New Jersey's U.S. senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, have urged the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate safety concerns at NJ Transit, and whether adequate funding is a factor, according to reporting by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media (nj.com) and printed in the Star-Ledger (Oct. 20). The senators cited a high accident rate at NJT, and a recent Federal Railroad Administration investigation of NJT. Higgs' article cited a recent investigation of NJT by the New York Times, which revealed that over seven years NJT paid $465,000 in fines to cover 76 "major safety violations." This was more in fines than the other two New York area transit operators, Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road, paid combined.
NJ Transit has announced that all Hoboken tracks will be back in service for the morning commute on Monday, Oct. 17, except Tracks 5 and 6, where the Sept. 29 crash occurred. A regular full service will be offered), restoring missing trains from the Morristown, Gladstone, Montclair-Boonton, Main, and Pascack Valley Lines. As reconstruction work continues, service from tracks 1-4 will be accessed via the PATH entrance concourse; tracks 7 and above will be accessed via the main terminal waiting room.
The Hoboken ticket office, which was close to the crash site and has been closed, reopened on Saturday, Oct. 14.
NJT has posted the weekday schedules in effect as of October 17 here, in PDF form. For most lines, the schedules restore the pre-Sept. 29 schedules in effect May 15, 2016. However, new schedules have been issued for the North Jersey Coast Line and the Pascack Valley Line. For the NJCL, it appears there are minor changes in timing for a few trains, and information about day-before-Thanksgiving getaway trains has been added. On the PVL, all trains seem to be operating, but riders should obtain the new PDF in case there are timing changes. (An early version of the PDF omitted evening peak Metro-North express train 1069; this was an error and the PDF has been reissued with the train restored.) Note that midday weekday busing remains in effect for the PVL north of New Bridge Landing, and for the Raritan Valley Line west of Raritan.
According to a preliminary report released on October 13 by the National Transportation Safety Board, the brakes on the NJ Transit train that crashed at the Hoboken terminal on September 29 were operating properly, apparently eliminating one possible cause of the wreck, which injured many passengers and killed a bystander in the station. Previously, the investigators reported that the train engineer had no memory of the wreck; "black box" data revealed that the train had been operating within speed limits as it entered the station, but then the throttle was advanced and the train accelerated until just before impact, when the throttle was shut off and emergency brakes applied, too late to avoid the crash. Further tests may be required, as some of the electronics that control the brakes were destroyed in the crash.
Reporting by National Public Radio is here.
According to reporting here by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media (nj.com), the NJ Transit Board announced on October 13 the appointment of a new Executive Director. It's an internal appointment: Stephen Santoro, currently Deputy Executive Director for Capital Projects and Programming. Santoro, a 16-year NJT veteran, had held the capital planning job for nine years, overseeing major NJT projects including Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. The appointment would fill a vacancy left by the departure of Veronique Hakim, who left in December, 2015 to head the New York City transit system. About six months ago, a former Amtrak executive, William Crosbie, backed out of taking the job after first apparently having accepted the position. Temporarily, the executive director job had been filled by NJT veteran Dennis Martin, whose regular job is to head the agency's bus division.
Santoro was immediately given marching orders by his boss, Acting Commissioner of Transportation Richard Hammer, who asked for reports on the status of the implementation of Postive Train Control (PTC), and also on the status of storm-resiliency-improvement projects. Some feel that PTC might have prevented the fatal train crash in September at NJT's Hoboken terminal.
Gov. Christie and state legislators have cut the state's subsidy to NJ Transit, but somehow NJT has "made do" in a "shell game," according to reporting by Mike Vilensky, Andrew Tangel, and Ted Mann, with contributions by Kate King, in the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 8-9). NJT managers have appealed for more money for years, but the Christie administration's response has been to cut, cut, cut the state's subsidy, from $285 million in 2012 to $33 million in 2016. How has NJT kept the system running? By financial legerdemain, such as diverting money from other state resources such as the NJ Turnpike Authority and the state's clean energy fund. And fares were raised twice on Christie's watch, most recently 9% last year. Critics say these are short term solutions that cannot work in the long term, and reflect a "weak commitment by Mr. Christie to the transit system." The critics include Assembly transportation committee head John Wisniewski, who characterized the budget transfers as "temporary, one-shot fixes . . . those sources will dry up . . . when you don't have enough operational money, safety suffers." Analysts blame the decreasing transit funding on competing budget demands and Gov. Christie's commitment not to raise taxes. According to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign's Janna Chernetz, "they have had to resort to cannibalistic funding practices in order to keep the lights on and the wheels turning," noting that over six billion dollars have been diverted from capital funds to subsidize operating expenses. The NJT Board was scheduled to discuss the budget at its July meeting, but that meeting was cancelled and the board hasn't met since. People familiar with the board's thinking, the article says, blame the failure to meet in part on fear of confronting what look like a set of unappetizing options: service cuts, layoffs, or another fare hike.
A parallel story was reported in the New York Times (Oct. 14).
