NJ Transit rail rider Sharon Seymore can tell you about her commute, assuming her train actually shows up.
“It’s the worst. It’s like you’re packed sardines! Ever see that cartoon and everybody’s standing together like this? Yeah. That’s how it is,” she said.
“Commuters cannot wait on platforms for trains that never come, or suffer overcrowding on the ones that do come. The public deserves immediate relief to help ease their commuting headaches,” said Gov. Phil Murphy.
To ease commuters’ pain, the Murphy administration announced NJ Transit will be putting 40 more passenger cars back on the tracks, that after an equipment tally showed a serious shortage.
“What we learned coming in is we were about 37 cars short of being able to provide what would be full daily service. And that’s 37, exactly. That doesn’t count the number that we would like to have available to us if we have a breakdown,” noted the Acting Commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.
Where to scrounge extra cars? NJ Transit had 20 sitting idle in a rail yard awaiting testing after they’d been outfitted with the new safe braking technology called Positive Train Control.
“They don’t need to stay there and wait, so they are going back into service. As of this morning, 12 of the 20 are back in. The idea here, obviously, is to increase capacity and allow our commuters to sit down on the train,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.
NJ Transit will also lease 20 more passenger cars from the Maryland Transit Administration. The railroad’s also ordering extra parts to boost inventory, and fast-tracking repair schedules to clear maintenance backlogs.
“Getting the maintenance, the electrical, the signal people, so a lot of things. If doors don’t work on cars or other issues that are holding cars back — having a schedule, having extra shifts, getting people to get those cars out,” said the recently-confirmed executive director of NJ Transit Kevin Corbett.
The Christie administration starved NJ Transit’s operating budget for years and Murphy, only days after his inauguration, ordered a thorough audit of the beleaguered agency. That’s ongoing. NJ Transit’s still unsure it can meet the federal December deadline to install Positive Train Control systemwide, and it’s starting to hire new employees.
“These steps are not going to solve remotely every problem at NJ Transit. There remains the need for long-term managerial and operational reforms, and a new financial mindset, both within the agency and the State House that values investment in mass transit. But at the least, these steps should help begin to alleviate some of the immediate concerns and greatest headaches for commuters,” said Murphy.
How much will all this cost? Well, transit officials say they’re swapping a locomotive for the 20 cars to be leased from Maryland, but there’s no dollar figure for the other items. And NJ Transit’s budget for the next fiscal year is still under construction.