NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Lawmakers and NJ TRANSIT commuters are demanding answers after a week plagued by problems caused by Amtrak overhead wire issues.
New Jersey’s U.S. senators said infrastructure can no longer be neglected.
Sen. Bob Menendez called the problems the reality of having century-old tunnels.
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“While there’s going to be a constant patch to these efforts, we’re not going to see real relief for commuters until we get new infrastructure,” the Democrat told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith.
For that, he said the federal government will need New Jersey and New York to pitch in, pointing to Gov. Chris Christie derailing the ARC Tunnel.
“We would’ve been five years into building a new tunnel,” Menendez said. “Now, we’re starting almost at square one. I think I had my disargreements with the governor when he vetoed it — I think it was a generational mistake,” Menendez said.
Menendez and Sen. Cory Booker said they’re heading to Washington to push for a six-year transportation funding bill.
“New Jerseyans, as many Americans, should be ticked off,” said Booker, also a Democrat. “We inherited from our grandparents the best infrastructure on the globe. We’ve squandered our inheritance.”
Although trains were generally on time Monday, last week was no joy ride for commuters, CBS2’s Christine Sloan reported.
“A couple of days ago it was an hour — that wasn’t so bad. I have been stuck up to three hours,” said NJ TRANSIT rider Molly Cohen.
On Saturday, five Northeast Corridor trains were canceled because of power problems.
An overhead wire problem during Friday morning’s commute meant Amtrak was restricted to operating three trains at a time through the Hudson River Tunnel, causing delays.
Amtrak power problems on Wednesday delayed thousands of commuters after NJ TRANSIT was forced to suspend service in and out of the city.
On Tuesday, there were delays on the Northeast Corridor when a signal problem in the Princeton area slowed trains.
A disabled train in one of the tunnels and overhead wire troubles caused delays in and out of Penn Station Monday night when the heat and humidity made it feel like it was over 100 degrees in parts of the area.
“Our train didn’t go into Penn Station, it went to Hoboken,” a commuter said Wednesday. “It was about 40 minutes delayed, now it’s delayed again. This is every day. Every day.”
Amtrak officials showed CBS2 the huge breaker boxes in Penn Station that keep tripping because of failures in a three-mile long, 80-year-old power supply cable.
NJ TRANSIT Executive Director Ronnie Hakim wants Amtrak to make repairs quickly.
In a statement last week, she said “We want to assure our customers that we are taking all steps necessary to hold Amtrak accountable for these service disruptions and infrastructure failures. Amtrak must take every available action to resolve its continuing problems that are creating chaos for our customers.”
Gov. Chris Christie has also weighed in on the issue, criticizing Amtrak and urging Congress and the attorney general to get involved to make sure the money NJ TRANSIT pays Amtrak is used properly.
“NJ TRANSIT commuters were victimized by nearly an entire week of extreme delays and cancellations for one reason only: Amtrak’s indifference to New Jersey commuters and its abject neglect of the infrastructure that New Jersey and our entire region relies upon,” Christie said.
Amtrak owns the tracks and equipment along the Northeast Corridor line from New Jersey into New York that are used by NJ TRANSIT commuter trains. It has said it needs money to repair and replace infrastructure dating to the 1930s associated with the 105-year-old rail tunnel.
“The challenge is not finding the solution, the challenge is a funding solution,” said Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman.
He said the funding has to come from Congress, New York and New Jersey, WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported.
Booker said he wants to work constructively for a solution.
“First of all, we’ve got to stop pointing fingers and looking assign to blame,” Booker said. “We’ve all got to start taking responsibility.”
Passengers just want a solution fast.
“They raise fares 9 percent and then they say they have delays, ‘it’s Amtrak trouble,'” said commuter Jeff Schneider. “It’s always the same excuse.”
“It’s terrifying not knowing if you’re going to get to work on time, what’s going to happen to the trains, it’s very disorienting,” one woman told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
NJ TRANSIT spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said there were no major service delays Monday for trains heading in and out of New York City.
With overhead wire repairs underway, NJ TRANSIT said its rail tickets will be honored by buses, PATH and New York Waterway on Monday to give customers maximum flexibility when planning their commute.
Two transportation bills in the House and Senate dealing with Amtrak funding, Sloan reported.
Menendez says neither gives Amtrak what it needs to build a gateway so he’s negotiating for more money, Sloan reported.
The Senate vote is scheduled for Tuesday.
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