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Full Service at NY Penn to Resume Friday, Amtrak CEO Blames ‘Track Problems' for Recent Derailments

Both recent derailments at NY Penn were caused by problems on the tracks, which are owned and operated by Amtrak, the company's CEO said

What to Know

  • The April 3 derailment was the second at New York's Penn Station in 11 days; the first involved an Amtrak Acela
  • The derailments wrought days of havoc for NJT, Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road and PATH riders; Amtrak blamed "track problems" for both
  • The two derailments renewed calls for expediting an ambitious, $20 billion-project, known as Gateway, to add a new tunnel and expand Penn

The top executive at Amtrak says full service will resume at Penn Station in time for Friday's morning rush, four days into the commute nightmare after Monday's derailment.

Normal service for Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road are set to resume for the rush hour starting at 5:30 a.m. NJ Transit Executive Director Steven Santoro says Amtrak has committed to reopening the closed section of track near Penn Station by 4 a.m.

As NJ Transit customers return to regular weekday schedules, cross-honoring will remain in effect with PATH, NY Waterway ferry and NJ Transit bus and light rail Friday, Santoro said. The special NY Waterway ferry from Hoboken Terminal will not be operating, however. 

At a news briefing Thursday, Amtrak President & CEO Wick Moorman said he wanted to apologize "personally" to the tens of thousands plunged into the depths of despair by service changes from the second derailment at the Manhattan hub in 11 days. 

Amtrak has been under fire for days now, both from beleaguered commuters and from the heads of various agencies affected by the derailments. Though the latest derailment involved a New Jersey Transit train, Amtrak owns and maintains the tracks at Penn Station, essentially leasing them to both NJ Transit and the MTA's Long Island Rail Road.

Moorman said Thursday that a track split after the train went over a weakened wooden railroad tie. The problem had been flagged by inspectors, but it was determined that it wasn't in danger of imminent failure and repairs had not yet been made, he said. (It wasn't clear when the issue was first identified.)

Amtrak has since re-inspected all of Penn Station and no similar track conditions exist.

Multiple transit sources Thursday afternoon expressed doubts about Moorman's timeline and said the full morning rush may be in jeopardy unless Amtrak turns the tracks over to the commuter railroads quickly, since those commuter trains need to be repositioned. But Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert insisted everything still looks good for full service Friday morning.

"We can accommodate all equipment moves overnight as required to set up for tomorrow," he told News 4. 

The derailment March 24, when an Amtrak Acela slipped the tracks and bumped an NJ Transit train heading in the opposite direction, also at the height of the morning rush, was caused by a mismatch between rails, Moorman said. No serious injuries were reported in either case.

As commuters' collective frustration has boiled over, the patience of top executives at NJ Transit and the MTA has worn thin. Late Wednesday, Gov. Chris Christie sent a letter to Amtrak's board chairman saying NJ Transit would withhold payments to Amtrak until an independent inspection verifies its Northeast Corridor is in "a state-of-good repair." He also threatened to sue to recoup past payments.

Moorman said Christie's threat won't help matters, but acknowledged the governor's frustration. 

On Wednesday, the MTA demanded a sit-down with executives of Amtrak, calling the derailment "the latest in a series of unacceptable infrastructure failures" and blasting Amtrak over the "pace of repairs." 

Monday's minor derailment so badly damaged a switch machine at the Manhattan hub that eight of the 21 train tracks at the station were out of commission for days, forcing NJ Transit to run high-trafficked lines out of Hoboken, hobbling Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road service and causing extensive congestion on PATH trains as rush-hour riders sought alternatives.

Moorman said Thursday he would begin personally reviewing infrastructure at all Amtrak stations as the company seeks to prevent future derailments. He said additional policies and procedures would be implemented as well. 

He noted that Amtrak has worked with the commuter rails for more than 40 years: "It is a proven partnership and we are dedicated to providing the levels of service necessary so that people can rely on rail travel," said Moorman. 

The two derailments renewed calls for accelerating progress on an ambitious, $20 billion-plus project, known as Gateway, to add a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and expand Penn Station. The current tunnel is more than 100 years old and operates at capacity during peak commuting hours.

John Porcari, a former deputy U.S. secretary of transportation who is the interim head of the development corporation overseeing Gateway, said a new tunnel wouldn't have prevented the two recent derailments. It would, he said, lessen the aftershock to commuters because the eight tracks knocked out of service April 3 would have been able to connect to the new tunnel.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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