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New NJ TRANSIT Executive Director Skips Hearing On Fatal Train Crash

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- NJ TRANSIT's new executive director failed to show up for a safety hearing in Trenton on Friday, just weeks after a train crashed into the Hoboken Terminal, killing one woman and injuring more than 100 people.

Instead, the state's transportation commissioner had to step in at the last minute.

The committee co-chair, Assemblyman John McKeon, said he received a text message at 9 p.m. Thursday saying that Steve Santoro would not be attending the hearing because he had a previous commitment to meet with the Federal Railroad Administration.

McKeon, skeptical of the short notice, said the lack of participation from NJ TRANSIT's top management was "disrespectful'' to the joint legislative committee looking into the agency's safety and financial woes.

"We need to talk about the budget, we need to talk about capital improvements and who makes decisions as to how they're implemented," he said. "It will be the beginning of a lengthy process, but we will get the answers we deserve."

A spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration said NJ TRANSIT officials had never disclosed they had two meetings scheduled for one day and regulators weren't aware of the conflict until reading about it in news reports.

"FRA would have gladly rescheduled our meeting this morning to allow New Jersey Transit to participate in today's hearing,'' spokesman Matthew Lehner said.

State Sen. Robert Gordon said they'll use subpoena power if Santoro and other officials don't accept invitations to the next hearing, which will be held Nov. 4.

In Santoro's absence, New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Richard Hammer stepped in to speak about the agency.

"I will tell you I certainly apologize for the inadequate communication in advance of this meeting. I take full responsibility for that," Hammer said.

Hammer said NJ TRANSIT is working to install positive train control by 2018, which is designed to stop a train before an accident. Hammer also said fares will not be going up.

The committee co-chair said he wasn't satisfied with all of Hammer's answers.

"The commissioner is doing his best to put a positive spin on things," McKeon said.

CBS2 requested an interview with NJ TRANSIT's new executive director, but has yet to hear back.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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