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NJ TRANSIT Defends Summer Cutbacks At Legislative Hearing On Penn Station Repairs

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) --  NJ TRANSIT executives are defending a plan to reroute trains during this summer's repair work at Penn Station.

As CBS2's Meg Baker reported, 'the summer of hell' is how most have described the impending disruptions on the Morris and Essex lines.

The heads of NJ TRANSIT, Amtrak and PATH were called to testify at a hearing Wednesday to discuss their plans so riders can prepare for July and August.

NJ TRANSIT executive director Steve Santoro told lawmakers that redirecting trains from Morris and Essex counties to Hoboken was the best option of several considered.

"Recognizing the inconvenience of the affected customers on the Morris and Essex lines, we will charge much lower fares -- 50 to 63 percent less than the price they usually pay for their tickets and passes," he said. "We'll offer free cross-honoring with PATH and the ferries."

Approximately 7,400 riders each day will now be dropped off in Hoboken instead of Penn, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported.

Assemblyman John McKeon pressed Santoro for more information, concerned about capacity.

McKeon: "Commuters sometimes have to wait for two cycles to even get on the PATH out of Hoboken."

Santoro: "I don't know."

McKeon: "Commissioner, that gets me crazy. How could we not know that before we would make this kind of a decision?" 

McKeon wonders why the inconvenience won't be spread to other lines, Haskell reported.

"That's just not fair," he said.

Gov. Chris Christie announced the plans last week. Santoro said details are still being worked out on additional bus and light rail service.

Lawmakers said Wednesday they were left in the dark and were considering subpoenaing communications between NJ TRANSIT and Christie to shed light on how the decision was made.

Mayors from Morris and Essex counties showed up at the NJ TRANSIT headquarters Tuesday to talk about the changes. The representatives are calling for transparency in the transit plans. 

"Some of them are wealthy people flippin into Wall Street, others are dishwashers and people who work really hard, and this could have a serious impact on their lives," Summit Mayor, Nora Radest said.

Amtrak is going to shut three of 21 tracks for two months this summer to repair and replace aging infrastructure at Penn Station after recent derailments and other issues.

One state senator said reduced train service will mean more crowded buses and traffic jams at bridges and tunnels as more people decide to drive.

Among other changes Amtrak announced Tuesday were reductions in service between New York and Washington, D.C., on its Northeast Regional line and between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on its Keystone service.

The Crescent, which runs daily between New York and New Orleans, will instead run between Washington, D.C., and New Orleans.

The cutbacks take effect July 10 and last through Sept. 1. Acela service will be unchanged. 

Meanwhile, a group of protesters Wednesday panned a proposed plan to privatize Penn Station. Jonathan Westin with New York Communities for Change called it a Republican scheme, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.

"We have seen this model before when Wall Street takes over," he said. "They jack up fees, they decrease service."

New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez warned about the dangers of overhauling the federal environmental review process.

"We need to have transparency and we need to have oversight," she said.

She said she'll continue fighting to get the investments Amtrak needs for an overhaul.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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