After wishing New Jersey Transit a happy 40th anniversary, advocates demanded more realistic information in the face of this summer’s ongoing train cancellations. The agency has scrubbed 100 trains a week on average since mid-May, according to an NJ.com report.
“I understand your situation. You don’t have engineers to run trains. That’s understandable and people do understand that,” said Steve Thorpe, an advisory board member with NJ Transit’s Senior Citizen and Disabled Resident Transportation Assistance Program. “Give us a schedule you can reasonably operate and you can keep, not a schedule that’s imaginary because you have to cancel so many trains.”
“Time is up. They need to solve their labor problems and they need to make sure that they have enough classes of engineers to operate the trains,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen). “And then of course we actually need trains that operate — that when it rains there isn’t a river running down the center aisle, or broken seats, or doors that don’t close.”
Crunch time for NJ Transit
The complaints came as NJ Transit adopted its $1.4 billion capital budget and $2.39 billion operating budgets for fiscal year 2020. NJ Transit is buying more locomotives and 113 new rail cars. It’s running new classes for engineers with 100 due to graduate by the end of the year. This summer’s crunch is still complicated by engineers calling out on family leave.
“Until we get about another 40 engineers, we’re going to struggle,” said NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett. “We’re still short, and that’s where you see these, so we’re trending in the right direction but a long way to go.”
The operating budget relies on a hefty $460 million transfer from its capital budget and requires no fare increase this fiscal year. It also includes an extra $75 million from the state budget, $50 million of it unasked for from the Legislature.
“I hope the media today get all over you guys about the 50 million bucks. Now you didn’t ask for the 50 million bucks, but you got it. The simple question is, what are you going to do with it?” said Joseph Clift, former planning director for the Long Island Rail Road.
It will help accelerate engineer training and the hiring of more transit cops. And $8 million of it will finance bus transportation for the American Dream megamall in the Meadowlands — including express service to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and shuttles, but no rail-spur service yet.
“There is a master agreement with the state and with the Sports Authority and we are part of providing that service, but we’re working with them and with other carriers and other options … so they have a comprehensive plan that they’re coming up with. We’re part of that, but we’re not the whole plan,” said Corbett.
The agency is also renegotiating its contract with Parsons, the contractor installing positive train control, but NJ Transit didn’t provide figures or details, fueling more frustration among advocates.
“Unfortunately, there’s been precious little information disseminated from this agency, and the lack of transparency is frightening,” said Randy Glucksman, a member of the MTA Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee.
NJ Transit board chair and Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti welcomed all the comments.
“We’ve had far more successful years than not. We are working hard to make sure that we get back to that place, and I think that it is on our horizon,” said Gutierrez-Scaccetti.
Advocates grant the agency is trying to turn things around, but they want more information, especially on how their money is being spent.