Lawmakers Want to Know Just How Awful N.J. Commute May Get

  • Democrats push Amtrak to disclose impact of maintenance work
  • Canceled service gives hint of upheaval during station repairs

Track maintenance workers walk along train tracks used by both New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains at Pennsylvania Station in New York City on April 26.

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Two New Jersey lawmakers are pushing Amtrak to disclose just how much its New York City maintenance-work plans will upend the lives of tens of thousands of commuters.

In a letter to Amtrak leadership, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Bob Gordon said commuters are “already experiencing regular delays” and have no information about track work through September.

The Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit, the nation’s first- and second-biggest commuter railroads, share Amtrak’s tracks and platforms at Pennsylvania Station in New York. Through September, Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, is overseeing stepped-up maintenance there in the wake of two derailments in March and April.

At a hearing in Trenton on April 28, Wick Moorman, 65, Amtrak’s chief executive, told New Jersey lawmakers that the work will involve two or three “significant” service disruptions, though he declined to specify how they will be timed or how long they might last. The plans were shared with the tenant railroads, he said.

“Critical information needs to be disclosed to the public today, rather than being discussed solely in closed-door meetings with NJ Transit and the LIRR,” Gordon and Weinberg wrote to Moorman. The lawmakers, both Democrats whose northern New Jersey constituents rely on rail service to Manhattan, sit on a panel that met last week to examine New Jersey Transit’s safety, finances and operations after a fatal crash in September.

New Jersey Transit on April 28 didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for Amtrak’s plan. Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds, in an email that day, said the railroads are working on plans together and will issue schedules “once a unified approach has been developed.”

New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment today.

New Jersey’s commuter train service, drained of $2.94 billion in capital funding over seven years by Republican Governor Chris Christie, logged the most accidents in 2016 and the most breakdowns in 2015 among U.S. passenger railroads, federal records show. Delays in the past month have prompted riders to mount a social-media campaign, using the tag #NoPayMay, to encourage mass fare evasion.

On Twitter today, riders posted about trains canceled without explanation and waits of 20 minutes or more. New Jersey Transit has warned that Amtrak’s maintenance would cause 15-minute disruptions on weekdays and double that on weekends.

In their letter, Gordon and Weinberg urged Amtrak to include in their talks the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates commuter trains beneath the Hudson River and into the world’s busiest bus terminal, in Manhattan. Disruptions at Pennsylvania Station, the lawmakers warned, “have a spillover effect” that will affect bus and PATH commuters, plus motorists using the Port Authority’s Hudson River tunnels and bridges.

The Port Authority anticipates being involved in the planning discussions, Scott Ladd, an agency spokesman, said in an email.

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