By Erin Delmore
“They just don’t do right when the weather’s bad,” said Elizabeth resident Patricia Green.
NJ Transit looking to shore up its fleet — and maybe also its reputation — before Old Man Winter hops on board.
“They’re cool in the summertime, but in the wintertime, very bad. Very bad,” Green said.
The agency says supplies are stocked and equipment is ready, including a snow eater capable of clearing an entire yard’s worth of railway switches at record speed.
“NJ Transit is well prepared to meet whatever may come our way,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro.
Newly-installed Executive Director Santoro ticked off the agency’s list of what it takes to keep the system up and running when the temperatures drop way down.
“Crews have been put out inspecting and winterizing the rail cars and locomotives as well as inspecting hundreds of switching and switch heaters. Bus maintenance personnel have checked heating and fluids in more than 2,000 buses. This year we have 90 tons of bulk salt on standby across the state and 100 bags of salt for our bus garages. Light rail crews have been out inspecting the infrastructure and vendor contracts have been finalized to perform blowing of large park and ride facilities and lots,” he said.
All the locomotives have snow blowers to clear the rails, but today, the transit system showed off the big guns.
NJ Transit has two snow jet blowers, one in Hoboken and one at the Meadowlands maintenance complex in Kearny. Powering this machine? The engine from a B-52 bomber.
“Their job is to blow snow from switches to prevent them from clogging and becoming stuck,” Santoro said.
“It puts out about 10,000 pounds of thrust, consumes around 250 gallons of kerosene. It does not move any faster than about 2 to 5 miles per hour,” said NJ Transit Vice President and General Manager of Rail Operations Robert Lavell.
The officials wouldn’t demo the “snow eater” — they said it makes a deafening sound. But in the pro column: it can clear one switch in just a few minutes. That job used to take hours by shovel. They said it could clear a whole yard in an eight-hour shift, a welcome assist to NJ Transit employees for almost 20 years now.
“Our dedicated employees work tirelessly during winter events to keep the system moving safely and efficiently. And while our goal is to keep it running as long as possible in difficult weather conditions, we will not sacrifice safety for expediency,” Santoro said.
The transit system — third largest in the nation — came under fire after a train car crashed in Hoboken 10 weeks ago. The agency’s gotten used to fielding questions about safety. Asked how winter prep has improved from years past, Santoro said, “I don’t know. It’s a good question because I’ve only been here for seven weeks.”
NJ transit says it’s modified a few pieces of equipment for the better — now, a filter keeps snow from falling into cars, something that used to be a recipe for shutdown. As for travel tips: check for alerts on njtransit.com, allow for extra travel time, watch out for slippery platforms and steps and report unsafe conditions to crews and staff.
Let’s throw in one more from a rider: “You know, you’ve just got to be patient and let them do what they have to do,” Trenton resident Quinten Moultrie said.