Amtrak settlement with NJ Transit signals eased tensions
New Jersey Transit agreed to make back payments to Amtrak in a settlement both sides say will pave the way for infrastructure improvements.
NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday a $182 million financial settlement for back payments it owes to Amtrak under the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act. Former Gov. Chris Christie halted payments in March 2017 after multiple derailments that led to massive delays for NJ Transit commuters at Amtrak-owned Penn Station in Manhattan.
“Investing in our infrastructure, improving customer experience, and enhancing the safety of the traveling public are among the highest priorities of our administration,” said Murphy in a statement. “The announcement today establishes a partnership that will achieve these goals now, and lays the financial foundation for continued improvements into the future.”
The missed payments, which resumed in June 2017, included $137.5 million in capital contributions and $44.5 million for operating costs, according to NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder. The agency will now pay Amtrak $7 million per month for capital expenses and $3 million monthly for operating costs, Snyder said.
“Amtrak is committed to investing every nickel of that money in New Jersey and in infrastructure that will benefit New Jersey Transit riders and Amtrak riders and the region generally,” Amtrak board chairman Tony Coscia said at Wednesday’s Penn Station press conference. “There is a significant amount of money that is now flowing but it is flowing into an investment in the system which underscores our need as partners to invest that money correctly.”
Murphy said that Amtrak and NJ Transit have jointly agreed to reinvest funds from the 2008 legislation as well other agreements into infrastructure improvement projects. This includes plans for expanding NJ Transit’s Penn Station concourse to alleviate overcrowding and signal repairs throughout the Northeast corridor line that both systems use between Penn Station and Trenton. The railroads will also be teaming up on a $370 million project to improve the County Yard facility in News Brunswick with extra storage space to protect NJ Transit trains from flooding during extreme storms.
“This agreement to us represents a clean slate and an opportunity to begin a new era in our partnership with Amtrak,” Corbett said during the press conference. “With a renewed sense of collaboration these projects will advance more smoothly. There will be better cash flow, improved planning and from our end New Jersey Transit will have more input in coordination of prioritizing critical maintenance projects.”
NJ Transit ended 2018 by meeting a Federal Railroad Administration safety-law required milestone toward implementing a positive train control emergency braking system, after beginning the year way behind schedule. Corbett credited Amtrak Wednesday with its cooperation with PTC installation and for offering support to get the full system operational by its next federal deadline on Dec. 31, 2020.
“The importance of our relationship with Amtrak is immeasurable,” said Corbett. “I look forward to continue strengthening our coordination for the betterment of all rail customers in the region.”