Rather than wait for the results from an audit and performance review of New Jersey Transit, Gov. Phil Murphy directed acting Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti to begin working on short-term relief efforts.
“We understand the increased frustrations rail commuters have been feeling the past several weeks, and this plan will start providing them with some relief in the short term,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “I want to assure customers that this is just the beginning of our effort to restore NJ Transit to the national transportation leader it has been in the past.”
The impact will mostly be on overcrowding issues.
This will be achieved in a number of ways:
- Finalizing an agreement to lease rail cars from regional transit providers to immediately reduce equipment shortages.
- Regular rolling stock inspections by agency maintenance crews will be accelerated by outsourcing repair work to be performed by the vendor. Inspection scheduling is under review to maximize the available fleet for daily service.
- Meeting with parts suppliers to explore incentives and other options to reduce ordering lead times, while NJ Transit will also increase its inventory of known long-lead parts, such as rail car couplers. New processes will be pursued to ensure parts are delivered before they are needed to avoid rail cars being taken out of revenue service and not being able to meet scheduled service.
- Accelerating hiring and pre-employment tests will be held more frequently, and candidate pool sizes will be increased for electricians and other skilled maintenance and operations employees, who are critical to railyard logistics and equipment maintenance.
- NJ Transit will retain outside professional services to assist rail operations in evaluating internal processes to monitor and manage equipment levels needed for service.
Some of the issues are already being addressed:
- Twenty cars awaiting Positive Train Control equipment (to help avert crashes) will be returned to revenue service as passenger cars only (not as engine control cab cars) to provide additional seating capacity. Five cars have returned to service as of Feb. 5, with the remaining 15 cars returning within the coming weeks.
- Human resources recently held a successful “speed-hiring” event for rail electricians on Feb. 3 at Bergen Community College. The event attracted approximately 400 applicants: 232 were immediately tested for the positions of electrician/lineman, signal maintainer and communications trainee. Tests will be scored quickly, with personal interviews scheduled and offers extended within the coming days.
Last month, Murphy called for the pending audit, as well as announced the new head of NJ Transit, Kevin Corbett, who was approved Wednesday by the board.
At the event announcing Corbett’s new role, Gutierrez-Scaccetti hinted at immediately beginning work on some items.
“These are the changes that we can take today to begin to alleviate the constant stress and anxiety experienced by NJ Transit riders associated with catching their trains,” Murphy said. “While the audit is a vital step toward ensuring that NJ Transit becomes a world-class transportation agency, these changes will start to help riders in the short and long term and provide relief for the hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans who use NJ Transit every day.”
NJ Transit has experienced shortages of rail equipment due to a number of issues, including the availability of long-lead and custom manufactured replacement parts, and the ongoing installation of Positive Train Control. This has resulted in trains operating with fewer cars than usual with commuters experiencing overcrowded conditions.