NJ Transit behind in installing system wide positive train control

Like many of its trains, NJ Transit’s running late in installing positive train control, or PTC, an automatic braking safety system that investigators say might have prevented tragedies like the Hoboken train crash and other rail accidents. While NJ Transit’s positive train control compliance has improved a bit lately, it’s still in real danger of missing a federal deadline, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, or FRA. Riders are running out of patience.

“We pay so much to commute daily, and the positive train control is really vital for everyone’s safety. I don’t understand what the holdup is,” said North Brunswick resident Roxanne Ward.

“Well, I think they should’ve put it into effect a long time ago. It’s more than time to get it done,” said Nancy Robleski from Brick.

“The last three months, we’re like a racehorse coming up the end of the stretch and we’re working closely with Amtrak and FRA to make sure that we will be compliant,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett to the Senate Budget Committee in Trenton on May 1.

This week, the FRA released positive train control compliance figures that show NJ Transit had installed positive train control in only 35 out of 440 locomotives and cab cars through the end of March, built 37 of 124 radio towers, trained 172 of 1,100 employees and implemented PTC on zero of 326 miles of track.

Compare that to brand-new, year-to-date figures just offered by NJ Transit that show it has picked up the pace of positive train control installation with more cars and radio towers outfitted and more staff trained. The agency says it’s battling logistics on a complex railway.

“I’m not going to tell you that we’re going to get 440 cars done by October, but until we made room in the yards, it was really difficult for us to get cars in to outfit them for PTC,” said Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti at the same Senate Budget Committee hearing on May 1.

NJ Transit announced it’s reducing service on 18 trains to expedite installation and meet the Dec. 31 deadline. To request a final extension to 2020, NJ Transit would need to meet strict requirements, like getting PTC installed on 100 percent of its hardware. Currently, it’s at 13 percent, among the nation’s worst records for compliance, and may request special consideration by the FRA under so-called alternative criteria.

“That if you’re one car below that, or a few other things, there’s some variations, that as long as you have a clear path to being 100 percent compliant, up and running fully by the 2020 deadline, that they can work with you. So we are studying that option, as well,” Corbett said.

But riders don’t want to hear about extensions.

“No more extensions. They’ve gotten enough extensions,” said Tinton Falls resident Beth Roxbury. “We need to save lives.”

Amtrak has warned NJ Transit that if it doesn’t get PTC installed on deadline, it won’t let the agency use its tracks, including those that run under the Hudson to Penn Station.