NJ Governor Blasts Amtrak Over ‘Unmitigated Disaster’ in Rush Hour Commute

(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy slammed Amtrak over a system failure that caused “an unmitigated disaster” resulting in delays for thousands of commuters in his state and the New York area during the evening rush hour Wednesday.

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The breakdown marked the third infrastructure failure involving Amtrak in two days, Murphy said in a letter Thursday to Anthony Coscia, chairman of the national passenger railroad. Commuters were stranded for hours at New York’s Penn Station with some passengers stuck on trains in between tracks for over three hours, he said.

“Amtrak needs to make immediate short-term and long-term investments to address infrastructure vulnerabilities and updated emergency management plans to provide more robust alternate modes of transportation when equipment failure occurs,” Murphy said in the letter posted on X.

On Thursday, some NJ Transit trains were still seeing residual delays. Earlier this week, trains operated by both New Jersey Transit and Amtrak faced major delays during the Tuesday morning commute due to an Amtrak train breaking down.

Read more: NJ Transit, Amtrak Delays to NYC Ease After Morning Snafu

Murphy’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Amtrak apologized to its customers and NJ Transit riders for the disruption from Wednesday’s wire issues. Gery Williams, executive vice president of service delivery and operations for the railroad, said that an investigation continues into the cause of Wednesday’s incident.

“Governor Murphy is one of the country’s biggest champions of rail, and we appreciate his support and commitment to everything from the Gateway Program to advocating for New Jersey’s residents and visitors who were disrupted by yesterday’s incident,” Williams said in an emailed statement. “We will implement any changes to avoid a similar incident like yesterday from happening again.”

NJ Transit pays Amtrak more than $100 million to maintain power on the tracks that run between New York City and Trenton, New Jersey, Murphy said. The governor noted that he is proud of the relationship that NJ Transit and Amtrak have cultivated, but added that “there is much work to be done as these issues are becoming more frequent and more impactful.”

Murphy called for a meeting in the next few days for his office and Amtrak’s senior teams to work through next steps for a comprehensive emergency management plan. In his letter, Murphy copied US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to underscore the importance of investing in Amtrak’s infrastructure.

NJ Transit President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Corbett and Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner have been in contact and are setting up a meeting with staff to “clinically get to the root causes of these incidents,” an NJ Transit spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The rail structure that runs up and down the US East Coast comes to a choke point at the border of New York and New Jersey. Both NJ Transit and Amtrak trains have to pass through a single, century-old tunnel to enter Manhattan. One minor disruption to that narrow passage can ripple across both agencies and cause headaches for commuters.

The long-awaited $16 billion Gateway project — which is slated to secure the final signatures for federal funding by the end of the summer — is designed to alleviate the congestion by building a new tunnel and renovating the existing one. The start of major construction, is expected to begin in July, with tunnel fully completed in 2035.

(Adds comment from NJ Transit in 10th paragraph.)

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