New Jersey Transit’s push to equip trains with the latest federally mandated safety technology is causing a new round of headaches and service changes this summer, once again testing the patience of the beleaguered agency’s daily commuters.
The latest NJ Transit service changes will include a planned halting of direct, single-seat trips into Manhattan on the popular Raritan Valley line, and the outright suspension of all service on the Atlantic City line, which is the only rail service that currently operates in that part of South Jersey.
The two changes, first announced by NJ Transit officials in a news release issued last week, are scheduled to begin next month and last at least through the end of the year. They follow other schedule adjustments that began in June that are impacting the Northeast Corridor, Morris & Essex, North Jersey Coast, and Pascack Valley lines. The same general explanation has been provided for all of the suspensions and adjustments: NJ Transit is installing federally mandated Positive Train Control equipment on its entire fleet and other infrastructure, which affects the agency’s available equipment and manpower.
“As we push to complete PTC installation, I ask for customers’ patience during this process as the end result is a safer railroad for everyone,” NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett said in a statement released yesterday.
Still, some lawmakers have faulted NJ Transit for not providing riders with more detailed information and explanations and they are calling for new hearings to scrutinize the agency’s latest issues. Also drawing some criticism is Gov. Phil Murphy, a first-term Democrat, as he has made improving NJ Transit, the nation’s largest statewide public-transportation system, a top priority.
, or PTC, is a GPS-based system of sensors installed along a stretch of track. The sensors collect and send information via radio signal to an operating station about train speed, areas sectioned off for construction, and other data.
If a train is moving too quickly or having trouble braking, onboard equipment in the locomotive is designed to slow or stop the train. The system uses highly technical equipment, including fiber-optic cables, and also requires specific training for engineers. Like other rail agencies, NJ Transit is working to meet anset by the federal government to either install the PTC equipment or meet the requirements necessary to get an extension.
“This is a critical mission we have before us,” NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said yesterday. “We are ramping up our PTC installation to meet some critical, federally mandated milestones.”
According to more detailed information released yesterday, NJ Transit is planning to suspend its off-peak direct service into Manhattan on thestarting on September 10.
The latest NJ Transit ridership figures show the Atlantic City line is the state’s least-used rail service, with an estimated 2,150 weekday passenger trips. By comparison, the Raritan Valley line sees over 20,000 weekday passenger trips, and the agency’s most popular service, the Northeast Corridor, has more than 120,000.
Meanwhile, some state lawmakers are calling for new public hearings to get more information out of NJ Transit, including an explanation for why these specific service changes are being made and what other options the agency reviewed before settling on them.
“How do they decide these things? They haven’t really answered that question,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, a Republican whose district is bisected by the Raritan Valley line.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature held hearings last year after a series ofservice changes were announced by the administration of then-Gov. Chris Christie. Those changes were made to accommodate Amtrak’s ongoing repair work inside Penn Station in New York and included a temporary suspension of direct service into New York for Morris & Essex line riders, who were instead diverted to Hoboken. The hearings followed other efforts by lawmakers to increase oversight of the transit agency in the wake of a at Hoboken Terminal in 2016, when Christie, a Republican, was still in office.
Munoz said that she and other Republican lawmakers who participated in the Democratic-led hearings took them seriously. It was unclear yesterday if any are being scheduled as the current legislative agenda includes no activity at all in the month of August.
In addition to the service changes brought on by the federal government’s PTC deadlines, Munoz said lawmakers need to get some explanation for the more recent train cancellations and delays that are apparently being caused by staff shortages and equipment problems at NJ Transit. Often announced with little to no notice, they are leaving passengers stuck in New York or left without a connection option to their home stations.
“This is definitely a bipartisan issue,” she said.