State senator urges lifting residency requirement for train engineers

Rob Rosenberg was not expecting this to be NJ Transit’s summer of hell. Tweets notified commuters of canceled trains due to work to install positive train control to prevent accidents.

“Last summer they did a better job of predicting the problems as they were occurring so people could make their plans. They knew which trains were going to be canceled before that hour, and now it seems like it’s much more random,” said Rosenberg.

Another issue is last-minute cancellations due to too few engineers to operate the trains. Engineers can take an unscheduled leave with a minimum five-hour notice. A shortage of NJ Transit engineers leaves the commuter service with no one to substitute.

In a statement, NJ Transit said, “We anticipate a class graduating later this month will add nine engineers to the roster. … They can operate [trains] right after they graduate later this month. … In addition, we have increased the number of current classes to four, running concurrently with staggered graduation dates, to continue the qualification of new engineers. Next class starts in October, and then another class in December/January.”

NJ Transit said it’s short about 50 engineers. State senators say that’s intolerable.

“When you have an artificial limitation that says at this juncture you have to live in the state of New Jersey in order to apply. I think we should say, like most other transit systems do, they say let’s have an open opportunity for individuals to come service the people of New Jersey, and then also move to New Jersey because it’s a great state to live, work and raise a family,” Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. said.

The Senate president has been quoted as saying he’s unconvinced that residency rules have made the shortage of engineers worse. Some engineers have left to take higher-paying jobs at other transit agencies. The union representing engineers did not respond to requests for comment.

One commuter NJTV spoke with encountered a train cancellation two weeks ago. What is the biggest thing for NJ Transit to fix according to him?

“Probably adequate people, and also just making sure that the infrastructure, the actual equipment that they’re having, has the resources to maintain it,” Montclair resident Mike Baden-Campbell said.

Kean said, for politicians, this is no time for finger-pointing and the time for blame has passed.

He said, “Right now, we need to be together. Bipartisan basis — commuters, government employees alike — citizens saying we have to get this one right.”