NJ Transit cuts service, fares to meet PTC installation deadline

NJ Transit technicians are hard at work installing components of positive train control to meet the federally mandated year-end deadline.

“At this point, I’m really confident we’ll get there,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett.

Corbett says when he came on board in February, the commuter rail line had completed 12 percent of the installation on hundreds of locomotives and control cars. With 14-plus weeks to go, he says PTC installation tops 66 percent. Installation is taking place at three facilities — two shifts of 30 to 40 workers — and there are plans to add a third shift.

“We still have a lot more work cut out for us over the next three months. Today, we’re announcing a final series of schedule changes, that I hate to have to make, but are absolutely necessary,” he said.

To finish the job, NJ Transit plans to discontinue 18 trains from mid-October to mid-January.

“If there were any other path to achieve this goal, I assure you we would have taken it,” Corbett said.

The transit agency knows the change will mean more commuters on fewer trains, but says its computer modeling shows no train should be overcrowded. For now, it’s lowering fares by 10 percent across the board for the same period.

“I believe it’s our turn to give back to our rail customers,” Corbett said.

Do the announced changes mean the end of the line for sudden and sporadic cancellations that plagued service this summer?

“We’re scaling back so annulments will be very rare, except due to mechanical or with this revised schedule,” Corbett said.

Corbett says roughly 140 trains are back on the rails — PTC equipped, but not in PTC mode. He says all trains put on the rails must have and be in PTC mode for the whole system to take advantage of responding to another train’s speed.

“And if it goes a little bit over, there’s a cautionary. If it passes the next signal on the track, that’ll send a signal to the mainframe saying this train is going too fast and it will override the engineer. Even if the engineer is putting it in full throttle, it’ll automatically brake it. So you don’t want one doing it and the train behind it not doing it,” said Corbett.

The railroad industry, the government, and transportation advocates are all on board with PTC and what the automatic-braking system is capable of doing — stopping and slowing trains, even remotely, to prevent accidents, injuries and death on the rails.

The rail line showed the media the equipment it’s installing on board. They showed various areas of planned improvements, including a crash-hardened event recorder that’s being installed on every PTC piece of equipment to capture event data.

“Some of our vehicles date back to the 1960s and 1970s and we’re installing new computer systems on these vehicles,” said Eric Daleo, assistant executive director of capital programs and planning at NJ Transit. “In the front it’s not yet installed, but there’s going to be a new speed display unit for the engineer.”

NJ Transit calls it labor-intensive work. It made an agreement in 2011 to install PTC, seven years later it says it’s on track to meet the year-end deadline.