Riders livid after power problems again cause Amtrak delays

AP News
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Posted: Jul 24, 2015 11:17 PM
Riders livid after power problems again cause Amtrak delays

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Power problems caused delays for Amtrak trains running between Washington, D.C. and Boston and for commuter lines into New York City on Friday, leaving thousands of riders livid and transit officials apologizing for the fourth such problem in a week.

Friday's rail power issue added to a summer that has seen delays of a half hour or more for New Jersey Transit riders, about once every three working days, according to a review of the agency's messages to commuters.

Amtrak was restricted to operating three trains at a time through the Hudson River Tunnel into New York City on Friday morning, spokesman Craig Schultz said in an email.

The head of New Jersey Transit again apologized to commuters for the delays into Manhattan. Executive Director Ronnie Hakim said NJ Transit is "taking all steps necessary to hold Amtrak accountable."

Amtrak, which owns most of the tracks and equipment on the Northeast corridor between Washington and Boston, has said it needs money to repair and replace infrastructure dating to the 1930s associated with the 105-year-old rail tunnel into New York. The cables responsible for the power problems are about 80 years old, Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman said.

More than 2,000 trains operated by Amtrak or commuter rail lines run each day on the Northeast corridor.

Speaking at New York's Penn Station on Friday afternoon, Boardman said the problems this week were in power cables stretching between three and four miles under the Hudson River into New Jersey. The problems hadn't all occurred in the same area, he said.

Last year, Boardman said damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 would force Amtrak to shut down one of the tunnel's tubes for repairs within less than 20 years. On Friday he said it wasn't clear whether damage from Sandy had caused this week's outages.

"The problem is here, it's this station and its tunnels that are at capacity and they've been at capacity," he said. "We only have 55 hours a week from Friday night to Monday morning to work in the tunnels. It isn't just these cables that need to be repaired. It's the track, it's the ballast, it's the signals, it's the catenary, it's all the things that need to be done. So we have to juggle on a constant basis what we take down in order to get the work done."

Funding for Amtrak has long been a contentious issue in Congress. In May the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut Amtrak's budget for next year to $1.1 billion, a $251 million reduction, and voted down a Democratic effort to boost federal funds for the railroad by more than $1 billion.

In an emailed statement Friday, Gov. Chris Christie — who killed a project to build a new rail tunnel under Hudson River in 2010 over cost concerns —said he asked the state attorney general's office to see what steps can be taken to ensure the money paid by NJ Transit to Amtrak is used properly.

NJ Transit pays about $100 million per year to Amtrak to use the rail lines.

Montclair resident Matthew Walters said delays are a weekly occurrence on his commute into New York.

"It's come to the point where in the past, especially in the winter — the winter's awful because of snow and ice, the trains are constantly backed up and delayed, can be delayed for several hours — I come in the night before and stay with friends in Manhattan," he said.

The latest problem came two days after Amtrak power problems on Wednesday delayed thousands of commuters from getting to and from New York City. NJ Transit was forced to suspend service in and out of the city and the agency apologized on Twitter to riders, saying the "quality of the commute last few days has been unacceptable, we share your frustration."

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Associated Press writer Lejla Sarcevic in New York contributed to this story.