Riders livid after power problems again cause Amtrak delays

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

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 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 in an email Friday that 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, D.C. 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. More than 2,000 trains operated by Amtrak or commuter rail lines run each day on the Northeast corridor, according to Amtrak.

Amtrak's master plan to upgrade the Northeast corridor includes improvements to tracks, signals and power lines between New Jersey and New York; Amtrak officials didn't immediately comment Friday on the status of those improvements.

Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman met with reporters Friday afternoon to discuss the power problems.

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.

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 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.

"We've got to make a decision on whether we're going to make some significant investments in infrastructure or whether we're going to live with the delays, the lost productivity, the inferior quality of life and less business opportunities," Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate subcommittee on housing, transportation, and community development , said Friday.

Montclair resident Matthew Walters blamed the aging infrastructure and 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 — that in the winter I come in the night before and stay with friends in Manhattan," he said Friday.

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." The transit agency said it had "contacted Amtrak at highest levels seeking solution."


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