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'PTC has sucked the air out of the room,' Corbett tells Meadowlands chamber

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Kevin Corbett, executive director of New Jersey Transit, speaks Dec. 7 at a Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce event.
Kevin Corbett, executive director of New Jersey Transit, speaks Dec. 7 at a Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce event. - ()

Echoing comments made earlier this week, New Jersey Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said Friday the state was “95 percent complete” with the installation of positive train control technology on the system’s trains.

When Corbett took office in January, he said NJ Transit had installed PTC on just 12 percent of trains.

“We had to complete four years of work in less than one year and will complete another four years of work in less than two years to have PTC fully operational by Dec. 31, 2020,” Corbett told a gathering of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce at the Renaissance Meadowlands Hotel. He spoke two days after he, Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti provided a similar update.

Murphy ordered an overhaul of NJ Transit after taking office in January and appointed Corbett and Gutierrez-Scaccetti to their respective posts. Corbett detailed parts of the 158-page audit report commissioned by the governor on how to fix NJ Transit’s shortcomings.

“Transportation is critical,” Corbett said. “Many of you saw that Gov. Murphy launched a new transportation initiative to better meet customers’ needs by improving announcements and on-board experiences. … This includes better social media engagements. We will implement new initiatives.”

New Jersey Transit is installing a federally mandated emergency braking system called positive train control, or PTC. This system uses a series of sensors that automatically stop trains in the event of operator error.

“PTC has sucked the air out of the room,” Corbett said, referring to its being a priority. “… What caused PTC to become federal legislation was a terrible crisis: derailments in California and Philadelphia.”

Under NJ Transit’s new “Engage. Inform. Improve” campaign, the agency will be dedicated to an “improved customer experience” for its commuters, Corbett said. He described improvements as ongoing.

“We are improving communications with our customers,” he said. “To that end, we have consolidated a fragmented communication structure. In the era of Twitter, you have only a few minutes to get information out.”

NJ Transit has been plagued by a lack of engineers, resulting in a slew of cancellations. It has responded by increasing the number of training classes from one per year to four, Corbett said.

The transit system has also hired more than 300 bus operators and taken delivery of 145 new buses.

Jim Kirkos, CEO of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, said his organization represents about 1,200 companies that collectively represent 140,000 employees. They use NJ Transit and drive on New Jersey highways, so “transportation issues are of utmost importance.”

“About every single business member of the chamber of commerce is effected by mobility,” Kirkos said. “Our advocacy, which is a major part of what we do, focuses on economic development: transportation investment and mobility. Bringing in Kevin Corbett to talk about transportation with our members is an important information exchange. My job is to educate our members about what is ahead. We are advocates.”

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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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