NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) —It was another day of annoying delays for NJ TRANSIT riders Thursday.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, there was no service in and out of Penn Station for about an hour and a half – and commuters are already frustrated, saying there are rarely enough seats on the trains.
So what is New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy going to do about it? CBS2 was demanding answers Thursday night.
During the evening rush Thursday, people were feeling the anxiety as commuters were left unsure what time they would get home – or whether they might be stuck spending their whole commute standing up.
One man said it is the new normal – every day, something goes wrong with his commute. He said he wishes the powers that be would do something about it.
The problems earlier Thursday began when the Portal Bridge near Secaucus got stuck in the open position in the late morning, stopping trains in and out of Penn Station.
The bridge lets trains cross the Meadowlands to get in and out of the city. Amtrak says crews were doing a monthly inspection on the bridge, when they hit a snag.
Some trains in New Jersey were told to reverse course and return to New York City.
Frustrated passengers at Penn Station were forced to wait it out.
“Late trains, overcrowding – I mean, they’re on the speaker right now saying that there’s a delay at New York Penn Station because one of the bridges is out or something,” said David Muroff of Westfield.
Baker FaceTimed with David Ryan, a commuter from Hamilton. Ryan said he got on a train at 9:17 a.m., and did not get into the city until 1 p.m.
“Pulled the train up, switched tracks, and then rolled it the other way back into Newark. Then it was all, get off train and get on the PATH trains,” he said.
Ryan estimates he lost six to eight hours of worktime just this week because of such issues.
Transportation expert Martin Robins said the Portal Bridge has been in disrepair for years. The Portal Bridge Replacement Project is part of the Gateway Tunnel plan, and federal funding still has not been secured.
These issues and more originate from inside the NJ TRANSIT agency, where there is great dissent – especially in the procurement department, responsible for the acquisition of parts.
“That is one of the areas that has been pointed out as being – a position that’s being filled by patronage appointments by Governor Christie,” Robins said.
Earlier Thursday, riders were again packed during the morning NJ TRANSIT commute.
“People have to move and way beyond their comfort zone,” said passenger Doel Castellanos. “I’m up again somebody’s back, it’s just a very, very uncomfortable ride. I can’t overstate that enough. Some trains get canceled or skip the stop because there are overcrowded.”
The overcrowding complaints come just after crews resumed Penn Station repair work, focusing efforts on track 15 through 18. NJ TRANSIT customers say because of it, they are feeling the squeeze, CBS2’s Magdalena Doris reported.
“They eliminated some trains because of the Amtrak work so the trains have been really packed,” one rider said.
Just before 6 a.m. Thursday, NJ TRANSIT tweeted out a message of warning that trains in and out of Penn Station were facing delays due to an Amtrak overhead wire problem.
“It was slow going, but it’s par for the course at this point. Anything is possible coming in with all the Amtrak problems,” said rider Ted Dorset. “Since the ‘summer of hell’ now the ‘winter of worry’ as people are saying, it’s all the same. It’s just troubling because we pay all this money and it’s always delayed.”
NJ TRANSIT admits there is a shortage of trains because of equipment issues like snow, ice and salt getting jammed in doors. They say they’re working to clear the backlog and says earlier electrical issues have been resolved.
Late Thursday, Murphy was in Jersey City for the swearing in of the new Hudson County clerk. CBS2’s Jessica Layton and her crew wanted to ask him about his plan to fix the agency, but were told by his security and staff if they wanted video of him leaving the event, they couldn’t ask any questions.
“So his staff is saying we are not allowed to ask questions, even though we are reporters and that’s what we do,” Layton said.
“It’s his staff’s call whether he wants to ask a question; answer a question,” a man outside the event said.
“So can we talk to one of the staffers?” Layton asked.
A staff member continued to tell Layton the governor elect had no press availability.
“He’s here. We’re here. These commuters deserve to know that. We just want him to answer a question,” Layton said.
CBS2 earlier asked Gov.-elect Murphy if he would ride an NJ TRANSIT train with Baker and her crew Thursday and see firsthand what riders face. He declined, saying he would be doing a transit tour on Saturday as part of his inaugural activities.
But Saturday is not anything like a weekday rush hour commute, those who use NJ TRANSIT said,
“Saturday, the commute isn’t going to be as bad, because there’s fewer people, fewer trains being run,” said Alex Steinberg of Maplewood.
“Yeah, that won’t give him a true picture,” Dover commuter Ken Beatty said with a laugh.
After the event and after CBS2 pressed so hard, Dan Bryan – one of the senior members of Murphy’s communications team – called Layton to say Murphy “is committed to rebuilding NJ TRANSIT. It’s got to be something people feel safe riding, that is reliable… and not a national disgrace.”
Murphy’s press team told Layton they picked a Saturday for the transit tour so more people could attend the event. CBS2 is still trying to arrange a trip on NJ TRANSIT with Murphy on a weekday.
Murphy has asked top NJ TRANSIT officials appointed by Christie to resign.