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Amtrak President Apologizes To Commuters, Says Full Rail Service Expected At Penn Friday

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Full rail service is expected to be restored by Friday morning for commuters who have faced days of delays and cancellations following a derailment of a NJ TRANSIT train at Penn Station, the head of Amtrak said.

At a news conference Thursday, Amtrak’s President and CEO Wick Moorman said he wanted to personally apologize to anyone inconvenienced by the derailment.

“It’s our job to make sure that all of the passengers, both on Amtrak and on our commuter partners can travel safely and reliably,” he said. “We know we let them down.”

Long Island Rail Road and NJ TRANSIT service has been cut back since the derailment Monday took out eight of 21 tracks maintained by Amtrak. The LIRR followed up late Thursday saying it expected a full restoration of service by Friday.

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The incident came just 10 days after an Amtrak train derailed and scraped against a NJ TRANSIT train. Moorman said track problems were to blame for both derailments.

As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, Moorman said they were aware of track issues in one area before one of the derailments occurred.

“We had a derailment on March 24 with an Acela train. That was a result of a mismatch between two pieces of rail and that allowed a wheel to climb one of the rails and derail,” he said, adding that Monday’s derailment was the result of “the gauge of the rails widening because there were weak timbers underneath it.”

But he said there was no indication of an imminent problem, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.

“We had notations that these timbers needed to be replaced,” he said. “We clearly did not have the understanding that there was an imminent failure.”

In terms of the misaligned rail, he said Amtrak immediately surveyed all other sites at the station for the same condition and said none were found. Moorman said Amtrak has also changed its specs to “eliminate the possibility of a mismatched condition.”

For riders like Dondru Phillips, the days of service disruptions was all too much and she’s had enough.

“Something needs to be done,” she told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell. “They probe into everything else, they need to start an investigation into this. Why this keeps happening, because it’s ridiculous and redundant.”

On Thursday, the LIRR said 13 westbound morning peak trains were canceled due to reduced capacity at Penn.

NJ TRANSIT’S Northeast Corridors and North Jersey Coast Line trains are still operating on a holiday schedule with extra trains. Midtown Direct trains continue to be diverted to and from Hoboken.

“It’s been terrible this week,” one commuter said.

“I’m over-the-top frustrated,” said another.

New Jersey Gov. Christie fired off a letter to Amtrak’s chairman, saying he has directed NJ TRANSIT to withhold funds until an independent inspection verifies Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is in a state of good repair.

“Amtrak’s apparent disregard for NJ TRANSIT’s customers is entirely unacceptable to me,” he said.

He also wrote to the state’s attorney general, requesting that NJ TRANSIT be reimbursed for the $62 million payment made by the state to Amtrak last week for capital investment along the Northeast Corridor rails.

Moorman said he understands Christie is frustrated but added that withholding money “is not going to solve any of the problems.”

“Since the last major infrastructure renewals at Penn Station, train count and ridership have essentially doubled,” he said. “It is an incredibly congested and complex operation and one of the things that, quite frankly, slows us down is we get a very limited amount of time for maintenance down there because our goal is not to impact service at all.”

And with the LIRR and NJ TRANSIT bearing the brunt of criticism from angry riders, their directors also took aim at Amtrak on Wednesday.

“Amtrak needs to step up to the plate,” NJ TRANSIT Executive Director Steve Santoro said. “Having two derailments in just over a week is unacceptable.”

Santoro said customers are “beyond frustrated at the havoc that has been wreaked upon their lives.”

“It is Amtrak’s responsibility to take immediate action, and all corrective action, to resolve the continuing problems at Penn Station New York,” he said.

Santoro noted that as a tenant that uses Amtrak’s infrastructure along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line, NJ TRANSIT pays tens of millions of dollars per year under a federal agreement to help pay for maintenance and repairs.

“We just paid $62 million, and we’re going to pay $74 million this year,” he said. “With that we expect results, we expect more focus, we expect better service from Amtrak for our customers.”

In a letter to Amtrak, acting Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Fernando Ferrer called the problems “unacceptable infrastructure failures” and said they “leave the clear impression that Amtrak is not aggressively maintaining its tracks, switches and related equipment.”

Santoro called on Amtrak to form a team of experts, including from the LIRR and NJ TRANSIT, to “walk every inch” of the tracks in Penn Station to inspect their conditions. He also called for NJ TRANSIT to have a bigger say in how the station is operated.

“We have now launched joint inspections of the entire New York Penn Station track infrastructure with the Federal Railway Administration to insure that all aspects of our infrastructure are in good working order. We will share all of the results of these inspections with our partners at NJ TRANSIT and the Long Island Rail Road,” Moorman said Thursday.

He also said Amtrak is assembling a team that will be dedicated to address “any maintenance deficiencies at the station” and said Amtrak “will reprioritize our work and support of various other projects to ensure, first and foremost, the basic condition of the terminal.”

Moorman called the state of the infrastructure “fair” but said “we have been through some periods in the not-too-distant past where Amtrak has not received a great deal of funding and we have a lot of catch-up to do.”

The derailments renewed calls for accelerating a multibillion-dollar project to build a new tunnel under the Hudson River and expand Penn Station.

The Gateway project has been approved for a federal grant program, but President Donald Trump’s recent proposed budget could jeopardize funding, project supporters say.Sam Schwartz, a traffic engineer, told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams a new rail tunnel under the Hudson is a must to avoid headache in the event a tunnel goes out of commission.”Forget about one-hour delays that we suffer repeatedly at the Lincoln Tunnel or the Holland Tunnel to get into Manhattan — you’re going to see two-hour delays, three-hour delays,” Schwartz said.

A previous project to build a tunnel was killed in 2010 by Christie over concerns about cost overruns. The existing tunnel dates back more than 100 years.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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