Concurrent NJ Transit Rail Failures in Tunnel Have Mystery Cause

(Bloomberg) -- Amtrak and New Jersey Transit failed to determine why power was cut and two trains struck metal in the 108-year-old Hudson River tunnel to Manhattan, stranding 1,600 passengers in September.

The tunnel, crucial to passenger service between Boston and Washington, D.C., had its concrete casing and electrical lines damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Amtrak says the structure is safe, though increasingly unreliable, and President Donald Trump has resisted requests to cover a large share of costs for a new tunnel, part of the proposed $30 billion Gateway project for New York City-area passenger-rail improvements.

The breakdowns of two NJ Transit trains occurred almost simultaneously on Sept. 7. One crew, bound for Penn Station with 1,100 people aboard, reported coming to a stop after passing a downed wire and having its roof punctured by what appeared to be part of the overhead power apparatus. The other train, heading to New Jersey with 500 passengers, lost power in the tunnel, re-started, struck a metallic object and stopped again.

Amtrak and NJ Transit, the nation’s second-busiest commuter railroad, conducted a joint investigation, according to Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams.

“We are unable to identify the root cause of the issue with absolute certainty,” Abrams said in an emailed statement. “Through the investigation, both parties are confident this was an isolated incident, and that there are no long-term infrastructure or equipment issues.”

NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said the railroad had nothing to add to the Amtrak release.

Gateway, conceived by Amtrak, would include the replacement of the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in Kearny and Secaucus, New Jersey. A malfunction of the bridge on Tuesday caused hours-long delays for commuters and others on the Northeast Corridor, the busiest U.S. passenger route. The span, in use since 1910, is prone to such incidents after maritime traffic passes and it fails to close as designed.

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