Third train derailment happens days before intensive Amtrak work begins

By Briana Vannozzi

The so-called “summer of hell” hasn’t even begun, but last night’s NJ Transit train derailment — the third at NY Penn Station since March — reinforces the need for major repair work on commuter lines.

“What we’re seeing right now and what the derailments are is a symptom that the structure is degrading. Therefore, we need to go in and make the fixes, put in the renewal work and the time,” said Amtrak COO Scot Naparstek.

Amtrak officials are still investigating the cause of the North Jersey Coast line derailment. One hundred eighty passengers were on board, none were injured. The car was re-railed within a matter of hours — a much faster process than the previous incidents. Today, Amtrak officials classified it as a “slow speed derailment.”

“We only had one car derailed that last night with one set of wheels, so it was a much shorter process and the infrastructure damage to track and components was relatively minor,” Naparstek said, “which is why, fortunately, we were able to return the station to pretty much full capacity this morning.”

Gov. Chris Christie today called for a full investigation into potential causes. The problem occurred in a massive junction known as A interlocking between the tunnels and platforms beneath NY Penn Station. It was on a different track, though the same section as two previous derailments that led to the major replacement work beginning this weekend. We had a look down there today as crews performed afternoon maintenance ahead of the big upgrades.

“We’re really gearing up for Monday. That’s the big day for us. We have a pretty vigorous campaign out now to let customers know where they can go for their options to travel on Monday,” said NJ Transit spokesman Charles Ingoglia.

NJ Transit is launching an all out PR campaign. The repair work will close three to five tracks in Penn Station causing about a 25 percent reduction of service for NJ Transit riders until Sept. 1.

“If you’re the one customer out of four that comes in on the Morris and Essex line, you’ll see that aside from four early morning midtown direct trains — which will still be running if you chose to take them — any trains on the M&E that would come into Penn Station after 7 a.m. will terminate in Hoboken. And that means at Hoboken you’ll have the option of transferring to PATH, or ferries or an NJ Transit bus — all of which you’ll use your ticket for cross-honoring so that will be on us,” Ingoglia said.

New Jersey’s Morris and Essex line is bearing the brunt. Dozens of trains will be diverted to Hoboken where PATH has agreed to run trains every five minutes instead of seven, and more ferries are being added. Still, customers are being warned to be prepared.

“You look at A interlocking, doing it on weekends it would take several years. We’re going to compress those several years into an eight to ten week period and we’re going to get it done, so that come September, in A interlocking, those assets will be renewed, therefore the likelihood of a derailment should decrease. And I’m not going to say zero, but it should go way down,” Naparstek said.

If not for last night’s derailment this would have been the last day for the normal commuting schedule. The repair works begins tonight and NJTV News will be there Monday with full coverage across all of our platforms as riders brace for days of delays.