CENTRAL JERSEY: Commuters endure days of train delays on Northeast Corridor

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
After enduring three straight rough days getting to and from work, rail commuters at Princeton Junction like Linda Engle had had enough.
“It’s very frustrating. This week has been particularly bad,” she said Thursday morning waiting to catch her train.
Commuters expressed frustration at what they had to endure after overhead Amtrak wire problems on Monday and Tuesday and a power outage in the tunnel between New Jersey and New York on Wednesday made traveling a nightmare. They used words like “awful” and “terrible” to describe the experience, as service disruptions also affected other NJ Transit lines that go to Manhattan.
Delays on the rails lasted anywhere from around 30 minutes and upward for commuters to get where they needed to be. One woman, who works in Montclair, said her regular trip was more than an hour to an hour and 15 minutes longer than usual.
Gonzalo Velastegui, a daily commuter at the Junction, said he showed up at the station Tuesday and saw the platform packed with people. Rather than contend with the crowd, he worked from home that day and again Wednesday.
An Amtrak representative could not be reached for comment. But in a statement Wednesday, NJ Transit executive director Veronique Hakim pointed the finger at Amtrak.
“NJ Transit pays Amtrak approximately $100 million annually towards keeping the Northeast Corridor running, and we have requested of Amtrak to know if our money is truly going towards ensuring reliable rail service for our customers,” she said. “Additionally, we have and will continue to press Amtrak on needed corrective actions and on whether these recent service disruptions are related.”
The timing of the problems came the week after NJ Transit’s board raised fares systemwide by an average of 9 percent; the increases take effect Oct.1. At the Junction, a monthly pass to New York will go from $414 to $451, an increase of $37.
The fare hikes do not include the costs commuters pay to park at the junction, where a daily permit is $5.
One commuter wondered Thursday how NJ Transit could justify increasing the cost of riding the train when the quality of service is going down.
Area politicians used the opportunity to call for more government spending on infrastructure.
“After fare hikes, mass transit breakdowns and delays only add insult to injury,” said Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16) on Thursday. “We need to invest in our infrastructure and soon.”
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert echoed those sentiments Thursday by saying she was concerned the state is not making those investments. “There’s not a long-term plan,” she said.
For her part, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12) put the blame at the feet of the GOP-controlled Congress for not investing in the Northeast corridor for safety, security and efficiency improvements. She voiced support for replacing and updating aging infrastructure and for a new tunnel linking the two states.
Commuters are frustrated, said Gulshan Mirg, who takes the train to work. He said rail service has improved overall and sounded understanding that technical problems happen.
“They’re human beings, too,” he said. 