Bad Track Caused Penn Station’s July Derailment

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A report shows that a faulty track caused a recent train derailment at New York’s Penn Station in an area where a previous derailment occurred and where Amtrak recently began repairs that are causing service cutbacks for hundreds of thousands of commuters this summer.

The document obtained by The Associated Press from Amtrak’s investigation describes the derailment of a New Jersey Transit train on July 6, four days before repairs to tracks and switches were to start in earnest.

It occurred in an area where trains emerge from a tunnel under the Hudson River and pass through a crisscrossing network of tracks before they reach the station platforms. It’s the same area where an NJ Transit train derailed April 3, causing five days of disruptions to rail service up and down the corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston.

That earlier derailment was the second in two weeks and was blamed on aging wood crossties beneath the tracks that allowed the rails to separate. It led to a comprehensive review of the station’s entire infrastructure by the Federal Railroad Administration, which led to Amtrak’s decision to condense repair work initially planned for nights and weekends over the next few years into the summer months.

An Amtrak spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that the July 6 derailment occurred in an area targeted for repairs and replacement.

According to the report, the first car behind the locomotive on the inbound train derailed shortly before 9 p.m., when the train switched from one track to another. The report blamed defective parts anchoring the rail, as well as the train’s lateral motion when it switched to the left and, shortly after, back to the right.

About 180 passengers and crew members were on board. No injuries were reported.

In a statement to the AP on Wednesday, Amtrak said the July derailment “reinforces our decision to accelerate the infrastructure renewal work in this part of New York Penn Station this summer.” It said the repairs will “strengthen operations and restore reliability at North America’s busiest rail station.”

Penn Station, owned and operated by Amtrak, accommodates about 1,300 train movements daily. More than a half-million people pass through daily on New York City subways and trains run by Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road.

Rail riders are in their second week of schedule reductions caused by the work. While the first week went smoothly and partly allayed fears of a commuting difficult summer predicted by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the second week has been marred by several train cancellations by NJ Transit because of understaffing.

According to NJ Transit, that was caused when some engineers exercised their contract rights and took two days to report for work after schedule changes were made. Union officials have blamed a personnel shortage.

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