‘No Way to Run a Railroad’ — Murphy to Purge NJ Transit Leadership
For a variety of reasons, the NJ Transit trains that thousands take to work are constantly late or getting canceled more often lately and nobody seems to be able to do anything about it.
Over the past week, hundreds of trains ran late or did not show up at all.
Even as temperatures climbed into the 40s, NJ Transit continued to blame train delays and cancellations on the earlier frigid weather.
A spokesman for the agency said in an email statement: “NJ Transit is currently working through a backlog of weather related equipment issues and is returning rail cars to service as quickly as possible.”
“It’s no way to run a railroad,” said state Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Bergen, the newly named chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, who blasted Gov. Chris Christie's administration for using the agency to award jobs to allies.
“There have been a good number of people who had connections to Gov. Christie or the Governor’s Office who got comfortable well-paid jobs — and we’re talking six figures. People who had no mass transit experience.”
Bloomberg News on Wednesday reported that Gov.-elect Phil Murphy is getting ready to "purge" NJ Transit of Christie's hires. The report said the incoming administration has asked the officials to resign.
Gordon said the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, which he chairs, and the Assembly Judiciary Committee have been holding a series of joint hearings over the past year to try and get to the bottom of what’s causing all of the problems and disruptions at NJ Transit and the steady deterioration of its service.
He pointed out one main reason for the deterioration of the agency is a lack of funding.
“Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a 90 percent reduction in the state subsidy for the operations of New Jersey Transit, and the impact has been primarily on the rail side as opposed to the bus side.”
He noted, “In the 1990s, New Jersey Transit was winning awards nationally for the quality of its service, on-time arrivals and safety, but today NJ Transit has the worst on-time record and worst safety record of any mass transit system in the country.”
He said this lacking of funding means there’s “less money to pay for staff or at least it’s more difficult to compete with other regional railroads in terms of salaries.”
It also means “inadequate funding of maintenance, not enough money going into new capital equipment, new locomotives, new cars, repairing the tracks and the stations.”
On top of that, Gordon said another big problem is people are retiring and are not being replaced, and “experienced personnel, locomotive engineers, maintenance supervisors, are getting hired away by Metro North and other regional systems because they’re getting 20 percent higher salaries.”
He pointed out that means “you don’t have the staff to get crews together, and that accounts for a lot of these trains that are just not being able to meet their schedule.”
“It means equipment isn’t being maintained. There are over 200 vehicles in the maintenance yards, I’m told, and I believe that’s because they just don’t have enough people to do the regular maintenance.”
Gordon added when you don’t do proper and regular maintenance, it can cause all sorts of problems.
“As we saw last week, a train is coming out of the tunnel and going at full speed and the door opens.”
Gordon said there is no quick fix for these serious problems and “our ridership is going to have to be patient. I know that’s a tough message to deliver, but people should realize policymakers in Trenton know what a profound impact this is having on their quality of life.”
He said he believes fixing NJ Transit is at the top of Gov.-elect Murphy’s priority list but “it’s going to take a while to turn this around.”
A spokesman for Christie did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Late Wednesday, a spokesperson for NJ Transit declined to comment on Gordon’s statements.