N.J. lawmakers hear explanation for canceled trains, update on Penn Station track work

 Passengers navigate the New Jersey Transit area in New York's Penn Station Tuesday. New Jersey Transit says some trains have been canceled this week because engineers are choosing not to work under the terms of their contract amid the summer-long repair work at Penn Station. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Passengers navigate the New Jersey Transit area in New York's Penn Station Tuesday. New Jersey Transit says some trains have been canceled this week because engineers are choosing not to work under the terms of their contract amid the summer-long repair work at Penn Station. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

At a hearing in Trenton Wednesday, New Jersey lawmakers got an update on the progress of repair work at New York’s Penn Station. And they took New Jersey Transit’s chief to task after scores of trains have been canceled since the track improvement work began.

Since schedule changes took effect July 10 because of the track replacement at Penn Station, crew shortages have led New Jersey Transit to cancel 58 trains, affecting thousands of commuters.

Vacations, sick days, optional days off, and unexcused absences were cited by New Jersey Transit executive director Steve Santoro as possible reasons engineers were not available to operate those trains.

That left commuters waiting at hot train stations not knowing their trains were cancelled, said Sen. Joe Kyrillos, adding that those engineers should be disciplined.

“We’re really talking about people not showing up to work and screwing the passengers of New Jersey Transit in the process,” said Kyrillos, R-Monmouth.

Workers who took inappropriate actions will face disciplinary proceedings, said Santoro. He plans to meet with the engineers union Friday to discuss how to prevent more problems.

“When the summer schedule is finished at the end of August, we are going to have to go through the same process in September, and we need to be better prepared to deal with this,” he said.

Meanwhile, two weeks into the infrastructure renewal program, the track replacement work is going well, said Mike DeCataldo, Amtrak vice president.

“The progress we’ve made is better than we had anticipated. If we are able to complete this phase of the project sooner, we will roll into the next phase very quickly,” he said. “It’s kind of premature to say how much earlier we may or may not get done, but we are on plan and we are slightly ahead of schedule.”

Despite some disruptions in rail service, commuters are finding alternative routes, said Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Bergen.

“For New Jersey rail commuters, the summer from hell has not been quite as hot as expected — although we have over seven weeks to go,” he said.

The accelerated track work will continue until Sept. 1 with other parts of the project continuing into next year.

 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.