In a mad dash to a December 31 deadline, NJ Transit managed to comply with a Congressionally-mandated deadline to install Positive Train Control equipment on its trains and tracks. PTC is intended to reduce the possibility of train accidents due to collisions or excessive speed, and was mandated by Congress in 2008 with a 2015 deadline, after a distracted engineer in California ran a red signal and plowed head-on into an oncoming freight, killing himself and 24 passengers. The 2016 deadline was extended two years, and now many railroads, including NJT, have gotten a further two-year extension, by completing enough of the installation to qualify for the extra two years. But to qualify for the extension, NJT had to go to some extraordinary lengths. What does this mean for commuters? You'll be seeing some strange animals roaming the rails on NJT. NJT's explanation: "We're pursuing creative, out-of-the-box solutions and expending every available resource to maximize service delivery," said NJT spokesperson Jim Smith, in what sounds like some kind of canned double-speak.

Probably the most disconcerting weird train you're going to encounter will be one in which there is an empty coach at the front, followed by the locomotive that's powering the train. It's not an ordinary coach up front; it's a "cab car," one with operating controls for the engineer.  But not just any cab car, it's one that's got PTC equipment installed. Behind it will be an ordinary locomotive -- but in this case, it's one that hasn't got it's PTC upgrade yet. So the leading coach allows the train to meet PTC requirements, without a locomotive that does.  Passengers won't be allowed into that leading car; NJT says that would pose safety and operational issues, like not being able to exit to the next car in an emergency. Before you run up the platform to grab a seat at the front of the train, make sure that there's no engine behind that front car.

Another strange development is in the locomotives themselves. Most engines you'll see on NJT are painted to proudly display NJT's own logo and color scheme; a few, as most commuters on diesel-powered lines know, display the colors of Metro-North Railroad: M-N contracts with NJT to operate its lines to Port Jervis and Spring Valley, N.Y., and provides some of the equipment for that service. Both locomotives and cars tend to roam across NJT's lines. But now there's a new wrinkle, and it will affect trains on NJT's electrified lines: electric engines (railroaders call them "motors") with the paint scheme of SEPTA, which is the commuter railroad serving the Philadelphia area. SEPTA has been way ahead of NJT in PTC compliance, and equipped its aging AEM-7 model engines with PTC even though they were scheduled for retirement in 2018. (NJT had similar engines but retired them several years ago). SEPTA no longer needs them, and NJT has arranged to lease seven of them for $250 a day each, for the next six months.  So if you see one headed your way, don't think you've somehow been transported to the Philly suburbs.

The latest developments in NJT's quest to comply with PTC were reported by Curtis Tate for the Gannett newspapers.

 

 

 

As he begins his third term in office, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo brought sighs of relief to residents and business owners on and near Fourteenth Street in Manhattan, as well as in the now-trendy neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.  Residents in these areas had dreaded a 15-month shutdown of the "L" subway line in their areas that was scheduled to begin in April, but Cuomo has announced that service will continue.  Not only with this change benefit the City's subway riders, but it could also benefit the Lackawanna Coalition and other advocates who are pushing for a more-affordable alternative to the costly Gateway proposal for new new rail infrastructure between New Jersey and New York City.

The "L" line runs under Fourteenth Street, through the Canarsie Tunnels into Brooklyn, and eastward through that borough, to Rockaway Parkway, near Canarsie Shore (it ran all the way there many years ago).  The Canarsie Tunnels were damaged by flooding from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and must be repaired.  Plans by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's MTA Capital Construction arm approved in April, 2017, called for shutting down the portion of the line under Fourteenth Street and in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for fifteen months, and at a cost of $492 million.  The plan called for major transit disruptions in the affected areas and "replaced" by augmented service on the "G" train (Brooklyn-Queens Local), which connects with the "L" but does not enter Manhattan, and extra buses on Fourteenth Street.  Neither of these services would have crossed the East River to link the boroughs.  During the shutdown, the bench walls inside the tunnels, which contain power and signal cables, would have been demolished and replaced with new bench walls and cables for the tunnels' entire length. 

