transportation

Customer Ire, Safety Issues Greet New NJ Transit Board Members

NJ Transit's board hasn't had a full complement of members for several years

NJ Transit GENERIC NBC3

What to Know

  • The nation's third-largest transit system has welcomed several new board members as it continues to face commuter ire over delays and cancellations
  • New Jersey Transit's new members include a former state senator whose appointment to the board has been held up because he also serves on a state public utilities board
  • Bob Gordon attended Wednesday night's meeting as a non-voting member and said he expects the matter to be resolved soon

The nation's third-largest transit system welcomed several new board members Wednesday as it continues to face commuter ire over delays and cancellations and struggles to complete a federally required safety system by year-end.

The new members include Bob Gordon, a former state senator who was deeply involved in oversight of the troubled transit system in the state Legislature. Gordon's appointment has been complicated by news that a more than century-old law bars him from serving on more than one state board. He also serves on the state public utilities board. The issue was first reported Wednesday by the New Jersey Globe website.

An NJ Transit spokeswoman said the Legislature was addressing the issue and that NJ Transit “expects the matter to be rectified in the near future.” Gordon attended Wednesday night's meeting but didn't vote on agenda items. He said he expected a resolution “in a matter of days.”

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NJ Transit's board hasn't had a full complement of members for several years. As part of reform efforts under Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, the state Legislature in 2018 mandated the board be expanded to 13, five more than its charter previously required.

The new members join a system that is grappling with commuter frustration over train delays and cancellations. In December, the Federal Transit Administration released data showing NJ Transit had the most train breakdowns of any rail system in the country.

NJ Transit's own data, updated monthly under a 2019 executive order by Murphy, have showed improvements over the last year in the number of train cancellations. Many of the cancellations were because trains had to be taken out of service in order to be fitted with positive train control, the federally mandated emergency braking system that must be implemented by Dec. 31. That has been a less frequent cause of cancellations as more trains have been equipped with the system.

An engineer shortage continues to plague the agency, however; statistics through December showed a steep drop from the summer, when vacations and unexcused absences spiked, but an uptick in the final three months of the year. More than 300 trains were canceled in December overall, the highest number since July.

The same data showed that in only one month since January 2017 has NJ Transit rail service met the agency's goals of 94.7% system-wide on-time performance, defined as within six minutes of schedule.

The last of several new classes of engineers are expected to graduate this spring to help address the shortage.

The implementation of positive train control, required of all U.S. railroads by the end of this year, poses a mounting challenge. Testing on NJ Transit revenue service — trains carrying actual passengers — was supposed to begin last July but has been delayed by a software problem.

A state audit released two weeks ago cast doubt on whether NJ Transit will meet a Dec. 31 deadline. If it doesn't, it could face heavy fines and possibly be barred from operating on Amtrak's infrastructure, which NJ Transit uses to carry tens of thousands of daily commuters into and out of New York.

Commuters did receive some good news this week when federal transportation officials gave a favorable rating to a long-delayed project to build a new rail bridge over the Hackensack River between Newark and New York. The current, 109-year-old span swings open to allow boats to pass underneath and has been a regular source of delays when it fails to close properly.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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