NJ Transit may try to push back positive train control deadline

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

NJ Transit officials promised no fare increases in fiscal year 2019 and better service, especially on buses, which carry 60 percent of its riders. It’s hiring 40 new drivers and expanding routes.

The bad news? Agency executives told Trenton lawmakers on Monday that NJ Transit’s seriously behind schedule installing the federally-mandated safety system called positive train control. It’s just 11 percent complete as of last December. NJ Transit reports that it’s doubled worksites and added shifts.

“We are moving along. We did our first testing of the first, what they call, revenue service segment from Morristown to Denville. Then on the cars, we’re ramping up on the car production, month by month,” NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said.

“What’s our next deadline on this really critical part of transit?” asked Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz. “The overall safety of commuters is really the ultimate goal.”

But NJ Transit officials wouldn’t say specifically what they’re doing. They might ask the Federal Railroad Administration to push the Dec. 31, 2018 deadline to 2020, using “alternative criteria.”

“It’s called the alternative plan and we are making that evaluation. But if we are going to go that way, we’ll have to move fairly quick on that,” Corbett said. “We are committed to making sure the FRA is comfortable and that we are in a position with the FRA to operate full service.”

But the FRA could decide that NJ Transit hasn’t done enough to qualify for a later deadline. That could get the agency heavily fined and its trains banned by Amtrak from using the Hudson tunnels into Penn Station.

NJ Transit officials also told Assembly Budget Committee members Monday they hired a consulting firm for $1.3 million to audit the agency, as ordered by the governor, and they expect a report by this fall. They will continue to add staff.

“One of the legacies of the chronic neglect and underfunding of NJ Transit over the past eight years is a shortage of staff in critical positions, in jobs that directly affect the customer experience,” Corbett said.

Meanwhile, the Motor Vehicle Commission reported it will request a second extension for producing the new, high-tech Real ID cards required by the federal government.

“This extension will not impact our internal sense of urgency to complete the Real ID project by the end of calendar year 2018, but it will allow us to do a full slate of testing and training prior to going live,” said Brenda “Sue” Fulton, acting chief administrator of the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission.

The MVC says overcrowding at some agencies will be relieved when two new facilities open this year.

Of course, NJ Transit’s ambitions depend on getting $242 million from Murphy’s budget, and that depends on New Jersey lawmakers approving his proposed tax increases.