Cuomo called in experts from the engineering faculties at Columbia and Cornell Universities, who studied "best practices" for tunnel construction in cities outside this country, including London, Hong Kong and Riyadh.  Rather than demolishing and rebuilding the bench walls with new cables inside, the engineers recommended abandoning the cables inside the bench walls, "racking" new cables (essentially securing them to the inside walls of the tunnels), keeping the existing bench walls as walkways where they are structurally-sound, replacing the segments that are not with new walkway surface, and using modern materials to improve strength and waterproofing. 

The new plan, as proposed by the Columbia and Cornell engineers, should save a considerable amount of money, although we do not yet know how much.  It cost $71.6 million to rehabilitate the Clark Street Tunnels between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn (used by the #2 and #3 trains).  It may be even more important to residents and business owners along the line that the scope of the project will be reduced sufficiently to allow construction at night and on week-ends, with reduced service during those times, because one tunnel must be shut down for construction.  There would be no loss of service during peak-commuting hours, which would avert a major and long-term service disruption.

At this writing, not everybody seems to know what to make of the news that the long shutdown has been averted.  Coalition member John Bobsin reported on the Coalition's web forum: "Cuomo bypassed his MTA and consulted academic experts, who suggested techniques involving sonar never before used in U.S.  Nobody seems to know what this means yet, but all sorts of advocates are being quoted. One called it a last minute Hail Mary pass; another said even doing the work nights and weekends posed a great burden on the public.  The effect on Brooklyn real estate prices was also being pondered."  One of those advocates, Coalition member Joseph M. Clift, also a former Planning Director for the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), was ecstatic.  He said: "It makes sense instead of dollars."  He was referring to dollars that will be saved, now that it will not be necessary to demolish and rebuild the bench walls, or to take the entire line out of service for an extended period.  Clift continued: "Who would be able to give you the most cost-effective advice: engineering deans and their specialists, or industry insiders?  The answer should be obvious."

A presentation from the governor's office, which can be found here,  explains the new plan.  One statement from that presentation may have a large impact on the proposed Gateway project and the Coalition's advocacy for a reduced scale plan that would be significantly less-expensive than the $30 billion estimated cost for all of Gateway as currently proposed.  It is noted under "Benefits" and says: "This new system design approach can be potentially applied to other projects, such as the Second Ave. Phase 2 and Hudson River Train Tunnels."  The former refers to the Second Avenue Subway, while the latter refers to the tunnels on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor (between New Jersey and Penn Station, New York), also known as the North River Tunnels.  These tunnels were also damaged by flooding from Hurricane Sandy, and Amtrak says they must be taken out of service for repairs within the next fifteen years.  The Coalition has been spearheading the effort to get a more-affordable alternative, with a cost sufficiently low that that the federal government would be willing to pick up some of the tab.

Long-time engineer and planner George Haikalis who is President of the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility (IRUM) as well as Chair of the Village Crosstown Trolley Coalition and the Regional Rail Working Group, praised the new plan, saying: "At last, a sensible discussion of L Train tunnel repair strategies. The same is needed for Hudson Tunnel repairs."  Clift agreed and said: "They got an honest second opinion -- one that is not encumbered by the fear of not getting future work from a major player like the MTA." 

Whatever effect Cuomo's about-face on Canarsie may have on Gateway or advocacy for a more-affordable alternative to it remains to be seen.  What we already know is that Cuomo started his third term with a bang.  The new plan should improve transit service by averting a major disruption, while saving money; a rare feat in today's political arena.  New York City's transit riders will certainly notice, and many of the state's voters will probably notice, too.  We are not a political organization, but it is impossible to observe transit without observing politics, too.  Cuomo has been mentioned as a possible contender for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination next year.  Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has officially started her campaign already.  If Cuomo has unofficially kicked off his own campaign, he chose an interesting way to do it.  Of course, Cuomo has already been governor for the past eight years so, at least in theory, he could have done this sooner.  Still, the timing of his action might be good for all concerned.  Time will tell, and it will be an interesting ride.

