Christie Lies Low, but Can’t Avoid Wrath of Commuters

As train delays, cancellations and gridlock set off by a small derailment at Pennsylvania Station stretched into a third day on Wednesday, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey remained largely silent while his constituents screamed. In fact, the governor was far from where the chaos was unfolding, choosing to go to Atlantic City to celebrate the opening of a casino while travelers vented their frustration on social media, on radio call-in shows and on packed platforms.

The derailment on Monday of a New Jersey Transit train did not just cripple New Jersey Transit; it also disrupted service on Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road, the two other rail systems that share Penn Station. But it has been riders of New Jersey Transit, the nation’s third-busiest railroad, who have endured the worst travel experiences.

Along with anger, many riders said someone had to be responsible for the missed hours of work, the lost wages, the extra costs from extended day care, the wasted — and increasingly expensive — gas. And many of them set their sights on Mr. Christie.

“He’s nowhere to be found, while literally hundreds of thousands of his constituents are struggling and businesses are losing money,” said Dave Geller, 44, who had to work from his home in Maplewood on Wednesday. “At some point the buck has to stop where? You’re the man in charge.”

One possible reason: Mr. Christie is seen as a main villain in New Jersey’s transit woes. Many of those enduring the upheavals on the rails and on the highways this week know that without a new tunnel under the Hudson River, days like Wednesday or Tuesday or Monday will become more frequent. They also know that in 2010, Mr. Christie scuttled plans for a new tunnel that had been scheduled to open next year.

Mr. Christie’s commitment to public transit has been a recurring issue. Under his administration, the state subsidy to New Jersey Transit plummeted 90 percent. And for years, he had steadfastly refused to support an increase in the state’s gas tax to help finance the depleted transportation fund used to finance transit projects, relenting only late last year. However, he did sign a bill last month authorizing $400 million in spending on New Jersey transportation.

On Wednesday, Mr. Christie’s only public appearance was the one in Atlantic City, in the southern part of the state, where he celebrated the opening of the Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City.

“We have shown that we’re committed to doing the hard things in Atlantic City,” he said. He refused to answer questions from reporters and said nothing about the commuting woes.

Privately, however, Mr. Christie, a Republican, was apparently fuming about the continuing disruptions, directing New Jersey Transit officials to hold a news conference to offer explanations. His office issued a news release later on Wednesday afternoon, the governor’s first public comments about the derailment, ordering New Jersey Transit executives “to personally appear at stations,” calling the situation “unacceptable” and adding that “the governor remains fully aware of commuter frustrations.”

Steven H. Santoro, the executive director of New Jersey Transit, told reporters that his office was in “constant contact” with the governor.

Senator Cory Booker, who was in Washington, cited the derailment and the subsequent delays as his reason for voting against a nominee for a top position at the federal Department of Transportation.

“A nightmare is not even the word for what’s going on in the tristate region right now,” said Mr. Booker, a Democrat. He added: “My office phone is blowing up. There is anger. There is frustration as people have their lives undermined.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the Long Island Rail Road, pointed a finger of blame at Amtrak, and not New Jersey Transit, for the “unacceptable infrastructure failures” and for “not aggressively maintaining its tracks, switches and related equipment at Penn Station.”

The M.T.A. is overseen by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who also has seemingly not focused on the commuting snarls. On Tuesday, he issued a news release about a barge running aground on the Hudson River north of New York City.

In New Jersey, many commuters seem to have reached a breaking point both with New Jersey Transit and their governor, who oversees the agency.

Michael O’Keefe, 24, a carpenter from Harriman, N.Y., who was among the masses idling at Hoboken Station, said responsibility for the problems plaguing New Jersey Transit, from its unreliability to its antiquated equipment, stops at the governor’s office in Trenton. “It’s Christie, it all goes down to him, right?” he said.

David Sandt, 80, a stockbroker who lives in Hoboken and commutes to Hackensack in northern New Jersey, specifically faulted Mr. Christie for stopping the Hudson River tunnel project seven years ago. “Stupidity — somebody should have lost their job,” Mr. Sandt said. “The governor vetoed that and put us years behind.”

Mr. Christie’s checkered record on transportation in his home state may be indeed be influencing the opinions of many commuters. Two former associates of Mr. Christie’s face prison sentences for orchestrating traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge as political payback against a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse the governor’s re-election.

Mr. Christie has repeatedly stood by his decision to reject the Hudson River tunnel project, which was known as ARC, saying that New Jersey taxpayers would have been stuck with a multibillion-dollar expense and that it was a matter of standing up for his principles.

But the current plan for a new tunnel, known as the Gateway Project, is a long way from completion, and its future is unclear after President Trump reduced funding for it in his initial budget.

“Even though the ARC tunnel project wouldn’t be done now, we’d be able to say, ‘When this project finishes, this is going to get better,’” said Daniel De Simone, 37, whose commute to Midtown Manhattan from South Orange took about an hour longer than usual on Wednesday.

Political opponents of Mr. Christie, who is prevented by term limits from running again, also trained their sights on him, including Democrats lining up to run in November’s election.

Phil Murphy, who has emerged as the party favorite, released a statement saying, “For seven years, commuters have seen fares skyrocket and customer service diminish, all while Governor Christie pulled funds from NJ Transit to fill his budget holes and canceled the ARC tunnel to set up his run for president.”

Jim Johnson, another Democratic candidate for governor, announced that he would visit the Broad Street train station in Newark on Thursday to talk to commuters.

But for Rowland Dickens, 50, who works in production oversight, train delays have caused so many problems in his 12 years of commuting that constantly readjusting his schedule has simply become a way of life.

“Every day I get on a train unsure if I’m getting home,” he said.

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