(Adds letter from MTA to Amtrak)
By Laila Kearney and Hilary Russ
NEW YORK, April 6 New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie has ordered the state to halt all payments to Amtrak
and called for an investigation of the national rail operator's
maintenance of tracks and other equipment after the derailment
of an NJ Transit train this week.
A slow-moving NJ Transit train left the rails during rush
hour at New York City's Penn Station on Monday, the second
derailment involving Amtrak-maintained tracks at the busy
Midtown Manhattan hub in fewer than two weeks.
The seemingly minor incident led to a track reassignment at
the station, forcing NJ Transit and the Long Island Rail Road to
limit service on their networks and creating chaos for commuters
in the country's largest city.
"These incidents raise serious questions about the condition
of tracks and other assets maintained by Amtrak," Christie wrote
in a letter sent to Amtrak late on Wednesday and made public by
the governor's office on Thursday.
Amtrak is responsible for maintaining tracks and other
railroad infrastructure on the Northeast Corridor, which runs
through New York Penn Station en route to New Jersey and points
NJ Transit, the state's public transportation system, pays
Amtrak $2.5 million to $5 million each month to cover operating
expenses. Last week, it made a $62 million payment for capital
investments in the Northeast Corridor.
Christie said NJ Transit would cease the payments until an
independent examination of Amtrak's equipment along the corridor
has been conducted and shows it is in good condition.
The governor also threatened to take legal action to recover
the $62 million and other past payments New Jersey has made to
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been pushing plans
to modernize Penn Station, an outdated labyrinthine hub in the
heart of New York City, has not publicly commented about the
But the two top officials of the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority, whose 230,000 daily passengers on the Long Island
Railroad also have endured delays because of the recent mishaps,
complained vigorously and requested a meeting with Amtrak.
"The increasing frequency of these failures leaves the clear
impression that Amtrak is not aggressively maintaining its
tracks, switches and related equipment at Penn Station and that
repairs have not happened as swiftly as needed," said MTA Acting
Chairman Fernando Ferrer and Interim Executive Director
Veronique Hakim in a letter to Amtrak dated Wednesday.
At a press conference on Thursday at Penn Station, Amtrak
Chief Executive Officer Wick Moorman offered few details about
the impact on the lost payments from NJ Transit.
"I understand the governor is upset, and he has a right to
be," Moorman said. He added: "Withholding funding is not going
to solve any problems."
Moorman said he expects service to be fully restored at Penn
Station by Friday morning.
NJ Transit, which was also recently under federal review, is
struggling with its own safety concerns.
From January 2007 through June 2016, it ranked second to
Amtrak for the most train accident reports nationwide for
Penn Station, which is used by 600,000 commuter rail and
Amtrak passengers daily, has been hampered by a limited number
of tracks and a century-old tunnel, heavily damaged during
2012's Superstorm Sandy, that acts as a main pathway to the
Amtrak's $24 billion Gateway plan to build a new train
tunnel under the Hudson River and repair the existing tunnel, is
considered one of the most important infrastructure projects in
Christie canceled a new Hudson River tunnel project for
which ground had already been broken soon after he took office
in 2010, saying the cost was too high.
(Additional reporting by Peter Szekely Editing by Daniel Wallis
and James Dalgleish)