As the clock ticked down to the Dec. 31 federally-mandated deadline for installing Positive Train Control, NJT rail riders watched the date with anxiety. A failure to install enough PTC equipment by that date might have shut down NJT's rail operations; and Amtrak had warned that it would not allow non-PTC trains on its tracks after the deadline.  But commuters breathed a little easier after N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy announced on December 17 that the railroad had installed enough equipment, both on track and rolling stock, to meed federal requirements.  Murphy said that NJT filed paperwork with the Federal Railroad Administration on December 14 to certify its compliance.  But even though NJT may be in technical compliance, it doesn't mean that the trains will be any safer; what NJT is asking the FRA for is a two-year extension to complete the project. Other commuter lines, including Metro-North Railroad, have also asked for an extension. But some, including SEPTA in the Philadelphia area, are already in full compliance and have PTC in operation, as does the PATH system used by many NJT riders to complete their trips. 150 locomotives and cab cars (the passenger cars that engineers operate from when the locomotive is pushing the train) still need PTC  work done. NJT executive director Kevin Corbett congratulated his staff for the speedy completion of the required work; as late as Nov. 21 the FRA had warned that NJT was in danger of not being in compliance at the deadline,one of only four railroads so cited. Skeptics noted that the original PTC deadline was the end of 2015, and had already been extended to 2018, and now it will be 2020 before the work is complete at NJT. The PTC developments have been reported by Larry Higgs in the Star-Ledger (December 18).

Since October 14 NJT schedules have been reduced to free up equipment for the installation, and Atlantic City Line trains have been suspended completely. There was no immediate word as to when regular schedules will resume, and even with the reduced schedule, cancellations remain at a high rate, partly due to an ongoing shortage of engineers.

The Lackawanna Coalition recognizes that NJT faced challenges in complying with the federal PTC regulations, and had no choice but to install the equipment.  However, the Coaliltion believes that Congress erred in mandating PTC; it is an expensive overkill and equivalent safety benefits could have been achieved with simpler, well-tested technology.

The Lackawanna Coalition has voted "no confidence" in the leadership of Richard Anderson, President of Amtrak.

Anderson, who spent much of his career in the airline industry, came to Amtrak at the beginning of 2018, and has drawn strong criticism for eliminating food and other amenities on certain trains, eliminating or reducing discounts for such traditionally-rail-friendly groups as students and seniors, and attempting to kill long-distance trains, particularly the Southwest Chief between Chicago and Los Angeles.

The letter sent by the Coalition along with the resolution stated: "New Jersey and the riders on New Jersey Transit's trains have strong reason to be deeply concerned about the future of Amtrak. Most of the riders on the portion of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line (NEC) through our state and into Penn Station, New York, use New Jersey Transit's trains; many more riders than use Amtrak's trains over the same stretch of track. This applies to commuters, regular riders, and occasional riders alike."

 

While the Coalition's purview is regional and not national, our letter expressed concern that Anderson's plans to shrink the national rail network could have negative consequences for us in New Jersey, saying: "We are especially concerned that, if Anderson succeeds in shrinking the Amtrak network, the result will be a loss of Congressional support for Amtrak, especially among members whose constituents stand to lose their Amtrak train. This scenario would have a detrimental effect on funding for projects that are vital to our region, including new tunnels into Penn Station and necessary 'state of good repair' projects." 

 

Preserving the national Amtrak network may take on even stronger significance for us when the new Congress convenes.  Democrats, who will control the House, are generally more favorable to Amtrak and to local transit than Republicans.  Republicans have expanded their majority in the Senate, and they (like Democrats) are sensitive to the possibility of their constituents losing Amtrak service in their state.  If Amtrak kills a train in their state, they could vote against money for Amtrak, which could adversely affect Amtrak projects in our region.

 

The Coalition is not the only rider-advocacy organization that has declared its opposition to Anderson.  The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) has urged the Amtrak Board of Directors to fire and replace Anderson.  Nationally, the Rail Users' Network (RUN) has also passed a "no confidence" resolution against Anderson.  It can be found on the RUN web site, www.railusers.net.  One of the options on the site is "About/Join" and it will have a further option of "Testimony & Statements."  The cover letter and Bill of Particulars complaining about Anderson and his policies can be found there.  This writer, who is also a member of the RUN Board of Directors, drafted the original Bill of Particulars, which the Board modified and approved.

 

It began as follows: "Since becoming President of the National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak), Richard Anderson has made decisions and implemented policies to the detriment of the Corporation and its customers. These acts have threatened to destroy the existing Amtrak network, alienated constituencies whose support is vital to Amtrak, and severely reduced the sort of amenities and services that have attracted the public to rail travel."  RUN went on to criticize him for threatening to destroy its national passenger-rail network, eliminating services and amenities, alienating rail-friendly constituencies and jeopardizing state-supported trains, among other allegations.

