By Riham Alkousaa
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New Jersey Transit train derailed near Manhattan's Pennsylvania Station on Thursday evening, forcing 180 passengers and crew onto a rescue train and causing hours of delays, just days before the biggest U.S. train hub will partially shut for repairs.
NJ Transit spokesman Jim Smith called it a "minor derailment," and said the cause was under investigation. The incident caused delays that stretched until 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) on Friday, when service returned to normal for the morning rush hour.
The nine-car North Jersey Coast Line commuter train, which originated in Long Branch, New Jersey, derailed at 9:10 p.m. on the New York side of a tunnel under the Hudson River, Smith said.
A rescue train was sent to transport all aboard to Penn Station, arriving at 11 p.m., he said. The commuter train had been scheduled to arrive at 8:53 p.m.
The derailment was the latest in a series of derailments at Penn Station, where extensive track repairs intended to prevent such problems are scheduled to begin Monday and run through Sept. 1. Some commuters aired their frustration.
"Another derailment tonight. Are you kidding me with this," Bernadette Aulesta of South Orange, New Jersey, commented on a Facebook page for a group called NJT Riders Revolt.
"As I'm sitting on my train ride home after having to take the PATH and then the train at Hoboken thanks to yet another NJT derailment, I am comforted by scrolling through the past month of angry NJT riders and remembering that I'm not alone," Regine Labossiere posted on the page.
Roughly 600,000 commuters, mostly from New Jersey and Long Island, use the station each day. They ride Amtrak, the national rail corporation and owner of the tracks, and NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road, which rent tracks and platforms from Amtrak.
Starting Monday, commuters face eight weeks of rerouted, canceled and delayed trains on all three railways.
Even once the repairs are completed, service may not always be on time, Amtrak Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek said on Friday.
"We have delivered consistently for years, plus-90 percent on-time performance. I don’t want to fool people that we’re going to do 100 percent on-time performance. We are not bringing a new station to Penn Station, we are not replacing all the infrastructure," Naparstek told reporters at the station.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie called on Friday for a full investigation into the potential causes of the incident.
Derailments and other transit problems at Penn Station have prompted renewed criticism by some of Christie over his decision in 2010 to withdraw $2.7 billion in state funding for a new train tunnel under the Hudson. It would have been America's largest public-works project and Christie axed the project because he said cash-strapped New Jersey could not afford billions of dollars in likely cost overruns.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Frances Kerry)