Christie lays out train deal, Cuomo set for 'summer of hell'

By MICHAEL CATALINI and DEEPTI HAJELA Markets Associated Press

Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday unveiled a plan to limit the impact on New Jersey commuters during an emergency track repair project at Penn Station, while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo cautioned commuters in his state to prepare for a "summer of hell."

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Christie said that only riders on New Jersey Transit's Morris and Essex Line's Midtown Direct service would be affected by the work from July through Labor Day, with their trains ending in Hoboken. He added that other lines were not expected to have significant delays but that he wouldn't guarantee it.

The New Jersey Republican bashed Amtrak as dishonest during a statehouse news conference, but he said the agency had promised daily track repair updates to New Jersey Transit and the chance to review all rail work.

"Amtrak's duplicity, their dishonesty and their inability to keep infrastructure in a state of good repair — we can't any longer ... rely on Amtrak," Christie said.

Amtrak did not immediately respond to Christie's comment, but Amtrak spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta said in a statement that the details of a plan for commuters are still being finalized.

Cuomo, a Democrat, said Tuesday that a task force would be established to come up with short-term measures, but he called the delays that the repairs will cause for riders a "looming emergency."

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"It will be a summer of hell for commuters," he said.

Recent derailments and other problems have pushed Amtrak to begin replacing aging tracks and other equipment at Penn Station, the nation's busiest rail terminal. Amtrak operates the station that also includes Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit commuter lines.

The Penn Station project is separate from a massive plan to build a new tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New York and New Jersey to replace an existing 110-year-old tunnel that is a source of regular delays due to overhead wire problems.

The two states have agreed to split half of the cost and then-President Barack Obama's administration had pledged to fund the other half. However, the budget proposed by President Donald Trump Tuesday would cut the funding program that the so-called Gateway project was set to use.

Trump's budget proposal includes a promise to launch a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, but it does not lay out specifics on what it will fund.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said during a hearing last week that the Northeast Corridor project was a priority, noting that Trump is a New Yorker. She said Tuesday that the administration plans to issue a legislative plan in the fall.

Christie and Cuomo both reiterated calls that the private sector should take over Penn Station from Amtrak. Cuomo has also suggested the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey take control of the station.

New Jersey lawmakers announced later on Tuesday they will hold a joint, Democrat-led Assembly and Senate committee hearing on Christie's announcement next week.

On weekdays, there are more than 110 Morris and Essex line trains that either start or end their trips in New York. NJ Transit estimates about 23,000 passengers ride the Morris and Essex into Penn Station daily, making it their No. 2 line.

Those trains will instead start or terminate in Hoboken, with PATH trains and ferries honoring NJ Transit fares, Christie said. Fares will be will be reduced by about half for riders on that. Christie estimated that could cost the state $15 million, but said he would find the money to cover it in the state's $35.5 billion budget.

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Hajela reported from New York. Associated Press writer Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton contributed to this report.