Yesterday, low voltage readings on train tracks in NJ forced Amtrak and NJ Transit to suspend service for three hours during the morning rush hour on a pre-Christmas Eve travel day. According to the NY Times, "The partial shutdown began about 8:30 a.m., disrupting an estimated 100 trains — about 20 from Amtrak and about 80 from New Jersey Transit." Though service was back up by noon, there were delays of 60-90 minutes in the late afternoon.

NJ Transit explained, "At the time of the incident, there were five trains stopped between Secaucus and New York, with enough electricity to power the lights and heat onboard but not enough to move the trains. A rescue engine was dispatched to tow one disabled train into New York Penn Station, while three others operated on their own power into the station, and another reversed back to Secaucus Junction under its own power. The disabled trains were all moved within one hour."

One traveler told the Times, "It’s the holidays, so you expect this kind of thing. I would have just felt better about it if it was because of the weather or something. Did they forget to pay their Con Ed bill?" Actually, it's because of Amtrak's aging power supply: Back in May 2006, hundreds of trains were stranded on the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor thanks to a power outage (apparently a computer messed up and humans weren't paying attention either), and there was another outage in November 2007.

The AP points out though the rail line received $60 million in federal stimulus money, "Amtrak has historically had to fight to receive funding from Congress. Last year, President George W. Bush threatened to veto a bill to fund Amtrak for the next five years unless the railroad was held more accountable for its decisions." Senator Chuck Schumer said of yesterday's incident, "When Amtrak, one of the most vital transportation links on the East Coast, is habitually underfunded, not even an outage as widespread as this one can be considered a surprise. We are more dependent on Amtrak than ever, and Congress should step up to the plate to fund it at the right level."