Christie Calls for NJ Transit to Withhold Amtrak Rental Fee

By Brenda Flanagan

“I want to personally apologize to everyone who’s been inconvenienced by all of the delays and cancellations we’ve had here at New York Penn Station because of the recent incident,” said Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman.

Amtrak’s autopsy of Monday’s derailment showed old wooden railroad ties did not properly support the tracks. Under the train’s weight, they slid apart — the wheels slipped off. And Amtrak knew about this because it had inspected the tracks after the Acela derailment two weeks ago.

“We had notations that the timbers needed to be replaced. We clearly did not have the understanding that there was an imminent failure. We knew that at some point this year in our maintenance program we would be getting to it. Clearly that was something where we got it wrong,” Wick said.

“We’ve asked them to step up their game. They haven’t. And so maybe I will get their attention by not paying them,” said Gov. Chris Christie.

An exasperated Christie last night fired off an angry letter telling Amtrak New Jersey Transit would withhold its monthly $2.5 million rental fee for using New York’s Penn Station because the derailments “…indicate Amtrak does not take its obligations seriously and has not effectively applied NJ Transit’s considerable payments to the proper maintenance of these assets…”

“We just made a bulk $62.5 million payment to Amtrak. I have no problem with making the payments. But you have to use the money to put the tracks in the right condition,” Christie said.

“I understand the governor is upset and he has a right to be upset. I would say that withdrawing funding is not going to solve any of the problems,” Wick said.

Democrats supported withholding payments to Amtrak.

“The governor has every right not to make payments to Amtrak until they fix this problem. Commuters from the northern part of the state are seriously inconvenienced by what happened,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo.

And in state budget hearings, Democrats also criticized the Christie administration for chronically under-funding NJ Transit.

“The Legislature’s done their job with the Transportation Trust Fund, but clearly New Jersey Transit’s sort of been like the red-headed stepchild under this administration,” Sarlo said.

The governor notes NJ Transit just got a $140 million boost in Transportation Trust Fund money. And his state treasurer defended NJ Transit funding.

“We think that there’s an appropriate number of resources going to transit,” said State Treasurer Ford Scudder.

More worrisome, the Trump administration’s cut critical funding for the Gateway railroad tunnel project under the Hudson. Sen. Cory Booker criticized the move, especially in light of Amtrak’s double derailment.

“My office phone is blowing up. There is anger, there is frustration,” he said. “The busiest river crossing in North America is the Hudson River crossing and yet our infrastructure is outrageously out of date.”

The president was evasive in a New York Times interview, saying he’ll appoint a commission to study infrastructure projects — including Gateway.

“Oh, God. We can’t afford a commission to study this. We don’t have the time. There’s no need to study this problem. It’s been studied. There’s enough historical information on this. Even his side knows it has to be fixed,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Meanwhile, Gov. Christie says he will speak with Amtrak’s chairman later tonight about what it will take for New Jersey to start paying rent again. Amtrak says it expects tomorrow’s rush hour to be back to normal.