Lawmakers Hold Public Hearing on NJ Transit Operations

Last September an NJ Transit train barreled into the Hoboken terminal at the height of rush hour, killing one person and injuring 114 others. Today another public hearing aimed at improving NJ Transit operations. NJTV News Correspondent Brenda Flanagan was in Hackensack.

Flanagan: We’re live in Hackensack. Behind me you can see the public hearing going on before a joint committee of the Assembly and the Senate. In the wake of that terrible train crash in Hoboken, the lawmakers are looking at ways to improve NJ Transit safety, its service and its operations. Now investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board determined the train was going too fast and the engineer suffered from sleep apnea. One of the victims of the crash actually testified just a few moments ago. He asked why did it happen, how did it happen and who should be held accountable so that it never happens again? Now, the executive director for the agency has said it’s starved for cash, it’s not maintaining its equipment. That leads to frequent breakdowns. And lawmakers here today have talked about lack of funding.

Sen. Bob Gordon: Part of the problem is clearly tied to funding. And we look forward with anticipation of Gov. Christie’s budget speech on Tuesday. Since the beginning of the Christie administration, state subsidy to New Jersey Transit’s operating budget has plunged by approximately 90 percent. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign reports a 20 percent drop in infrastructure investment over the last 15 years. The diversion of funds from capital projects to day-to-day operations has become the norm. The fatal accident at Hoboken underscores the need for us to understand what has led to the deteriorating performance of New Jersey Transit. And as legislators, it is our responsibility to fix it.

Janna Chernetz, Tri-State Transportation Campaign NJ Policy Director: I think the biggest focus, and the most important role the Legislature can play moving forward is really shoring up New Jersey Transit’s operating budget because that’s going to also shore up their capital budget. Because as Sen. Gordon talked about, this over reliance on capital to operating transfers. It’s robbing the budget, it’s robbing the agency and it’s robbing the state.

Flanagan: Now lawmakers will be paying particular attention this coming Tuesday to Gov. Christie’s budget message to see how much money he allocates to NJ Transit as Sen. Loretta Weinberg has stated, money isn’t everything, but it sure helps.