Analysis of "black box" and video camera information indicate that the NJ Transit train that crashed in Hoboken last week was traveling at 21 mph when it struck the bumper at the end of the track, smashed through it and ended up in a passenger concourse at the edge of the historic station building. The speed limit for trains entering the station is 10 mph. The train was traveling at only 8 mph, within the speed limit, as it entered the station; the engine's throttle was in the neutral or "idle" position at that time. But then the throttle was moved to an accelerate position, "Run 4," and remained in that position for about 38 seconds, while the train speed increased. Seconds before the impact the throttle ws returned to the idle position and emergency brakes applied, but it was too late to prevent the impact, which occurred at about 21 mph. The engineer says he has no recollection of the collision beyond normally entering the station. An account of the new information at northjersey.com is here.
The wrecked train has now been removed from the station, raising hopes of an early restoration of service into Hoboken.
In a related development, in the wake of the Hoboken crash, NJ Transit has tightened operating procedures for trains arriving at the terminal. The train conductor is now required to be in the operating cab along with the engineer as the train approaches the station. The new rule also applies to NJT's other major terminal in which all tracks end in bumpers, Atlantic City. It does not apparently apply at New York Penn Station, in which tracks 1-4, used by a significant fraction of NJT trains, also end in bumpers. The story was reported by Patrick McGeehan and Emma G. Fitzsimmons here in the New York Times (October 6).
The information that New Jersey Transit is providing on the "trip planner" feature of its web site and mobile app is incorrect. DepartureVision was also providing inaccurate information until very recently.
All of these sources give customers the impression that the "regular" weekday schedule is running on all lines, despite the total suspension of all trains to and from Hoboken (light rail and PATH trains, as well as buses are running normally). These sources do not mention the suspension of Hoboken trains, the week-end schedule for trains on historic Erie lines (Main-Bergen, Port Jervis or Pascack Valley), or the shuttle operation for trains west of Montclair State on the Montclair-Boonton Line and between Summit and Gladstone.
NJT lists "Alerts" on the site, which are accurate, but there is no conspicuous warning that the "trip planner" feature is incorrect.
The only trustworthy source of accurate information information from NJT web site, www.njtransit.com, is on the "Critical Service Advisory" panel in the middle of the home page. Clicking there directs riders to a daily update with a link to the temporary schedules currently in effect. That information is not available anywhere else at NJ Transit.
We have contacted NJT management in an effort to get this situation resolved. In the meantime, we suggest that you continue to check this site for current information.
In a deal announced Friday, Sept. 30, NJ Gov. Chris Christie and legislative leaders ended their impasse on transportation funding. The deal will increase the state's tax on gasoline by 23 cents per gallon, while reducing the state sales tax by one-eighth of one percent in 2017 and a further 1/4 of one percent in 2018, bringing the tax down to 6.625% at that point. The agreement also eliminates the estate tax, eases taxes on retirement income, creates a tax deduction for veterans, and increases the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income taxpayers. The package seems to have something for everyone, although the total three-eighths of one percent sales tax reduction falls short of the full one percent the Governor had demanded in exchange for the increase in the gas tax. Democrats said such a decrease would blow a big hole in the state's budget.
The gas tax increase is designed to replenish the state's Transportation Trust Fund; Gov. Christie said it would usher in a new era of $16 billion investment in the state's transportation infrastructure. The fund ran out of money months ago and work had been suspended on a long list of projects statewide, although "emergency" repairs could still move forward.
Reporting on the deal at nj.com by Samantha Marcus and Susan K. Livio can be found here.
In the wake of the fatal train crash at Hoboken on September 29, many speculated about how the crash could have been avoided. The New York Times, in an editorial the next day, focused on failure to install advanced safety technology, and particularly lack of support from New Jersey's government. While the cause of the crash has not been determined, many speculate that an advanced safety technology called Positive Train Control (PTC) might have prevented NJ Transit Train 1614 from running through its bumper, crashing into the historic Hoboken Terminal, killing one bystander and injuring more than 100, mostly on board the packed rush hour train.
Congress mandated PTC in a 2008 law, with a 2015 deadline for its installation; but most railroads failed to meet the deadline and, facing threats that nationwide freight and passenger trains would be shut down, Congress extended the deadline three years. According to the Times editorial, "Commuter train systems like New Jersey's have struggled in large part because state and federal governments have not provided enough money to help them buy the necessary equipment and software." In the case of NJT, says the Times, none of its trains or routes was equipped with PTC by the end of June, and it will cost $225 million to complete the PTC installation.
In New Jersey, the Times says, one cause is the "squabbling" in Trenton over how to fund the state's transportation needs. Republican Gov. Chris Christie is at loggerheads with the Democrat-controlled legislature; the Governor is willing to increase the state's gas tax, one of the lowest in the nation, but only if the Legislature agrees to decrease the state's sales tax, which legislative leaders say will blow a huge hole in the state's general budget. (Perhaps as a result of the Times editorial, state leaders reached agreement to end their impasse the same day. See above. - Ed.)
