As Christie Hounds Amtrak, N.J. Transit Safety Fines Mount


Bloomberg News has sounded off on Governor Christie of New Jersey

Fresh details of safety lapses are emerging at New Jersey’s beleaguered mass-transit agency even as Governor Chris Christie deflects blame and excoriates Amtrak, the national railroad, for mishaps and riders face upheaval.

In Hoboken, a major hub for New York-bound commuters, a “worn and chipped” track switch remained in use more than three months after it was identified, according to documents that New Jersey Transit provided after a public-records request. The faulty part, cited as a possible cause of a minor two-car derailment in 2014, endangered “thousands of commuters” a day, a Federal Railroad Administration inspector wrote.

At a Morris County yard, inspectors documented out-of-service trains left without brakes applied.

“This car had two wooden chocks under the first wheel, the only measure taken to prevent this string of 13 cars from rolling,” inspector Sean Fitzpatrick wrote in August 2016.

The reports come to light as Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, which share tracks under the Hudson River to Manhattan, tell riders to expect months of inconvenience due to maintenance and repairs after two Amtrak derailments at New York Pennsylvania Station. At the same time, Christie is withholding millions of dollars in fees due to Amtrak to keep its rails in good shape.

“If that’s the political game — pointing across the river to hide your own mismanagement — that’s unacceptable,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, a Democrat presiding over hearings on New Jersey Transit after a fatal wreck in Hoboken in September.

In all, New Jersey Transit faces 67 citations reported over two years that have yet to be settled, as railroads typically litigate them for years.

Passengers already suffer mounting delays and crowding at the hands of the nation’s second-busiest railroad, plus the long-term threat of a failure in Amtrak’s flood-damaged Hudson tunnel. Christie in 2010 canceled construction of a second tunnel, and President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint includes no funding for another passage, part of Amtrak’s proposed $23 billion Gateway project.

No injuries or fatalities have been linked to New Jersey Transit’s violations. In the 2014 Hoboken incident, “passengers were quickly escorted off the train,” Nancy Snyder, a New Jersey Transit spokeswoman, said in an email. The derailment, she said, “was not caused by NJT equipment nor human error, and the FRA inspector finding remains in dispute.”

Steve Santoro, the agency’s executive director, told lawmakers today in a state Senate budget hearing that the Hoboken switch incident was old news.

“We’ve done a lot of things to our railroad in the past two years,” Santoro said. “I can unequivocally say the railroad’s safe.”

As a whole, the reports detail a broader and more serious scope of troubles beyond those disclosed by the railroad at a legislative hearing in November.

In March 2015, for instance, a technician at a Morris County crossing used unapproved cables to bypass wiring that controls gates, warning lights and bells, then failed to reset the circuit, according to the reports. A crew noticed the defect while their train was in the crossing; the technician was given 10 days off without pay.

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