Gov. Chris Christie’s office welcomed Amtrak’s decision to accelerate track repairs at New York Penn Station, which will cause more delays for battered NJ Transit commuters in the short term but improve the precarious condition of the rail tracks and likely reduce the number of delays and derailments in the long term.
“It’s good to see Amtrak is finally beginning to make the long-ignored repairs to infrastructure at New York Penn Station and throughout the northeast corridor,” Christie spokesman Brian Murray said in a statement Wednesday. “Whether they are going to Penn Station in New York, or Newark or Trenton, 80 percent of NJ Transit’s riders’ trips touch some part of Amtrak’s rail system. So the condition of the overhead wires and the tracks and the rest of the infrastructure is just as important on the corridor in New Brunswick as it is going in and out of Manhattan.”
Amtrak officials have said they hope to make necessary repairs to rails and overhead wires with minimal disruption to its own rail riders and those who ride NJ Transit and the Long Island Railroad. All three rail operators share space in Penn Station, which is operated by Amtrak. Commuters, however, are likely to experience even more delays during the coming weeks of repairs. They have already been hit with delays and cancellations following two derailments in recent weeks in the Penn Station area.
“What I would tell you is there are a couple of these major places where we know it’s going to cause significant impact – disruption — in the station,” Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman told Observer last week. “We’ll work with New Jersey Transit, we’ll work with Long Island Railroad, to minimize their disruptions and our disruptions as well. But I think the one thing that the past few weeks have proved to us is that we don’t need to have any more incidents at this station.”
Two legislative committees in New Jersey have scheduled a joint hearing about the transit issues on Friday. Moorman and NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro are slated to testify, among others. The hearing will focus on the recent derailments and breakdowns and the response of both agencies to those delays, and on the Gateway project, an ambitious $24 billion plan to expand rail capacity that has not yet secured enough federal funding.
Christie, who has been criticized amid the commuter difficulties for canceling ARC, an underwater rail tunnel project, in 2010, had been blaming the recent string of delays on Amtrak. His statement Wednesday was less combative than his previous remarks.
“We are closely monitoring the situation to make sure these repairs by Amtrak address our deepest safety concerns and that they are done in the most timely fashion to reduce inconvenience to riders, while ensuring long-term reliability,” Murray said.