Murphy formally introduces NJ Transit leader

Gov. Phil Murphy announced his choice to lead New Jersey Transit, Kevin Corbett, against the backdrop of the train platform at the New Brunswick station Tuesday.

Murphy’s pick, first reported by ROI-NJ, signals a shift in the way the new governor aims to run the transit organization. From one struggling to survive amid bad leadership and inefficient revenue collection, the new governor and his transportation appointees intend to transfrom NJ Transit into a well-run business.

“In a state full of tough jobs, Kevin is certainly taking on one of the toughest,” Murphy said. “Turning around NJ Transit and making it a system that commuters can rely on for safe, convenient and on-time travel. Unfortunately, right now, commuters don’t consider NJ Transit any of those things.”

Murphy reiterated a point made on the campaign trail: Considering New Jersey’s location and density, transit is one thing the state would have gotten right.

“Starting today, we will no longer look at NJ Transit within a frame as merely being a collection of trains and buses, but rather as a broader, integral part of our state’s economic future and the means through which we can build stronger and fairer communities.”

Murphy’s nominee for transportation commissioner, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, is awaiting confirmation from the Senate, and Corbett will need to be approved by the NJ Transit board.

Corbett currently serves as vice president of cross services at AECOM, one of the world’s largest transportation and infrastructure companies, according to a statement from Murphy.

At AECOM, Corbett has had an oversight role on critical projects including Amtrak’s Gateway Project, the first phase of New York City’s Second Avenue Subway project, work on New York Penn Station, and PATH restoration after Superstorm Sandy, the statement said.

“I think my breadth of experience is very applicable,” Corbett told reporters after the announcement.

As a frequent commuter of the Morris/Essex line, and with his wife a frequent commuter on the Northeast Corridor line, Corbett said he knows firsthand what the system needs.

Looking through the new lens of someone who could lead the system, Corbett said equipment challenges are among the first that need to be tackled.

“Whether it be cars, doors that don’t shut, those kinds of issues,” he said.

Murphy said that, despite his only being in office two weeks — and without much of his cabinet confirmed — his administration has already taken steps to address the negative reports on NJ Transit.

First, the audit of the system, which the governor called for; and, second, the change in leadership should get the ball rolling.

Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the audit is a key benchmark to create a plan of action.

“That’s not something that happens overnight,” she said. “We have some suggestions that we would like to bring to the governor to make immediate changes to daily service, and do some immediate remediation on train sizes on capacity, so that folks aren’t waiting on platforms or perhaps having to be in crowded cars. These are simple steps; please don’t expect we are going to come up with these once a week.”

She added that there will be some easier short-term goals as well as some long-term goals that the department of transportation will identify.

One problem the trio is aware of is accountability.

That includes reports of delays in the implementation of Positive Train Control, a federally mandated change to help reduce train crashes and derailments, and finding areas of human error such as leaving lights on overnight, which drains the battery, or leaving non-operating train car doors open when there is a chance of inclement weather, Corbett said.

“It’s not a matter of playing gotcha, it’s about getting it right, so you get more equipment out and get reliability (of the train schedule) back up,” Corbett said.

(READ MORE from ROI-NJ on the selections of Kevin Corbett and Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.)

Murphy also tied in climate change to the argument for improving NJ Transit, and that a better running commuter system can reduce pollution — a conversation he said he has had over the years with Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

“It’s a huge weapon to fight back against climate change,” Murphy said. “Having a well-functioning transit system gives us a weapon in that fight that we need that we don’t have at the moment.”

He said the state should start measuring the success of the system based on actual improvements rather than continuing to celebrate the lack of further failures — such as the state’s ranking of second in the nation, rather than first, of breakdowns, and holding steady at No. 6 in bus breakdowns in the nation.

“Starting today, we will begin to measure success by actually getting better, not because NJ Transit didn’t get any worse,” he said.

For ROI-NJ’s latest updates on Phil Murphy’s cabinet picks, click here.