HOST INTRO: This morning, most trains were running on time during rush hour. But it’s been a rough week for Amtrak. On Monday, a train derailed at Penn Station due to a maintenance flaw in the tracks. On Wednesday, Governor Chris Christie wrote an open letter to Amtrak expressing his frustration and concern that Amtrak is not keep up with maintenance. Today, trains were back to running, but the effects of the week lingered. Hannah Long-Higgins reports.
LONG-HIGGINS 1: Penn Station is a zoo when I move from the 1,2, and 3 trains to the station’s main hub.
LONG-HIGGINS 2: But even with all the crowds, the trains are running without major delays by 8:45am, but I quickly find three clues that tell me it may be a while before Amtrak’s maintenance improvements are fully back on track.
MARSHALL 1: Next time a train come, watch how many people get off.
LONG-HIGGINS 3: A Penn Station custodian named Howard Marshall reveals the first clue. I find him emptying a trash can near a Long Island Railroad train platform.
MARSHALL 2: Normally just a few people around this time–now? Wheeeew! You know, they cramped, they cramped. You’ll see!
LONG-HIGGINS 4: He’s referring to the packed trains that keep dropping off swarms of commuters. And sure enough, a few minutes after I talk to Marshall, a massive crowd pours out of a train and ascends the stairs from New Jersey Transit tracks 20 and 11.
Ambi (intense violin, then fades down).
LONG-HIGGINS 5: I step into the flow of the crowd and together we pass the New Jersey Transit ticket counters and the Long Island Railroad waiting area, a Shake Shack, and several clusters of MTA workers wearing bright green vests. Those green vests are clue #2. Nancy Snyder is a spokesperson for New Jersey Transit. She explains that the extra MTA workers are part of the New Jersey Transit’s effort to assist affected customers following the derailment.
SNYDER: We immediately positioned emergency response team representatives at critical station locations to assist customers and promptly provide them with alternate service information.
LONG-HIGGINS 6: These response teams seem necessary, because, as I follow the crowd into Amtrak’s main terminal, I hear a woman say
Ambi: ”I have no idea what’s going on.” (over robotic female voice ambi)
LONG-HIGGINS 7: That’s clue #3. I tried talking to Amtrack officials, and one sent me an email that said:
Passengers should expect residual delays throughout the morning, with scheduled operations resuming this afternoon. We apologize for the delays as we worked to make these repairs.
LONG-HIGGINS 8: But an apology doesn’t quite cut it for Governor Chris Christie, who criticized Amtrak in a press conference yesterday.
CHRISTIE: (:08) can the rails be in good enough repair so the trains can go over them and not derail? How about we start with that?
LONG-HIGGINS 9: The governor has asked NJ Transit to halt payments to Amtrak until the company does a better job of keeping up with maintenance repairs.
They got to show us better work than what they’re doing. And to have just been out there to inspect those rails ten days ago and then have another derailment in the very same area less than ten days later is just unacceptable.
LONG-HIGGINS 10: For most of the several million commuters that use the New Jersey Transit, delays are frustrating. But one passenger I talked to understood that this is just the reality of mass public transit. “Life happens,” she said. “I just learn to cope.”
Hannah Long-Higgins, Columbia Radio News.