 

Both RUN and the Coalition called for Congressional action.  The Coalition sent its letter and resolution to New Jersey's Congressional delegation.  RUN called for the House Transportation Committee to hold hearings about Anderson.  RUN's request was: "Because of the many detrimental actions, in-actions and recommendations which are stated above as well as the other items listed in the attached Bill of Particulars, we respectfully request that Mr. Anderson’s competency be evaluated by the House Transportation Committee before the national rail passenger system further deteriorates and current ridership as well as future growth is destroyed."

 

With action by the Coalition and NJ-ARP, New Jersey advocates have taken the lead in calling for new leadership at Amtrak.  Advocates here and elsewhere in the nation want improvements in Amtrak management that will keep the trains running and improve the customer experience.  It's not only for Amtrak's customers; projects along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor (NEC), like new tunnels into Penn Station, may depend on improved leadership at Amtrak, too. 

 

 

Railway Age, a leading trade journal in the railroad industry, has published an OpEd letter by this writer, along with an approving response by Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono.

We are reproducing this writer's and Mr. Vantuono's comments as they were published in October, in Railway Age.  We thank Mr. Vantuono for permission to run this content from his magazine, and we especially appreciate his concern about the current situation at NJ Transit.  We will continue to do everything we can to improve our transit and our transit riders' experiences.  The more we and our efforts are noticed, the more we can help the riders, who are our constituents.

Railway Age was first published in 1856.  The link to the story on their web site is https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/commuterregional/if-youre-not-at-the-table-youre-on-the-menu/.

 

 

Here is the content, as it appeared on the Railway Age web site:

 

 

If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu

 

Written by David Peter Alan, Chair, Lackawanna Coalition

 

This situation in NJ Transit’s East End Concourse at Penn Station New York has become all-to-familiar to many of the agency’s customers.

Editor’s Note: Following is an edited response to my editorial of Aug. 10, 2018, on a New Jersey Transit board meeting. See below for further clarification.

I noticed William Vantuono’s criticism in Railway Age of me and my advocacy on behalf of New Jersey Transit’s beleaguered rail riders, [and] am proud to have finally earned his attention. Mr. Vantuono criticized me for my passion on behalf of myself, the organization of which I have been chair (Lackawanna Coalition) for almost 19 years, and our constituents who must live with the mobility that the motorists who run NJ Transit dole out to them, going on with their lives in a spirit of nobility and occasional indignation.

Mr. Vantuono cautioned me to “calm down”; yet … it [is] only this level of passion, fueled by the realization that we never know whether a train will actually appear at the station or not, that jolted him into noticing the reality with which we who depend on transit are compelled to live.

When Mr. Vantuono said that our transit got worse under the Christie Administration, he is correct. But why did he refrain from using the power of his forum at Railway Age to complain about the plight of the Garden State’s rail riders at the time? If things were as bad as he says (and I certainly believe they were), he let the riding public down by remaining silent.

I said that our transit has not improved under the [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy Administration; that it has actually become worse, and I stand by that. I depend on transit, and I ride frequently. So I know. I hope that situation will improve, but there will be no improvement as long as the “powers that be” … ridicule and criticize the efforts of civic advocates like me, who dare to speak up in defense of New Jersey’s forgotten riders, who do not even know whether or not they will arrive at their offices on time, or whether they will be able to follow through on their plans for the day, because they can’t be sure that their train will arrive to pick them up.

It would have been much better if my “calm” and less-impassioned delivery in the past had gotten Mr. Vantuono’s attention, along with that of other members of the media. Sadly, it has not. My constituents and I were regularly ignored. When our transit had gotten so bad that I felt no choice but to make my statement in the manner I used, I received more coverage from the media generally than ever before in my 33 years as an advocate for the riding public. I even got his attention, which has never happened before.

So, whatever badge Mr. Vantuono wishes to pin on me, I will wear it proudly, in the service of my fellow transit riders, who deserve better transit. I am delighted so see that Mr. Vantuono finally cares. That took too many years.

