Senate Legislative Oversight, Assembly Judiciary Committees schedule April 28 hearing in Trenton on rail maintenance, repairs, contingency planning and commuter delays
TRENTON – Criticizing the response of both Amtrak and NJ Transit to the Penn Station derailment as totally inadequate, Senator Bob Gordon and Assemblyman John McKeon announced that they are summoning officials from both agencies to a joint hearing of the Senate Legislative Oversight and Assembly Judiciary Committees to investigate the derailment.
Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic) and Assemblyman McKeon (D-Essex) said the April 28 hearing would focus on the causes of the New York Penn Station derailments; the safety, maintenance and repair of Penn Station’s tracks and signaling system, and Amtrak’s and NJ Transit’s contingency planning and response to the massive commuter delays that followed Monday morning’s derailment.
“The derailment of two trains in less than two weeks at New York’s Penn Station raises serious safety concerns for both NJ Transit and Amtrak riders, and underscores the poor state of repair that has plagued both railroads and the hundreds of thousands of passengers who count on our mass transit system to provide safe, reliable and on-time service,” said Senator Gordon, who chairs the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee.
“Both NJ Transit and Amtrak have some answering to do, and I don’t want to hear excuses or blaming others,” said Assemblyman McKeon, the Assembly Judiciary Committee chairman. “Amtrak needs to step up its maintenance and safety efforts, but Governor Christie has diverted nearly $3 billion in NJ Transit capital funding to day-to-day operations, and the increasingly unreliable and overcrowded mass transit agency he oversees is under federal investigation after suffering the most accidents among the nation’s largest commuter railroads. Commuters deserve better. Taxpayers deserve better. New Jersey’s economy deserves better.”
The two legislators said the hearing would be held in Committee Room 4 of the Statehouse Annex at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 28, and that NJ Transit and Amtrak officials were invited to testify earlier this week. The two committees have held a series of joint hearings on NJ Transit issues in the wake of the fatal Hoboken derailment last fall.
“We are looking not only for answers, but solutions,” said Senator Gordon. “It is no accident that NJ Transit increased funding to speed up the installation of life-saving Positive Train Control on NJ Transit trains after we questioned their spending priorities following the Hoboken crash. NJ Transit makes payments to Amtrak for use of the Northeast Corridor, and we have a right to expect a state of maintenance that keeps our passengers safe. But we also have a right to expect better contingency planning, communication and customer service from NJ Transit when accidents occur, no matter which agency is at fault.”
“Public safety is paramount,” Assemblyman McKeon said. “NJ Transit and Amtrak should be prepared to provide clear and concise answers to our questions, and they should be prepared to be held accountable. Commuters and taxpayers have valid questions about the competency of the people in charge of their railroads, and rightly expect safe and reliable systems.”
Senator Gordon and Assemblyman McKeon said Monday’s derailment emphasized the need for the federal government to make the Gateway Project, including the construction of the new Gateway rail tunnels and the expansion of New York’s Penn Station and the Northeast Corridor Line an immediate national priority. Both legislators have criticized President Trump’s budget plan for proposing the elimination of the New Starts program that was expected to be a principal source of funding for the Gateway project.