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Frustrations over NJ Transit cancellations boil over at meeting

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“This has not only been a result of taking equipment out of service for PTC but also has been the culmination of years of underinvestment, which has compounded issues such as staffing levels,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett.
“This has not only been a result of taking equipment out of service for PTC but also has been the culmination of years of underinvestment, which has compounded issues such as staffing levels,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett. - ()

Amid a spate of unplanned New Jersey Transit cancellations, riders voiced their frustrations at a Wednesday meeting.

Appearing at NJ Transit’s monthly board of trustees meeting, New Jersey Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-21st District, spoke on behalf of constituents who reached out to her about NJ Transit’s “poor service.”

“We understand that New Jersey Transit faces challenges but it is unacceptable that they are met with last-minute cancellations and delays,” Munoz said. “When New Jersey Transit fails to plan, everyone’s plans suffer and the problems ripple through the days from businesses opening late, meetings being cancelled and children being left at day care after hours. It upends their entire lives. There have to be better options than cancelling trains at the last minutes. Yes, you must deploy [positive train control], but New Jersey Transit has had years to plan.

“Where is that plan for New Jersey Transit? This is simply an unacceptable excuse for cancelling trains.”

NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett acknowledged the cancellations have wreaked havoc with commuters’ travel plans.

“We’ve not been able to dependably offer the level of service that we had hoped for during our [positive train control] installation,” he said.

Positive train control or PTC, is a system of functional requirements for monitoring and controlling train movements.

“This has not only been a result of taking equipment out of service for PTC but also has been the culmination of years of underinvestment, which has compounded issues such as staffing levels,” Corbett continued. “Unfortunately, these are issues that won’t be solved overnight.”

NJ Transit has installed PTC on 58 percent of trains and to continue at this pace, “we will unfortunately have to make additional service adjustments,” he said.

“It is like taking Normandy but there is a long way to go to reach Berlin,” Corbett said.

It takes 18 months to 24 months to train an engineer, he noted, adding the number of training classes has been increased from two to four.

“We are incentivizing current conductors to become engineers,” he said.

About 1,029 Transit employees have been trained on PTC technology.

David Peter Alan, chair of rider advocacy group Lackawanna Coalition, said he has ridden the Morris and Essex Line for more than 60 years.

“Our transit has never been worse,” Alan said. “On weekends we have been forced to endure gaps of two, three and four hours. You motorists are not affected by this. You interfere with our lives and that is absolutely unacceptable.”

Rider advocate Joe Clift requested NJ Transit publish a weekly report on the progress of PTC installation and publish a white paper to show how it will meet a Dec. 31 deadline. 

“If you cut service twice, it looks like you do not know what you are doing,” Clift said. “What you are doing today is the worst possible thing.”

Clift asked Transit to publish a forecast of cancelled trains after Labor Day and abide by it.  

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David Hutter

David Hutter


David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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