It’s seven months since an NJ Transit train plowed into Hoboken Terminal, killing a young mother, injuring 100 others and highlighting the impact on the region when mass transit fails. Continuing repairs at Hoboken Terminal compounded overcrowding during recent back-to-back derailments across the Hudson. Leading state lawmakers toured the terminal in search of answers. NJTV News Correspondent Briana Vannozzi was there.
Reporters weren’t allowed to tag along on the tour of Hoboken’s train terminal, but Senate President Steve Sweeney and Sen. Bob Gordon had a lot of praise for New Jersey Transit and the progress made on repairing the station. We asked why it’s taking so long. According to New Jersey Transit documents, permanent repairs won’t be completed until 2019.
Today we learned all but one track will be fully operational by June. Sweeney told reporters the historic nature of the building has slowed down the restoration process. Overcrowding on the trains and platforms has become increasingly horrific over the last month or so as commuters have dealt with multiple derailments and electrical problems on Amtrak‘s lines. These terminals are already packed because of overdevelopment that’s outpacing infrastructure in the Hudson County area.
“None of us should be surprised that the system is starting to fall apart. We had two derailments within a matter of weeks. Last Friday 1,200 people were trapped for three hours in a tunnel because of an electrical failure to the Amtrak cabling, installed in 1931 so we shouldn’t really be surprised by any of this. The time has come to turn this around,” Gordon said.
We should note that the train rescue also resulted in what some have called a stampede of commuters after a disorderly passenger was removed from a car. Gordon called these infrastructure problems the legacy of Christie’s administration.
There’s been a lot of finger pointing with Democratic lawmakers and New Jersey Transit execs blaming the governor for underfunding mass transit and neglecting its growing needs. New Jersey Transit’s Executive Director Steve Santoro today said the agency toured the tracks with Amtrak executives at New York Penn Station where all of this turmoil took place, but the inspection was inconclusive and the investigation is ongoing.
“So what we intend to do based on the last three incidents is to get together with Amtrak and make sure that we have the proper crowd control in that station. Amtrak polices that station, the first responders respond to that station. We need to talk to Amtrak and make sure that there is a proper plan,” Santoro said.
New Jersey Transit added buses and an additional ferry line from Hoboken to midtown Manhattan to help move people during and after the emergency situations.
“And rather than point blame at each other, just acknowledge you have a problem and fix it. It doesn’t help commuters when we’re back and forth with each other, calling each other names. And we’re not. NJ Transit is doing the best they can with resources they have. Amtrak is doing the same. What this has done is just highlighted how long it’s been since there’s been real investment in mass transportation,” Sweeney said.
Gov. Chris Christie’s office put out a statement today regarding the holiday weekend trouble with Amtrak. Press Secretary Brian Murray laid into the agency, saying, “Amtrak’s failure to adequately maintain its facilities was again on display last week, as was its total lack of concern for the commuting public when 1,200 people waited two hours for EMS personnel to respond to the scene during the three hours they were held hostage in an Amtrak tunnel on Friday. This situation remains unacceptable, and Amtrak needs to step up and fix the problem.”
So, mark the calendar for April 28. That’s when lawmakers will hold a hearing in Trenton with the president and CEO of Amtrak to better understand the recent incidents and the interplay between the two agencies.