NJ Transit and union representatives said Thursday they continue to make progress towards averting a strike but officials will begin working behind the scenes on Friday to prepare for a possible system shutdown next week.

NJ Transit special labor counsel Gary Dellaverson said told reporters gathered Thursday afternoon in Newark that there was  "nothing valuable to report" other than that both sides had spent the morning working on the numbers and language in the proposals.

"As long as it feels like we are making progress" both sides will continue to talk, even through the weekend, Dellaverson said.

"Elements of a shutdown not visible to commuters" could begin as early as Friday according to Dellaverson.

Dellaverson said he is confident both sides will reach an agreement.

Talks resumed Thursday in Newark following a day off to review offers. Dellaverson said before the meetings began that although the sides didn't agree on the issues, he was optimistic because the tone of the meetings has been positive.

"The last day or two have been characterized by reasonable progress, mostly in the way of tone and tenor. Having done this a lot, I can say that tone and tenor can have a lot to do with closing the gap."

Key issues dividing labor and management are wage increases, health care costs and the length of the contract. Two emergency federal labor boards convened by President Barack Obama over the last several months leaned toward the unions' proposals, but NJ Transit rejected those recommendations as too costly for the agency to absorb without another fare increase. NJ Transit has raised fares twice in the last six years.

Both sides on Wednesday sniped about how service would end if a strike comes to pass. The union also accused NJ Transit of overblowing the possible strike by use of the words "Critical Service Advisory" on the website and in material related their contingency plan in the event of a strike.

“We had hoped to have some meetings with NJ Transit to have an orderly shutdown,” but those meetings didn’t go as planned, said Stephen Burkert, chairman of SMART, a coalition of unions involved in the negotiations.

Trains couldn’t be stopped cold right at the strike deadline at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, Burkert said, but would have to be gradually taken out of service. Otherwise, equipment — and, more important, passengers — would be left in the wrong places.

Martin said that won’t happen.

“We have contingencies that would prevent anybody from getting stranded,” he said.

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