Source: Excerpt from MyCentralJersey.com -
Leaders of NJ Transit skipped a legislative hearing Friday to investigate the beleaguered agency’s safety record, leadership problems and ongoing financial crisis. The decision by NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro to miss the hearing, announced to legislators via text message at 9 p.m. Thursday, came three weeks after an NJ Transit train crashed into Hoboken Terminal, killing a young mother and injuring 110 people.
The text message, according to Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Madison), came just hours after the state Assembly voted unanimously to give itself subpoena power to investigate NJ Transit.NJ Transit officials, late Friday, disputed McKeon’s account that Santoro cancelled his appearance by text message.
No matter how the message was delivered, Santoro’s last-minute cancellation angered lawmakers of both parties, including some Republicans who had argued that subpoena power was unnecessary because NJ Transit officials could be trusted to produce information voluntarily.
“We argued against subpoena power, and it makes us look foolish … when people don’t show up,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R – Westwood. “This is not a partisan issue. This is about transparency.”
[In Santoro's absence, the state’s transportation commissioner, Richard Hammer, was left to do the talking. He said] Santoro did not attend the hearing because he was meeting instead with officials at the federal Railroad Administration, which is monitoring safety problems at NJ Transit, Hammer said. In an email sent to reporters Friday evening, Santoro said he will attend the legislature’s next hearing on NJ Transit, scheduled for Nov. 4.
Friday’s event, a joint hearing of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee and the Assembly Judiciary Committee, is the first step of an investigation by state legislators into NJ Transit, which has come under fire in recent months. Gordon led with questions about the safety record of the agency, which has experienced 157 train accidents since 2011, three times more than the Long Island Railroad, according to the data collected by the Federal Railroad Administration.
When Hammer finished his testimony, he stood and exited quickly out of the Statehouse Annex through a side door, as DOT staff attempted to block reporters from asking questions. Hammer climbed into a waiting SUV.