Yes, the policies of the Christie Administration were usually bad for transit riders. So are the policies of the Murphy Administration, which has not made the needed changes and also chooses not to listen to us. The legislature is not much help, either, but I will continue to do everything I can to secure better transit for myself and my constituents.

As Mr. Vantuono advises, I can calm down. I am prepared to engage in calm, rational discussions and negotiation with management, on behalf of the riders, with the Board and management who decide how much transit we may have, and when we may have it. However, that requires a “seat at the table” which we certainly do not have now, and never had in the past.

There is an old saying: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” We, the riders of New Jersey Transit, are sick and tired of being on the menu.

Thank you for finally noticing that we exist, Mr. Vantuono. This is, indeed, a step in the right direction.

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, an independent non-profit organization that advocates for better service on the Morris & Essex (M&E) and Montclair-Boonton rail lines operated by New Jersey Transit, as well as on connecting transportation. The Coalition, founded in 1979, is one of the nation’s oldest rail advocacy organizations. In New Jersey, Alan is a long-time member and/or board member of the NJ Transit Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee and Essex County Transportation Advisory Board. Nationally, he belongs to the Rail Users’ Network (RUN). Admitted to the New Jersey and New York Bars in 1981, he is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar and a Registered Patent Attorney specializing in intellectual property and business law. Alan holds a B.S. in Biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1970); M.S. in Management Science (M.B.A.) from M.I.T. Sloan School of Management (1971); M.Phil. from Columbia University (1976); and a J.D. from Rutgers Law School (1981).

Editor’s Note: Alan is referring to this specific passage with a video link to an NJTV news report in “Climbing out of a deep hole” (https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/commuterregional/climbing-out-of-a-deep-hole/?RAchannel=home) in which I took note of his strongly worded address to the NJT board of directors: “The situation at NJT ain’t pretty. Murphy and the agency’s Executive Director, Kevin Corbett, are at the center of a public firestorm that reached a boiling point during NJT’s August board meeting, where tempers flared. Just take a look at this NJTV News report. One speaker was practically foaming at the mouth with vitriol. Calm down, David!” No insult or criticism was intended. David Peter Alan has been advocating for better rail transportation in the State of New Jersey since before NJT was established. His passion is admirable, and in many circumstances needs to be heard by those members of NJT’s board who are political appointees and don’t ride the agency’s trains or buses. He isn’t afraid to “get in your face” and speak his mind. I’ve attended several NJT board meetings during my 26 years at Railway Age and have witnessed Alan’s firebrand method of advocacy—and how uncomfortable it has made some NJT board members. Good for you, David! Keep it up. Perhaps some day you and your fellow unhappy commuters will be able to “calm down” because the service you’re getting is worth what you’re paying at the farebox—and right now, it isn’t. Finally, for the record, I’ve written many editorials on NJ Transit, mostly in defense of the agency, whose services I have been using for more than a quarter-century, and of its people, many of whom I consider rail industry colleagues. — William C. Vantuono

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

Late-evening inbound riders from Morris County stations on the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line have lost their last train from Dover for awhile, but they have not lost their mobility.  Thanks to the efforts of the Lackawanna Coalition and the cooperation of NJ Transit managers, these riders will not be stranded.

Train #684, the 11:30 pm departure from Dover for Hoboken, along with a number of other trains, was eliminated from the schedule starting Monday, October 15th.  The same train was also eliminated in 2015, and the Lackawanna Coalition fought to have it returned to the schedule.  Currently, the last inbound train leaves Dover at 10:29; the earliest in living memory.  To avoid having late-evening Morris County riders stranded, we asked NJ Transit to run a bus from Dover and other stations in the county to Summit, where they could catch the last train toward Newark and Hoboken.

On Monday, October 15th, the first weekday without the late train from Dover, we received word from NJ Transit that a Lakeland bus will leave Dover at 11:30 on weeknights, stop at all stations previously on the schedule of Train #684, and drop riders at Summit.  There they can catch Train #442, the last train from Gladstone to Hoboken, which is scheduled to leave Summit at 12:37.  Train #442 makes all stops.  The entire trip will take about 30 minutes longer than it took on Train #684, but there is an indoor waiting room at Summit, and NJ Transit assures us that the trains which have been eliminated from the schedule will return in January, after Positive Train Control (PTC) is installed.  Until then, the riders who must do without Train #684 will not be stranded.  Week-end schedules are not affected by this change.

