GORDON, WEINBERG QUESTION 44 DAYS OF RAIL SERVICE CUTS IN AMTRAK’S PROPOSED PENN STATION NEW YORK REPAIR PLAN
Senators urge Amtrak to shift some work to Fourth of July, Labor Day weekends to minimize impact on overburdened NJ Transit rail riders and other commuters
TRENTON – Senator Bob Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic) and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) today sharply questioned Amtrak’s proposed plan to curtail NJ Transit rail service for up to 44 days this summer for New York Penn Station track and signal repairs.
Senators Gordon and Weinberg, who serve as chair and vice-chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee, said they would seek follow-up meetings with Amtrak President Wick Moorman and NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro to discuss ways to minimize the impact on NJ Transit rail commuters and on New Jersey drivers, PATH riders and bus passengers whose commutes will also be affected.
While the Amtrak plan is preliminary, the senators questioned why Amtrak is calling for continuous rail service curtailments, including weekday rush hours, from July 7 to July 25 and from August 4 to August 28 — which would put the burden on regular NJ Transit rail commuters — rather than taking advantage of the extended July 4th and Labor Day holiday weekends for some of the major work. It is unclear how many tracks would be subject to weekday rush-hour shutdowns, but at least five tracks would be affected by the August work.
“We are going to take a hard look at whether the full 19-day and 25-day rail service curtailments are absolutely necessary,” said Senator Gordon. “But it also seems logical to ask why Amtrak wants to start shutting down tracks on July 7, rather than taking advantage of the four-day Fourth of July weekend to start the work. And why not schedule some of the work for the last week of August when so many people take off from work heading into Labor Day weekend? We know those are big travel weekends for Amtrak, but NJ Transit commuters shouldn’t have to bear the full brunt.”
Amtrak officials met with NJ Transit officials to brief them on their plans for the New York Penn Station repairs; they had already met previously with Long Island Railroad officials. Senator Gordon urged Amtrak to include representatives of PATH, which carried most of the NJ Transit rail commuters whose trains were cancelled in the week following the April 3 Amtrak derailment at New York Penn Station, in future meetings.
“Yesterday was just the first meeting, but I am concerned that NJ Transit and the Long Island Railroad, which carry 90 percent of the passengers who use New York Penn Station, won’t have an equal say over the repair schedule under the current management structure,” said Senator Weinberg. “I am more convinced than ever that we should be looking at the ‘One Penn Station’ model recommended by transit guru Martin Robins under which Amtrak, NJ Transit and the LIRR would jointly run Penn Station.”
Senator Weinberg said it was critical for regional transportation officials to work together to ensure that all possible alternatives are employed to expand trans-Hudson commuter options during the New York Penn Station repair work, including expanding PATH, bus and ferry service.
“New Jersey commuters endured a week of massive overcrowding and unacceptable delays in the week following the April 3 Amtrak derailment when eight tracks were shut down,” Senator Gordon said. “We can’t expect them to suffer through an entire summer like that.”