Chickens Back Home and Roosting.
Everyone knows that Penn Station in New York City is a mess—old, dingy, crowded, inadequate. In fact, it’s been a disgrace for years and now a case can be made for saying it’s also unsafe. Last week there were two derailments within the space of a couple of days.
They were caused, we have since learned, by worn out wooden ties. Fortunately, there were no injuries in either incident since the trains were traveling at slow speeds. But the result has been a nightmare for commuters: eight of the station’s 21 tracks were closed while repairs were being made. By now, thankfully, everything is back to normal.
The trouble is, “normal” is inadequate . . . and inadequate is the direct and inevitable result of deferred maintenance. Ultimately, of course, much of the blame for that lies with Congress and the members there who have been mindlessly reducing Amtrak’s subsidy while simultaneously demanding that Amtrak achieve break-even.
Year after year, Amtrak submits an itemized request for, let’s say, $1.8 billion and, after directing how some of it should be spent—allowing some pets to travel with their owners, for example—Congress gives them $1.4 billion instead. And so, to minimize the inevitable shortfall, Amtrak defers more maintenance.
By the way, proving once again that he has no shame, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—remember him?—says that because of the inconvenience to New Jersey residents caused by these two derailments, he has instructed his finance people to stop paying Amtrak fees for New Jersey Transit trains going in and out of Penn Station . . . this from the guy who approved the closing of several access lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge in order to cause massive traffic jams as a way of punishing the mayor of a small nearby town who had refused to endorse Christie’s re-election campaign. As dey say in Joisey, What a noive!
These incidents underscore and help to substantiate the opinion of many passenger rail advocates, including NARP, that Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is only profitable on paper because expensive maintenance and repair projects keep being shoved off into the future.
Meantime, what are the odds that Congress will face the reality that the Northeast Corridor infrastructure is running out of time . . . and do something about it?