Governor Chris Christie’s 2010 cancellation of a Hudson River rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan and quashing of $2.94 billion in capital projects have compounded five weeks of “nightmare” commuting along the nation’s busiest train route, state Assemblyman John McKeon said.
The tunnel’s completion would have been about a year away, said McKeon, a Democrat from West Orange who is overseeing hearings about New Jersey Transit. Now, commuters worried about potential failure of the existing century-old underground tunnel face months of delays as Amtrak, which shares its tracks with the commuter railroad, steps up maintenance after two derailments caused by its equipment at Pennsylvania Station in March and April.
Christie, a 54-year-old Republican, is withholding millions of dollars in fees from Amtrak, saying the national passenger railroad has failed to keep its equipment in good repair. During his seven years in office, he’s raised fares twice, cut an annual subsidy for New Jersey Transit and diverted billions for capital-improvement projects to cover day-to-day expenses. The system, meanwhile, has the most breakdowns and accidents of any U.S. commuter railroad, federal data show, and passengers are enduring increased crowding and more delays.
“The fact that the governor has the temerity to blame anyone but himself, pointing at Amtrak, is astounding to me,” McKeon said in Trenton. Now, after a “30-day nightmare,” he said, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit are warning of delays of as long as 30 minutes, plus schedule changes, while maintenance is performed.
“The governor’s going to take a victory lap — incredibly so,” McKeon said.
Jeremy Rosen, a Christie spokesman, said McKeon was using faulty logic to connect Amtrak’s troubles and an “overpriced, discredited project” that Christie scrapped because of design concerns and potential cost overruns to be paid by New Jerseyans.
“How would that help problems caused by a failure of Amtrak to maintain their rails and equipment as required?” Rosen, referring to the tunnel, said in an email.
Amtrak Chairman Wick Moorman said the railroad is planning “two to three significant outages” during the Penn Station work through September, in addition to routinely taking some tracks out of service for upgrades.
Christie supports Gateway, Amtrak’s $24 billion project that includes a new Hudson tunnel to Penn Station. Gateway, though, lacks funding in President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint. Christie has said he’s spoken to Trump about the need for the passage.