The Times points to "neglect and mismanagement of the mass transit system by Mr. Christie and other state leaders" which it said began long before the current gas tax standoff. Capital investment in the mass transit system fell 19% since 2002 even while ridership increased 20%. While train travel remains "incredibly safe," said the Times, reliability in New Jersey has suffered: the breakdown rate on NJT is four times that of Metro-North, and seven times that of the Long Island Rail Road, the other two suburban train operators in the New York area.
We at the Lackawanna Coalition were deeply saddened to learn about the accident this morning at Hoboken Terminal. We express our sympathy to the loved ones of the woman who was killed. We also express our hope that everyone who was injured in this unfortunate incident will have a speedy and complete recovery.
We consider Hoboken Terminal to be a very special place. Historically, it was the center or service on our heritage railroad, the Lackawanna Railroad. It is a beautiful and well-designed building that has served the riding public well for 109 years. It continues to do so, as a major terminal, alongside New York's Penn Station for Morris & Essex, Montclair-Boonton and Gladstone Line riders. We hope that the damaged roof will be replaced soon, that the building itself did not sustain significant damage, and that Hoboken will again be a fully-active rail transportation center again soon.
Rail travel, whether for commuting, occasional short trips or long distances on Amtrak, is the safest mode of transportation. We are saddened to learn of today's unfortunate accident, but we also understand that such accidents occur very rarely. We urge the riding public to continue to use and support New Jersey Transit's rail services, along with other transit in the region.
We congratulate all First Responders for their quick and helpful actions at the scene. We also compliment NJ Transit for restoring so much service so quickly. We understand that Hoboken Terminal will be out of service for awhile, and we are impressed that NJT managed to serve many Hoboken customers through the Secaucus Junction Station and with bus service to and from nearby Hoboken City Hall. We also commend the PATH system for having Hoboken service running again so quickly.
On Thursday, Sept. 29, an inbound train failed to stop at the bumping block at NJ Transit's Hoboken Terminal and crashed through the block, traveling another 50 feet or across pedestrian access space and stopping at the edge of the historic terminal building. One fatality was reported, and 108 injuries, some serious; most or all of the injuries were to passengers on the train, but the fatality was a woman on the station platform who was struck by debris. The New York Times identified the fatality as Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34, of Hoboken. The train was #1614, which originated at 7:23 a.m. at Spring Valley, N.Y. on the Pascack Valley line and was due at Hoboken at 7:38 a.m.; NJT said the crash occurred at 7:48. The train arrived on Track 5, and smashed through the busy passenger access area connecting most tracks, the ticket office, and the adjacent PATH rapid transit station.
NJ Gov. Christie and NY Gov. Cuomo participated in a 2 p.m. press conference; Gov. Christie emphasized that speculation about the cause and what might have prevented the crash was premature, until it could be determined why the train failed to stop.
Much of the information about the crash came from riders and witnesses. One said the train was unusually crowded, and train crew had apologized, saying that the train had fewer than the usual number of cars. A Norfolk Southern locomotive engineer, on the scene, said he observed the engineer of the crashed train slumped in his cab and feared he had perished, at the. press conference Gov. Christie said that the engineer had survived, with injuries, and was cooperating with the investigation. A rider in the second car of the train said that she thought there were few serious injuries in her car, but feared for the occupants of the first car of the train. Another rider said the first car was "pretty crumpled" and that first responders were "triaging" its occupants. The New York Times reported that a transit worker said "The first car was pretty well destroyed. The roof was caved in."
An overhead canopy which covers the area between the end of the tracks and the station building collapsed, and there were reports of injuries from falling debris. Photographs suggest that the front of the train stopped approximately at the outside wall of the historic station building,, adjacent to the ticket office inside; officials said the building would be evaluated to determine if there was structural damage.
NJT immediately announced suspension of all service at Hoboken, but real-time train tracker information suggests that at least several trains departed Hoboken for various destinations in the half hour after the crash. PATH and Hudson-Bergen Light Rail service at Hoboken was also suspended. (HBLR trains that normally terminate at Hoboken will instead terminate at 2d St for trains from Tonnelle Ave, and Newport for trains from Bayonne.) PATH service was reported fully restored by 4:15 p.m., with Hoboken customers directed to the "city" entrance to the PATH station, not the NJT terminal entrance. Bus service that normally operates at the adjacent bus terminal was rerouted to Hoboken City Hall, but restored to the Hoboken terminal (with possible lane changes) the afternoon of the next day, Friday, Sept. 30.
In the afternoon, NJT announced that "modified weekend service" would operate on the Main, Bergen, and Pascack lines, but only to Secaucus. Limited service was to be offered west of Montclair State University and Dover on the Montclair-Boonton/M&E lines. Various ticket cross-honoring schemes were also in effect. A bus shuttle was to operate between Hoboken and the Secaucus transfer station, the normal first stop of many trains originating at Hoboken.
An article by Christopher Maag for northjersey.com says that NJT locomotive engineers say the safety system in effect at Hoboken is "antiquated." As at other area terminals, a train exceeding speed limits triggers an alert to the engineer; at the other terminals, the engineer must acknowledge the alert or brakes are applied. At Hoboken, according to the article, there is no system requiring acknowlegement or provision for automatic braking.