We thank Paul Wyckoff, NJ Transit’s Chief of Government and External Affairs, and Mike Kilcoyne, VP for Bus Operations, for their prompt response to our request and for implementing a solution that will prevent our constituents from being stranded until the next morning.

This is a victory for the Lackawanna Coalition and our constituents, as well as a good example of a positive result achived through cooperation between the Coalition and NJ Transit management.

 

 

 

 

One of incoming governor Phillip Murphy's first actions on taking office in January was to order an audit of New Jersey Transit's operations. While waiting for the results of the study, which took months longer than expected, Murphy has said he'd postpone taking action on NJT until the audit was complete. On Tuesday, October 9, Murphy revealed the audit's results at a press conference at the Metuchen rail station, and now all eyes are on the Governor to see what comes next.

The audit reveals broad problems in NJT's management and planning, but most of the conclusions were long anticipated. What may be of more interest to hapless commuters is that Murphy reiterated his pledge that there would be no fare increases before mid-2019, but also refused to say that there wouldn't be an increase at that point; he noted that NJT needed money to accomplish reforms.

Reports on the audit were carried in most of the region's newspapers. Patrick McGeehan reported in the New York Times, Larry Higgs for NJ.com and the Star-Ledger, and Curtis Tate for northjersey.com and the Gannett/USA Today NJ papers.

Generally, the audit confirmed that there are not enough locomotive engineers to run a full schedule; that there is a lack of spare parts, which keeps broken equipment out of service for too long; and that communication to riders is inadequate.  Riders know all this already.  But the report goes into more depth as to the underlying causes, and suggests some ways forward out of the mess.

One unnamed "elephant in the room:" the report does not mention former Gov. Chris Christie. But the timelines covered in the report make it clear that many of the problems originated, or got worse, during Christie's eight years in office.

In editorial comment (Oct. 11) the Gannett papers said that the audit will do little to fix the problems that commuters face daily, and lamented that "NJ Transit, once a model of quality service, dependability and efficiency -- and, dare we say, a source of Jersey pride -- now bears all the pockmarks of a former high-speed roller-coaster put out to pasture on a faraway field, among the high weeds, left to rust and rot."

The perpetual lack of funding has caused NJT to lurch from crisis to crisis. Gov. Murphy has pledged to increase funding, but in his first year in office NJT has continued to fill holes in operational funds by robbing the capital budget, postponing much-needed investment in the system. reportedly, $7 billion has been moved from capital to operating accounts since 1990. The audit's consultants recommended creating an office to manage NJT's vision for the future, said to be lacking, and also to manage its assets, which are reported to have shrunk by $1.5 billion over the last eight years. Bottom line: "Run N.J. Transit more like a business and less like a state agency," the report said. The report notes that, over the past decade, state funding has declined while NJT's costs have risen 30%, and that riders currently pay 43% of the operating costs -- a level that is higher than other comparable transit systems.  New sources of revenue are essential, and the audit suggested these could be found in real estate development around train stations; more advertising on NJT premises; and even taxes on ride-hailing services.  "It is evident NJ Transit cannot continue to operate under its present financial model," the report said.

It will come as no surprise to long-suffering commuters that NJT is found to have no strategic plan. This, the report says, results in a reactive posture in which NJT is always trying to fix the latest crisis without an eye to the future and avoiding problems. And this leads to an overly-complex organizational structure in which no one frequently is responsible to solve problems, and the buck is frequently passed from office to office. Likewise, there is no up-to-date long-range plan for replacing aging equipment; the last plan was drafted four years ago.

The shortage of engineers to run trains has been highlighted recently, but it is symptomatic of deeper problems in NJT's personnel operations, the report said. NJT's personnel and hiring practices are far out of date, the audit concluded, pointing to paper applications and paper-and-pencil testing. "Antiquated processes create a major bottleneck to hiring the right people at the right time," the auditors concluded. Competitive salaries would help, too, they said. As far as management personnel, the audit confirmed what has long been reported: during the Christie years, NJT management slots were used as an ATM to reward Christie loyalists.  Now, the report said, "the organization needs to fill key leadership positions with individuals who are true transit domain professionals." There are a large numbers of vacancies in management positions, some of which have been vacant for more than a year. Worse, 21% of nonunion rail employees are eligible to retire; salaries have been frozen for years; and hiring managers are not allowed to offer competitive salaries to fill positions. "Morale is at an all-time low," the report says; but Gov. Murphy probably did not help this by saying, early in his term, that NJT was a "national disgrace."

