An analysis shows New Jersey Transit and Amtrak rail riders lost almost 78 days of their lives over the past four years, fuming on stuck trains due to delays caused by “major infrastructure failures” in the century-old, Sandy-damaged Hudson train tunnel and the Portal Bridge. But that comes as no surprise to commuters, or to Gateway Development Program Corp. trustees, who ordered the survey.
“This happens every day. You go out and you’re playing, as I say, transit roulette. Am I getting there on time, or am I not? It’s an intolerable way for people to have to live,” said Jerry Zaro, chairman of the Gateway Development Program Corp.
The analysis found 85 major incident days from 2014 to 2018, most of them in the tunnel, where issues caused delays each lasting more than five hours — 1,880 hours total. The variety of failures includes 35 percent from overhead cable and power line problems; 31 percent from track conditions; 13 percent from signal problems; and 21 percent from other issues like ice buildup.
“The bottom line is these delays wreak havoc. They wreak havoc on people’s lives, they wreak havoc on the region’s economy and on the nation’s economy, and they erode trust — and it’s why you all and our partners are working so hard to build Gateway,” said Steve Sigmund, chief of public outreach at the Gateway Development Program Corp.
Putting ‘politics ahead of safety’
To that end, on Monday the governors of New Jersey and New York signed a law creating a bistate, seven-member Gateway Development Commission. It facilitates application for federal funding and requires each state to pony up half of the local share. The governors said in a joint statement, “While the Trump administration continues to put politics ahead of the safety and economic security of the nation, New York and New Jersey are working together to get the job done.”
But the law’s co-author, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, warned on Monday that Jersey’s Senate would not approve any new commissioners who would impose tolls on NJ Transit riders to pay for Gateway projects.
“It is the bipartisan intent of the New Jersey legislative leadership that under no circumstances would we accept a scenario under which NJ Transit’s operating budget, which continues to be underfunded, would be saddled with any portion of the construction of Gateway,” said Weinberg.
Meanwhile, the trustees say they’re continuing to investigate a different and faster way to fix cables in the tunnel by racking them high alongside the walls. New York elected to use racking on repairs currently underway in the Canarsie subway tunnel for the L Train. The Gateway racking report is weeks overdue.
“This would advance the repairs to the tunnels from Sandy damage by 10 years. If this is a critical problem, then it needs to be advanced,” said Joe Clift, the former director of planning for the Long Island Railroad.
“Could racking potentially help one element? Yes. But it is not, unfortunately, for our situation a panacea,” said Zaro.
Next week the trustees will submit a new Federal Transit Administration request hoping for a good project rating. But how’s that federal funding coming along? According to the Gateway Corp., the application is sitting on a desk in Washington, D.C. and there’s no sign of movement.