Governor tells NJ Transit commuters there’s light at the end of the tunnel

It says a lot about the current state of affairs at NJ Transit–that just getting all its trains out on the tracks is considered a good day. But NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett, and his boss, Gov. Phil Murphy, were at the NJ Transit Training Facility in Newark Thursday to showcase the new training classes of operators and engineers that are making their way to roads and rails, and, theoretically making long delays and canceled trains a thing of the past.

“The locomotive engineering training program has six concurrent classes in session, made up of 102 trainees, which is a record number of classes running at the same time,” Murphy said.

The governor says NJ Transit also hired 386 new bus operators in 2018. It’s good news for an agency that he says had only 11 such classes over six years of the previous administration. The bad news? You’re going to have to wait. The first class won’t be graduating until May, the next two in October, so it’s going to be months before real relief arrives.

Transit advocate Janna Chernetz is generally behind the governor’s efforts at the agency, but her constituents are commuters.

“Well, the message to commuters is that we need to be patient, but you also need to be pushing NJ Transit hard to make sure that the reform efforts keep moving,” Chernetz said.

And that means more than just robust staffing. It means better communications, sleeker fleets and a less bloated bureaucracy. The governor says he feels your pain, even as he blames the other guy for it.

“For whatever the reason, NJ Transit was left at only about 85 percent of the full-staffing level necessary when we came in office to assure safe, regular and reliable service for its customers,” Murphy said.

But it’s this governor who’s in the driver’s seat now. And beginning with his first budget last year and the next one coming in March, Murphy’s going to own the broken agency and the fix for which commuters are clamoring.

The broader message from the governor is that even though the system isn’t where it needs to be, the fact that it’s now on the front burner of his administration should be seen as good news, even though real change is still way down the line.