Spare repair parts are seldom talked about, but the audit said that the system for managing its stock of spare parts "does not seem to be functioning properly;" NJT frequently runs out of 15-30% of the items it needs to keep trains and buses rolling, which "increases the time that crews keep cars and buses out of service." Large purchases can take as long as 14 months to complete.  NJT keeps reacting to problems, rather than planning to avoid them; "If NJ Transit continues to operate in this way, its equipment will continue to degrade without the ability to determine how, when, and where a critical failure will occur." Commuters are likely to say "tell me about it;" they know this from day to day experience. The auditors recommended that NJT overhaul the way it tracks inventory and purchases new equipment, and hire its own general counsel to expedite contracting; today, NJT relies on the state attorney general for such services.

Commuters stuck on trains or waiting on platforms for them, or on street corners for buses, need to know what's causing the delay. But, the audit said, NJT is so focused on running the trains and buses that keeping customers in the loop gets forgotten. The information that is released is often inconsistent, the audit says, as NJT struggles with different channels of communications; often information about problems gets posted to social media but not shared internally, so riders with the right access may know more about what's going on than the train crews or bus drivers, who then cannot answer questions from their customers. The language used often is riddled with "transit-speak," and should instead be in plain English. (And perhaps not crafted to offend riders: a recent report said a train was delayed due to "manpower shortage.")   NJT could also use social media and other channels to improve its image, posting positive articles rather than just defending itself when things go wrong but, the audit warns, don't do it during peak hours, when harried riders are likely to lash out.

Now that the audit has finally emerged, the question is what the Murphy administration will do about the situation at NJ Transit.  More money is required, but Murphy's options are few in a state that is strapped for funds.  So far, not much has happened, although a bill has been crafted in Trenton, and NJT was recently allowed to hire critical employees who do not live within the state. But major decisions were put on hold pending the audit; now that that's complete, the ball is in the governor's court.

New Jersey Transit (NJT) has announced that more trains will be eliminated, so the agency can continue to install needed equipment for Positive Train Control (PTC).  As the year-end deadline approaches, NJT must accelerate its program to install the equipment in locomotives and cab cars, and on the lines.

The Morris & Essex (M&E) and Gladstone Lines are the most severely-affected, with eight weekday trains eliminated.  These include the last train of the evening from Dover to Hoboken, which currently leaves at 11:30.  We are concerned about this train, because it is the last train of the night, and because we previously fought to have it restored to the schedule after it had been eliminated in 2015.  The last departure from Dover will be at 10:29 after the new schedules take effect on October 14th; the earliest in memory.

There will be no Gladstone trains on the week-ends; there will be substitute bus service west of Summit, instead.  The Coalition was pleasantly surprised when Gladstone trains ran this past summer, but the service outage will occur during the fall and winter, instead.  Similarly, the "Dinky" train in Princeton will not run on week-ends; buses will also substitute for those trains.

The first train from Hoboken to Montclair State Station will also be a casualty.  It currently leaves at 6:11, but the first train will not leave until 6:42 under the new schedule.

There are also cuts on the Main/Bergen, North Jersey Coast and Northeast Corridor (NEC) lines, but they will not be as severe as the service reductions on the M&E and Gladstone lines.  The Pascack Valley and Raritan Valley Lines are not affected, but Raritan Valley "one-seat ride" service to New York was eliminated after Labor Day.  So was all service on the Atlantic City Rail Line.

NJT management says that these cuts are temporary, and we consider that a promise.  We know that the cuts will constitute a hardship for some of our constituents, and will be inconvenient for many more.  We know that the deadline for installing PTC is a strict one, but we believe it would have been better if management had worked with us about revising the schedules on our lines, rather than pulling several trains from the schedule, especially the last inbound train of the night from Dover and the first train of the morning to Montclair.

