercity rail service.”
Gardner said the plan is to have the feds foot 80% of the project costs.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), who was present at this morning’s hearing, last year called for a commitment by New Jersey to the Gateway Program.
“The entire Northeast Corridor Rail Line and all the rail lines in northern New Jersey skinny down to a single track in and a single track out under the Hudson River,” Sweeney said at the time. “Built when William Howard Taft was President, these tracks handle 45 million passenger trips a year so problems can create the ultimate bottleneck for regional transportation.”
Gardner expressed his appreciation too for statements of support for the Gateway Program made by Jamie Fox, Christie’s commissioner for the Department of Transportation whom the Senate approved for the position in 2014.
“He needs to know that this is a priority… this is of critical importance to the state of New Jersey,” Gordon told reporters in reference to the Gateway Program when asked what he wanted Christie to take from Gardner’s testimony today.
There are other hurdles, however, which Gardner acknowledged after his presentation when reporters gathered round, starting with the fact that for his part, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo decried as “unacceptable” the federal government’s offer of “only a loan to revive work on Amtrak’s stalled Gateway tunnel project under the Hudson River,” according to a Bloomberg report.