December 18, 2018 | Number of The Day
Percentage of train safety measures that NJ Transit has completed before federal deadline

If you thought you heard a big sound very like a giant “phew!” in Newark yesterday, it might have been emanating from NJ Transit headquarters as it marked 100-percent completion of federally mandated train safety measures, just getting in under the wire for an important deadline.

The Federal Railroad Administration had given until December 31 of this year for NJ Transit to install Positive Train Control (PTC). That meant installing equipment on locomotives and cab control cars, along with 326 miles of wayside equipment including radios, transponders and poles, as well as initiating PTC testing and employee training. Failure to meet the deadline could have incurred federal fines.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s office trumpeted the achievement in a press release, one in which the governor also noted that “There’s still a lot of work left to do on PTC.” That work — both installation and training — is set to continue for two more years. Full implementation of PTC won’t come until the end of 2020.

Now, if only the transit agency could do better at meeting some of its workaday deadlines, such as running trains on schedule or just running trains at all. The governor’s satisfaction at the PTC success was quickly overtaken yesterday evening by the chaos caused when NJ Transit canceled trains right and left, blaming “equipment availability,” “mechanical problems” and “manpower shortage.” It canceled 14 trains on various lines, leaving a lot of tired and angry commuters at Penn Station for hours.