Local/State

Amtrak NJ service to resume after Irene flooding

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Track repairs

One of the busiest parts of the nation's passenger train system is getting back on track after being shut down by flooding from Hurricane Irene.

Amtrak announced Tuesday evening that it would resume most of its trains between Philadelphia and New York City on Wednesday morning. As floodwaters from the weekend hurricane receded and most of Amtrak's service along the East Coast had resumed, the gap remained a major, frustrating exception.

The problem was flooding that buried the Trenton station under several feet of water. It meant that in a region where commuters depend on trains, New Jersey Transit and the Philadelphia transit system also could not get their trains into Trenton.

By Tuesday evening, the Philadelphia transit service hadn't announced when it would start going into Trenton again. NJ Transit said it would start testing trains Tuesday night with the hopes of resuming service Wednesday morning.

The flooding left commuters to work from home, business travelers to hope they could make their meetings and many people to scramble for seats on buses.

Gillean Denny, who's working on a doctorate in architecture at the University of Cambridge in England, was trying to get from her parents' home in Philadelphia to New York in time for a job interview.

At midday, it wasn't promising. Trains weren't running. She had a ticket on Megabus, which has a stop across the street from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, but she wasn't sure it would get her there in time.

Denny, wearing a suit for the interview, worried about a bus breakdown - something she's experienced before.

"It'll add to the humor of the day," she said.

The chokehold on one of the busiest parts of the nation's passenger rail service was caused by the Assunpink Creek, a waterway so small you might not notice it under normal conditions. On Sunday, it spilled out of its banks and turned the station into a pond, partly submerging trains parked there.

Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said his group didn't fret about disruptions caused by flooding on the Assunpink before Irene and wasn't especially worried about it after. Since most service suspensions are caused by equipment failures, Jeans-Gail said, Amtrak has higher-priority projects that would keep the trains running reliably.

But he said this week's problems may be a wake-up call.

"If climate change is going to affect the kind of storms we get in the Northeast, it certainly is something transit officials need to look at," he said.

In the meantime, more than 17,000 passengers who usually hop on NJ Transit and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, or SEPTA, trains in Trenton and two nearby stations needed to change their plans, along with many more whose Amtrak travels take them between New York and Philadelphia.

Amtrak was only able to run trains between New York City and Boston and between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., leaving an approximately 90-mile hole in the middle of its popular Northeast Corridor routes.

Officials at the discount bus lines Megabus.com, owned by Coach USA, and BoltBus, a division of Greyhound Lines, said they had more riders than usual over the last few days. But the train outages were seen as just one reason. There was also pent-up traffic from when Irene shut down roads and people who evacuated as Irene approached were trying to get back home.

Rob Gonci, of Akron, Ohio, needed to get from New York City to Philadelphia for a business meeting, so he was on a sidewalk with his briefcase, trying to figure out how to purchase a bus ticket. His train had been canceled Tuesday morning after he flew in the night before.

"Do you book a hotel another night, and then tomorrow the trains still aren't going?" he wondered. "Or do you just cut your losses?"

For Raleane Fisher, the frustration ran deep. The police officer from Perth, Australia, is touring the U.S. and had a lot of headaches after she learned her train to Philadelphia was canceled. She was on the phone Tuesday trying to get a refund from Amtrak while waiting for a BoltBus to show up.

"Now we've got a bus which is half an hour late," she said, "and we don't even know if we're getting on that."

Washington attorney Betty Sinowitz was at New York's Penn Station on Tuesday afternoon coming to grips with the limited options available to her. She thought she might take a bus but couldn't get a through for a phone reservation.

"I'm a game player, and I like to find strategies," she said, "but there's no game left to play here."

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Associated Press writers Patrick Walters in Philadelphia, Meghan Barr and Verena Dobnik in New York and Josh Lederman in Trenton contributed.

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Contact Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill.

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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Tags:
new jersey transit, hurricanes and tropical storms, severe weather, new jersey, gov. chris christie, local/state
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