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NJ Transit’s Infrastructure -- Especially Its Hudson Tunnel -- Shows Its Age

An agency beset by budget gaps, major stoppages, low morale, and a crumbling tunnel

New Jersey Transit trains racked up 213 major breakdowns in 2014, according to the latest federal statistics.That's two-and-a-half times as many as Long Island Rail Road. In 2015, 30 percent of NJ Transit's morning rush hour trains arrived into Penn Station late, WNYC's Data News team found.

NJ Transit is the largest such agency in the nation. It provides nearly a million rides each weekday to people living in the most densely populated state. It regularly faces budget gaps — this year’s is $46.3 million.

Most of the delays that plague NJ Transit stem from the single, hundred-year old tunnel it shares with Amtrak. Years ago, NJ Transit began building its own tunnel, known as ARC. But Gov. Chris Christie cancelled it in 2010. He used that money, in part, to pay for repairs to roads and bridges.

A study by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that NJ Transit moved more than $5 billion from its capital budget to cover operating expenses over the past 15 years.

While investment in infrastructure lags, morale among staff is plummeting. Non-unionized workers haven't seen a raise since 2009. Senior staff have left in droves; the agency has been trying to replace its executive director, Ronnie Hakim, for seven months, without success.

Jon Whiten, a vice president at the left-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, said that when it comes to legislators and the governor, "everything is very centered on driving and car culture. Lawmakers all drive to Trenton. They all drive to their district offices and their district meetings."

Earlier this month, a reporter asked the governor about a proposal to add a stop in front of the Trenton State House to NJ Transit's River Line. "I'm a skeptic," Christie said. "Use Uber."

Read the full story on WNYC Public Radio, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.

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