Why Amtrak Is to Blame for a Hellish Night for New Jersey Commuters

At 5:05 p.m. on Wednesday, just as the evening rush hour picked up steam, an overhead wire that transmits traffic signals fell and struck a cable that provides electrical power to trains on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Kearny, N.J., a few miles west of New York City.

That contact caused a “blowout” that halted service on Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains in both directions between Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan and Newark. With no trains moving into or out of New York across the Hudson River, the disruption rippled down the line to Philadelphia and beyond, leaving passengers stranded along the tracks and stations full of disgruntled travelers.

With delays stretching to over four hours, many commuters gave up on the railroads and paid hefty fares to Uber and other ride-hail services to get home. Service was not restored until after 10 p.m., and the residual effects carried over into Thursday morning’s commute.

Amtrak officials still had no explanation on Thursday for what had caused the wire to break. But the meltdown appeared to be unrelated to a problem on Tuesday morning with wires in a tunnel under the Hudson that led to delays of up to 60 minutes. Separately on Thursday, New Jersey Transit warned of delays as long as an hour because of signal problems at Amtrak’s Dock Bridge in Newark.

Why does this keep happening?

“This is really the consequence of decades of underinvestment in the system,” said Thomas K. Wright, chief executive of the Regional Plan Association, who was among the commuters left in the lurch on Wednesday. (Stranded in Newark on the way to Princeton, he found two strangers willing to share an Uber with him. Fare: $116. Tip: $50.)

For too long, Amtrak did not have sufficient federal funding to maintain the tracks and equipment it owns, said Mr. Wright, whose organization conducts research on transportation and infrastructure in the New York metropolitan area. In recent years, with an infusion of money from the Biden administration, Amtrak has been playing catch-up on improvements along the corridor, which narrows to just two tracks between Newark and Manhattan.

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