Government Maplewood

Lembrich, Maplewood TC Call for Improvements to NJT, Transit Infrastructure

On April 18, the Maplewood Township Committee unanimously adopted a resolution calling for improvements to transportation infrastructure, particularly as it impacts train travel from South Orange and Maplewood to Penn Station via the Morris & Essex NJ Transit train line.

“The lack of reliable public transportation between our towns and NYC threatens devastating harm, economic and otherwise, to our communities,” said Committee member Greg Lembrich reading aloud from his draft resolution (see full text below). Lembrich decried recent delays and derailments and particularly called out Gov. Chris Christie for canceling the ARC tunnel project and severely reducing allocations for transportation funding.

“Had it not been for Governor Christie’s short-sighted and politically motivated decision to abandon the ARC project,” said Lembrich, “we would now be only a year away from the opening of a new trans-Hudson tunnel, which would have substantially relieved the congestion going into and out of Penn Station, decreased wear and tear on existing tracks and tunnels, and provided additional capacity to ease overcrowding of trains and mitigate the impact of incidents such as those we have recently endured.”

Lembrich also called on the federal government to provide funding for such projects. “The federal government has similarly failed to provide adequate funding in its budgets for Amtrak’s capital needs,” said Lembrich.   NJ Transit makes payments to Amtrak for use of the Northeast Corridor tracks and Hudson River tunnels, and NJ has a right to expect a state of maintenance that keeps our passengers safe and running on-time. Despite promises to focus on improving our nation’s infrastructure, President Trump’s budget plan proposes the elimination of the New Starts program, which was to be a principal source of funding for the Gateway project.”

The resolution garnered overwhelming support from fellow TC members. Mayor Vic DeLuca suggested just one addition: a call for a representative of NJ Transit to appear before the TC to update the governing body on actions being taken to improve safety, reliability and improved communications.

The resolution passed 5-0.

Statement of Maplewood Township Committeeman Greg Lembrich and Proposed Resolution Regarding New Jersey Transit (4/18/2017)

As we all know, over the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands of New Jersey commuters, including thousands from our community, have been adversely impacted due to train derailments in and around New York Penn Station.

Following the fatal accident at Hoboken Terminal last year, which left one dead and over 100 injured, there now have been two separate derailments in the past month that have caused major service disruptions, leading to delays, limited service, and pervasive confusion that lasted several days.

These derailments threatened the safety of our residents and led to numerous professional and personal difficulties for commuters, including problems with employers, customers, clients, and childcare, among other things.

The public transit system between NJ and NYC is a crucial part of our state’s economy, and is particularly critical to Maplewood, South Orange, and all of Essex County.  The lack of reliable public transportation between our towns and NYC threatens devastating harm, economic and otherwise, to our communities.

The recent incidents cast serious doubt on the state of maintenance and repair of the area’s tracks and signaling system. Moreover, the inadequacy of Amtrak’s and NJ Transit’s contingency planning shows the crippling impact that such events can have.  NJ residents also have a right to expect better communication and customer service from NJ Transit when accidents occur, no matter which agency is at fault.

The poor condition of the tracks, signals, electrical systems, train cars, and other equipment of both NJ Transit and Amtrak can be traced to insufficient state and federal funding for infrastructure and public transportation.  These recent incidents also highlight the need for the state and federal governments to make the Gateway Project, including the construction of new rail tunnels under the Hudson River, and the expansion of Penn Station and the Northeast Corridor Line, an immediate state and national priority.

During his tenure, Governor Christie has diverted nearly $3 billion in NJ Transit capital funding to day-to-day operations, resulting in increasingly unreliable service and overcrowded conditions.  State funding for NJ Transit in the Governor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget is now down to less than half of the amount allocated for the state’s transportation system prior to the start of the Christie administration. Gov. Christie’s seven plus years of neglect have taken its toll on New Jersey’s rail system.

Had it not been for Governor Christie’s short-sighted and politically motivated decision to abandon the ARC project, we would now be only a year away from the opening of a new trans-Hudson tunnel, which would have substantially relieved the congestion going into and out of Penn Station, decreased wear and tear on existing tracks and tunnels, and provided additional capacity to ease overcrowding of trains and mitigate the impact of incidents such as those we have recently endured.  Meanwhile, as NJ Transit has been severely underfunded for the last seven years, commuters have been saddled with historic rate increases and declines in service quality.

>The state of NJ Transit is so troubling that it is now under federal investigation, suffering the most accidents among the nation’s major commuter railroads. As our Assemblyman John McKeon has stated, “The Governor needs to assume responsibility. He inherited one of the best rail systems in the country and is leaving us with one of the worst.” Commuters, taxpayers, and New Jersey’s economy all deserve better.

The federal government has similarly failed to provide adequate funding in its budgets for Amtrak’s capital needs.  NJ Transit makes payments to Amtrak for use of the Northeast Corridor tracks and Hudson River tunnels, and NJ has a right to expect a state of maintenance that keeps our passengers safe and running on-time. Despite promises to focus on improving our nation’s infrastructure, President Trump’s budget plan proposes the elimination of the New Starts program, which was to be a principal source of funding for the Gateway project.

I ask my colleagues on this Committee to join me in calling upon:

– NJ Transit to work, in conjunction with Amtrak, to develop better contingency logistical, communication, and customer service planning to prepare for any future accidents to avoid the mass confusion, loss of service, and economic harm that resulted from the recent derailments;

– Governor Christie to revise his proposed 2018 budget to restore NJ Transit funding to the levels that existed before his tenure and to make the capital investments required to provide the safety and reliability that NJ residents deserve; and

– Congress and President Trump to commit the federal resources, budgetary and otherwise, necessary to maintain, expand, and improve the public rail system in the NY/NJ metropolitan area, including adequate capital funding for Amtrak and its tracks and facilities and the New Starts program and Gateway Project.

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