The heat wave has taken a toll on NJ Transit operations with sagging lines that other issues that have caused delays for riders. NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein said heat can be a real challenge for railroads. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the transportation company does everything it can to prepare for the heat. He also provided an update on repairs following Hurricane Sandy.
To make sure the company is prepared for sustained heat, Weinstein said, “On the part of the railroad that we’re responsible for, we’ve checked switches, we’ve checked signals, we’ve checked catenary. On the section that we own, that’s all newer than it is on the Northeast Corridor so it’s a little bit in better shape.”
Weinstein said NJ Transit knows passengers are also dealing with the heat and the company has made some changes to help them. At Hoboken Terminal, trains are boarding 20 minutes before departure. “Hoboken doesn’t have air conditioning in the terminal so folks are gonna be able to get onto the trains that are gonna be air conditioned. We’re doing the same thing at Port Authority Bus Terminal with the buses and we’re leaving the terminals open longer for folks so they can get out of the heat to some extent,” he explained.
Amtrak has imposed speed restrictions on rail lines that will remain in effect until the heat wave is over. Weinstein said it’s better to slow down, citing a fallen wire that caused delays on the Northeast Corridor line yesterday. He said NJ Transit recovered quickly considering the circumstances, but at its worst, delays were between one and two hours and some customers had to travel out of their way to return home.
Bus service hasn’t felt the same impact, according to Weinstein. “Our bus folks have done a really good job of checking out the equipment, making sure the air conditioning is working, doing everything they can to make sure that the equipment survives the heat,” he said.
Although motorists have seen an increase in gas prices, Weinstein said NJ Transit isn’t greatly affected because 60 to 70 percent of its fuel is hedged, which means there is a contract that caps the cost.
“We’ve actually done a very good job in the fiscal year that just ended and also in the coming year on making the kinds of hedge decisions. We have consultants who monitor that on a daily, and these days, on an hourly basis,” Weinstein said. “So we’re making the right decisions so we can make sure that we don’t have to pass those kinds of costs on to our passengers.”
The new NJ Transit capital and operating budgets have been approved without an increase in fares. Weinstein said he’s proud that the company is entering its fourth fiscal year without a fare increase. “When we had to raise the fares a number of years ago, we know it was hard and challenging but we had no choice,” he said. “But I think we’ve done a terrific job, if i do say so myself, of managing our finances and managing our budget and making sure that our customers aren’t getting socked with another fare increase.”
NJ Transit took a big hit from Hurricane Sandy, both to stations and equipment. Weinstein said some of that still lingers. The main waiting room and restrooms at Hoboken Terminal are being worked on, but still not finished. Weinstein expects the restrooms to reopen in another month to six weeks. He said the equipment is coming back from upstate New York, where it’s being repaired and re-manufactured, more quickly than anticipated. Some trains are running with seven cars instead of eight, which he said creates some discomfort.
“But the truth is we’re running a service that provides people with the ability to get where they want, when they want and nobody is left without a ride,” Weinstein said.