What to Know
- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has ordered NJ Transit senior officials to Penn Station to help out commuters on Thursday
- Amtrak said it hopes to have full rail service restored at Penn Station by Friday, four days after a second derailment in two weeks
- NJ Transit and the MTA are blasting Amtrak after a NJ Transit train derailed at Penn Station Monday
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is halting payments to Amtrak following a second derailment at Penn Station that is causing headaches for commuters in the nation's busiest rail hub.
In a letter to Amtrak's chairman obtained by NBC 4 New York, Christie said he directed New Jersey Transit to withhold funds until an independent inspection verifies Amtrak's Northeast Corridor is in "a state-of-good repair."
In the letter, which was first published Thursday in the New York Times, the governor also says he has asked the attorney general to consider filing a lawsuit to recover money that NJ Transit pays to use the rail line.
Christie has also dispatched NJ Transit senior officials to Penn Station to help out commuters on Thursday as Amtrak said it hopes to have full rail service restored by Friday, four days after the second derailment in two weeks caused headaches for commuters at the nation's busiest rail hub.
"Amtrak engineering forces are making good progress as they work as safely and quickly as possibly to repair damage to one of the most complex interlockings on the Northeast Corridor, a location where two tunnel tracks diverge towards the 21 station tracks," spokesman Mike Tolbert said Wednesday.
Amtrak made its announcement after the heads of the two major commuter rail lines that use Penn Station leveled strong criticisms and called for swifter action.
Rail service has been cut back since Monday morning's derailment took out eight of 21 tracks maintained by Amtrak.
The Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit have been operating on modified or heavily reduced schedules since, and that continues Thursday. Bearing the brunt of criticism from angry riders, their directors took aim at Amtrak, which owns and operates the tracks, signals and switches at New York Penn.
NJ Transit Executive Director Steven H. Santoro says customers are "beyond frustrated with the havoc that has been wreaked upon their lives."
"It is Amtrak's responsibility to take immediate action and all corrective actions to resolve the continuing problems at Penn Station New York for the sake of all of our customers and the region's transit system," he said at a news conference Wednesday.
"As a tenant, New Jersey Transit will take all measures to hold Amtrak accountable," said Santoro.
In Photos: Commuter Chaos After Derailment, Flooding
Santoro wants Amtrak to form a team of rail experts from NJ Transit, Amtrak and LIRR to "walk every inch of track" at Penn Station and perform an exhaustive inspection analysis of tracks and signals around the station.
And in the long term, NJ Transit should be more directly involved in the maintenance and operation of the terminal, Santoro said.
Santoro's remarks echoed that of MTA officials, who earlier called the derailment "the latest in a series of unacceptable infrastructure failures."
"The increasing frequency of failures leaves the clear impression that Amtrak is not aggressively maintaining its tracks, switches and related equipment at Penn Station and that repairs have not happened as swiftly as needed," MTA Acting Chairman Fernando Ferrer and Interim Executive Director Veronique Hakim wrote in a letter to Amtrak CEO Charles W. Moorman.
"The current state of affairs is simply unacceptable," the MTA letter stated.
Ferrer said in the letter that Moorman had assured him in phone calls this week that Amtrak was working diligently to repair the damaged equipment and restore service as quickly as possible.
But Ferrer says more must be done.
"The pace of repairs following this week's derailment of a NJ Transit train has had a serious impact on the 230,000 LIRR passengers that go through Penn Station each day and the rippling delays are lasting longer and longer," Ferrer said in the letter.
Like Santoro, Ferrer and Hakim requested a meeting with Moorman to talk about Amtrak's infrastructure maintenance policies going forward and to review the existing operating agreement used to determine track assignments in cases of major disruptions.
Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman says he values their partnership with NJ Transit and LIRR, and shares the frustration from the derailments. He says Amtrak has requested the Federal Railroad Administration join in a "thorough review" of infrastructure at Penn Station to evaluate current conditions.
"New York Penn Station is our busiest and most important station, and we take our role as host seriously and make every effort to keep it operating smoothly," Moor said in a statement. "We are investigating the causes of these recent derailments and will take prompt action to address them."
"We will continue to work with our partners at LIRR and NJ Transit to ensure that adequate work windows and funding are available to keep these heavily-used and aged assets functioning reliably as we pursue the long term goal of modernizing Penn Station infrastructure," Moor said.