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NJ TRANSIT, MTA Demand Accountability From Amtrak Following Derailment

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The executive director of NJ TRANSIT said Wednesday that Amtrak must be held accountable for repeated derailments on the tracks it owns at Penn Station.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is demanding a sit-down with the head of Amtrak, accusing the organization of negligence.

The remarks by NJ TRANSIT executive director Steven H. Santoro came as crews continued working on repairs following a second derailment in less than two weeks at the station. The latest derailment has wreaked havoc for hundreds of thousands of commuters.

Santoro said NJ TRANSIT has paid $62 million to Amtrak toward a maintaining a state of good repair work for the tracks at Penn Station, and is set to contribute $74 million more. Amtrak must hold up its part in maintaining safety for the tracks it owns and that NJ TRANSIT uses, Santoro said.

"We expect results, we expect more focus, and we expect better service from Amtrak for our customers," Santoro said.

Santoro called upon Amtrak to form a team of rail experts from NJ TRANSIT, Amtrak, and the Long Island Rail Road "to walk every inch of track at Penn Station New York and perform an exhaustive operation and analysis" of tracks, signals and other infrastructure.

For long term plans, Santoro called on Amtrak to allow NJ TRANSIT a greater role in maintenance, and called for a broader look at Penn Station and how it is operated.

"Bottom line – we need more of a voice in how that work is planned and implemented," he said.

Santoro said he was headed to Washington, D.C. for a meeting with the Federal Railroad Administration where the issues would be discussed.

"Having two derailments in just over a week is unacceptable, and our customers are bearing the brunt," he said.

CBS2's Jessica Layton asked Santoro what his bottom-line message is to the commuter stuck in the mess. The sentiment was, "Don't blame us."

"First that Amtrak needs to step up to the plate," Santoro said. "We are funding them. They need to take the conditions of the Northeast Corridor seriously."

Meanwhile, MTA Acting Chairman Fernando Ferrer and Interim Executive Director Veronique Hakim penned a letter to Amrak President and Chief Executive Officer Charles Moorman on Wednesday.

"This week's derailment at New York's Pennsylvania Station is, unfortunately, the latest in a series of unacceptable infrastructure failures that have impacted and inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of Long Island Rail Road riders who depend on the station each day," the letter read.

"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."

Ferrer and Hakim also demanded a meeting with Moorman to discuss maintenance policy and to go over the agreement that determines track assignments when there is a disruption, WCBS 880's Alex Silverman reported.


The derailment happened Monday when three cars in the middle of an inbound NJ TRASNIT train dislodged from a track as it approached a platform.

The derailment damaged the track and a switch and knocked out service on eight of 21 tracks, said Scot Naparstek, chief operating officer of Amtrak.

The train was moved back onto the rail early Tuesday.

Amtrak released a statement Wednesday saying it values its partnership with commuter railroads and shares their frustration. Amtrak said it has requested to join the FRA in a review of Penn Station infrastructure.

"New York Penn Station is our busiest and most important station, and we take our role as host seriously and make every effort to keep it operating smoothly. We are investigating the causes of these recent derailments and will take prompt action to address them," the statement said. "We will continue to work with our partners at LIRR and NJ TRANSIT to ensure that adequate work windows and funding are available to keep these heavily-used and aged assets functioning reliably as we pursue the long term goal of modernizing Penn Station infrastructure."

Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is also ordering NJ TRANSIT executives to appear personally at stations, in an effort to increase outreach.

But Christie has not had much to say – at least on camera. CBS2's Meg Baker tried getting the governor's take on this week's delays and cancellations after he slipped out of a public event Wednesday afternoon in Atlantic City.

But Christie did not answer CBS2's questions.

The governor's office later released a statement saying Christie "remains fully aware of commuter frustrations with this week's gridlock-causing disruptions and urges officials from Amtrak to work with New York and New Jersey mass transportation agencies to resolve this unacceptable situation."

The derailment has renewed calls for accelerating progress on an ambitious, $20 billion-plus project, known as Gateway, to add a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and expand Penn Station.

Christie pulled the plug on a similar project in 2010, concerned about the cost to taxpayers.

Now, seven years later, commuters are still relying on infrastructure that is more than 100 years old.

"There's no money to fix anything," said NJ TRANSIT commuter Art Thomas. "I'm more frustrated because younger people like you are going to pay the piper for it."

Amtrak said late Wednesday that crews hope to have repairs complete for normal service by Friday.


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