Amtrak’s CEO wants delays fixed: ‘I’m fed up with this’
NEW YORK – Amtrak President Joseph Boardman empathized with NJ Transit riders who’ve endured delays due to four days of problems with aging infrastructure and said while the agency has the solutions, it lacks the funding to tackle the back log of work.
Boardman, touring an electrical substation Friday afternoon just off NJ Transit’s Seventh Avenue Concourse in New York Penn Station, said he came here to see first hand what the problems were, instead of going to the memorial service for a former professor in upstate New York.
Acknowledging the frustration of Amtrak and NJ Transit riders, Boardman said, “I’m very frustrated as well. We want to get it fixed. This community deserves a reliable railroad.”
Flanked by two large closet-sized circuit breakers in gray metal cabinets, Boardman was shown large power cables behind them that bring 12,000 volts of electricity from electrical substations in the Hackensack meadows, through the Hudson River tunnels. The cables go through 80-year-old insulators built by the Pennsylvania Railroad, to the circuit breakers and out to the 21 tracks at Penn Station.
Those cables travel through the concrete bench walls of the tunnels that Amtrak officials said last October, were damaged by salt water that flooded the tunnels after Hurricane Sandy and will require their rebuilding. That process will take one tunnel out of service at a time for one year to gut the insides and replace electrical cables, concrete walls and track.
“The solution isn’t the problem, the problem is finding the funding to fix the problem,” Boardman said. “I needed to find out what we need to do.”
Boardman said a steady source of funding is needed from the federal government and the state of New Jersey and New York to fund major infrastructure rent. Amrak receives an annual $100 million in rent from NJ Transit, of that $60 million is used for NEC infrastructure upgrades, NJ Transit officials said.
“We’ve been working on plans since 2003, but we need funding for a reliable train system,” Boardman said.
In a statement Friday, Gov. Chris Christie blamed Amtrak’s “indifference” and said he will ask the state Attorney Generals office to see “what recourse New Jersey has to ensure the $100 million we pay Amtrak every year is being used properly.”
This is the first year the “rent’ for the 400 trains a day NJ Transit runs through the tunnels and on the NEC increased to that level, under a 2008 law passed by Congress. Prior to 2015, NJ Transit paid $80 million.
Members of Congress have toured some of the infrastructure in Penn Station and Boardman said he’s be happy to take more lawmakers on tours, especially Republicans, to demonstrate the need.
Crews were still at work and Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said they would be working around the clock Friday evening. While both tunnels were operating, there could be restrictions in the number of trains operating through them.
“The cables are not a huge problem, the problem is the hardware which has been there since the 1930’s,” Boardman said.
What happened this week is a circuit breaker failed in a different substation on Monday night, which affected the evening rush hour. The same circuit breaker failed Tuesday morning, causing hour-long delays. On Wednesday and Friday, cable issues surfaced in the early morning.