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MTA, NJ Transit Blast Amtrak: State of Affairs at Penn Station ‘Simply Unacceptable'

What to Know

  • NJ Transit and the MTA are blasting Amtrak after a NJ Transit train derailed at Penn Station Monday
  • Amtrak is essentially the landlord of the tracks at the station, which are leased by both NJ Transit and MTA
  • NJ Transit and MTA say Amtrak isn't doing enough in the way of maintenance and operation

New Jersey Transit and MTA officials are demanding immediate action from Amtrak over the derailment at Penn Station that has been mucking up commutes for hundreds of thousands of rail riders. 

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. 

Amtrak owns and maintains the tracks at Penn Station, and leases them to both NJ Transit and the MTA's Long Island Rail Road.

"As a tenant, New Jersey Transit will take all measures to hold Amtrak accountable," Santoro said.

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 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. 

LIRR riders have seen trains canceled or delayed during every rush hour since the derailment, which has left eight of 21 tracks inoperable. 

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 statment. "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. 

Santoro was on platforms and trains Wednesday fielding questions, frustrations and feedback from commuters. News 4 caught up with him at Penn Station and asked him about Amtrak's statement. 

"It's a good start, but it's words. We need to see action," Santoro said. 

Meanwhile, Amtrak is hoping to restore regular service by the end of the week. 

"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," said spokesman Mike Tolbert. "Our crews hope to restore regular service to Penn Station by Friday." 

A switch machine was badly damaged in the derailment, leaving eight tracks at Penn Station unusable. Not all eight tracks are damaged but the tunnels can only be accessed by certain tracks, and there are power collection differences between LIRR, Amtrak and NJ Transit that limit the tracks that each train can use, according to an Amtrak spokesman.

Investigators are still looking into why the NJ Transit train derailed just outside the station Monday morning. It was the second derailment at the busy Manhattan hub in 11 days: the first involved an Amtrak Acela. 

Neither Amtrak nor NJ Transit have offered any explanation for Monday's derailment. Three cars in the middle of an inbound NJ Transit train dislodged from a track as it approached a platform at Penn Station.

By now, commuters are tired of it all. 

"It's unfortunate we have to put up with it," Gloria Konrad, of Ronkonkoma, said as she waited for a train. "Our tax dollars should do better." 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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