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Governor announces NJ Transit commuter relief plan

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Acting Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti today announced a plan they say will provide NJ Transit commuters with short and long-term relief from rail car shortages and overcrowded conditions.
NJ Transit has experienced rail equipment shortages due to a number of issues, including the availability of manufactured replacement parts and the ongoing installation of positive train control, an advanced system designed to automatically stop a train before certain accidents occur such as collisions, derailments caused by excessive train speed, and train movements through misaligned track switches.This shortage of parts and installation of positive train control have resulted in trains operating with fewer cars than usual, with commuters experiencing overcrowded conditions, officials said.
The commuter relief plan will carry out the following changes at NJ Transit in the coming weeks:
  • Twenty cars awaiting positive train control equipment will be returned to service as passenger cars only (not as engine control cab cars) to provide additional seating capacity. Five cars were returned to service as of Monday, Feb. 5, with the remaining fifteen cars returning within the coming weeks.
  • NJ Transit is finalizing an agreement to lease rail cars from regional transit providers in Maryland to immediately reduce equipment shortages.
  • Regular rolling stock inspections by agency maintenance crews will be accelerated by outsourcing repair work to be performed by the vendor. Inspection scheduling is under review to maximize the available fleet for daily service.
  • NJ Transit representatives are meeting with parts suppliers to explore incentives and other options to reduce order lead times, while NJ Transit will also increase its inventory of known “long-lead parts,” such as rail car couplers. New processes will be pursued to ensure parts are delivered before they are needed to avoid rail cars being taken out of service and not being able to meet scheduled service, officials said.
  • Hiring will be accelerated, pre-employment tests will be held more frequently, and candidate pool sizes will be increased for electricians and other skilled maintenance and operations employees, who are critical to rail yard logistics and equipment maintenance. The state recently held a successful “speed-hiring” event for rail electricians on Saturday, Feb. 3, at Bergen Community College. The event attracted approximately 400 applicants.
  • NJ Transit will hire an outside professional services  consultant to assist rail operations in evaluating internal processes to monitor and manage equipment levels needed for service.
“These are the changes that we can take today to begin to alleviate the constant stress and anxiety experienced by NJ Transit riders associated with catching their trains,” Murphy said. “While the audit is a vital step toward ensuring that NJ Transit becomes a world-class transportation agency, these changes will start to help riders in the short and long term and provide relief for the hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans who use NJ Transit every day.”
Last month, Murphy ordered an audit and performance review of NJ Transit and directed Gutierrez-Scaccetti to find and begin implementing immediate improvement. The short-term changes will be enacted before long-term improvements and audit recommendations can be phased in, officials said.
“We understand the increased frustrations rail commuters have been feeling the past several weeks and this plan will start providing them with some relief in the short term,” said Gutierrez-Scaccetti. “I want to assure customers that this is just the beginning of our effort to restore NJ Transit to the national transportation leader it has been in the past.”

Gutierrez-Scaccetti told reporters she “can’t answer and won’t answer what happened in the past” in terms of the parts and labor issues. “We’re doing a lot to increase hiring,” she said. “There is a high turnover rate in certain jobs. We can put all the train cars out there want, but if don’t have the folks to operate the trains, it doesn’t matter…a few weeks – takes time – adding cars every day. Our hiring  goal here is to get things back on track. We don’t have that pool (of employees) today. To get all the scheduled trains to work over the long holiday, we need to  get folks who are scheduled to work to come to work. We don’t have the bench to turn to if people call out.”

She said things won’t change over night, and that on-time performance and more seating capacity will take time.

Murphy said his administration inherited a squad that finished in last place last year. “We won’t get to the World Series right away,” he said, adding that properly funding NJ Transit after the budget cuts under the Christie administration is a very high priority.