There are other trains that will not be removed from the schedule, but whose times will be changed.  In some cases, the changes will be significant.  We suggest that you check the new schedules when they appear.  At this writing, they have not been posted on NJT's web site, www.njtransit.com, nor are they available in "hard copy" form.

We will continue to monitor the situation.  We remain concerned that more trains will be eliminated before the year is over, and that the pattern of annulling trains (cancelling them before they leave their point of origin) will continue.  We also want to be sure that every train that we have lost is restored to the schedule as soon as possible.

 

 

Our version of a "Coffee Hour" is coming soon to selected stations on the Morris & Essex Line, but instead of taking up an hour of your time, we will accommodate your commuting schedule.  As part of our outreach program, we will be holding "Coffee and Commuting" sessions on two successive Tuesday mornings: September 25th in Short Hills and October 2d in South Orange.  Through the courtesy of the towns, we will be present at the station those mornings to meet you while you are on the way to catch your train.

So, whether you are a commuter or an occasional rider catching an early train, stop by and meet us.  Let us know your concerns about our rail service, so we can pass them along to NJ Transit and to appropriate elected officials.  We would like to tell you more about us, too, and about what we are doing to advocate for you and your communities.

We invite you to have a cup of coffee with us (genuine Brazilian coffee imported from the Ironbound in Newark), grab a copy of our newsletter the Railgram, and let us know how we can help you.  We plan to start about 6:30 and stay at least until we run out of coffee.

So don't miss "Coffee and Commuting" with us.  It's coming soon!

The online reports were interesting, but not startling: overhead wire problems on Friday, September 7, were causing delays in the Hudson River tunnels. Pretty routine, actually, in this era of crumbling infrastructure.  But as the details dribble out, it's clear that the incident that started the delays was far from routine. As reported by Larry Higgs for NJ.com, sleepy riders on an inbound, late night train headed to Manhattan were jolted when some kind of a pole-like object penetrated the ceiling of their rail car, the eighth car in the train, reportedly punching in windows, and with lots of sparks and smoke. Fortunately, no one was injured. It is not yet clear whether the offending object was part of the train or part of the structure that supports the overhead wires in the tunnel, which deliver electric power to the train. NJT officials said the object was part of the tunnel support structure.  In a second incident Friday night, an outbound North Jersey Coast Line train struck some kind of an object while passing through the tunnel. Reporting does not make it clear whether this was the same tunnel in which the first incident occurred, but repairs and delays continued all weekend.The Federal Railroad Administration and tunnel owner Amtrak are investigating the incidents

The complexities of commuting in New Jersey can be daunting, according to an article by Christopher Maag in the North Jersey Record and other Gannett papers (Sept. 10).  The most significant problem facing commuters into Manhattan remains the construction on the I-495 connector to the Lincoln Tunnel, which will delay cars and buses and likely force commuters onto NJ Transit trains, further overloading the fragile rail service. But you may not have thought of all the possibilities to aid your journey, writes Maag after a week of riding NJT trains and buses. Maag says he was looking for surprises, and found some.

You may have more options than you think, Maag says, and it's not easy to find out about all of them. Take park and ride lots; Maag says "amazingly, NJ Transit maintains no central website informing commuters about its park and ride lots." One thing NJT does do, is plaster its buses with ads for the Vice Lombardi Park & Ride lot. Maag says to try it, it's half empty, and a round-trip bus ticket and all-day parking costs just $9.75. You do have to juggle four pieces of paper: receipt, parking pass, and two bus tickets to the Port Authority and back, and the Lombardi service area was once characterized as the most dangerous in the country.  Bus riders into Manhattan should consider avoiding the midtown Port Authority Bus Terminal and opt instead for one of the seven NJT bus routes that use the George Washington Bridge to the newly-reburbished bus terminal uptown. Riders say the reburbishment project was a horror, but now things are just fine at the terminal.

For rail riders, the continuing uncertainty about whether their train will actually run is now accompanied by fears that riders and drivers displaced from the Lincoln Tunnel will swarm onto their trains. As the road project proceeds, it will become clearer how serious this effect will be.

Underlying all these problems, Maag writes, is the entire NJT transportation system, which he characterizes as "irrational." He points to the fact that trains from North Jersey go to Hoboken instead of Manhattan, where most riders want to go. NJT's bus map, he says, "looks like a plate of spaghetti." (If you can find a map of the whole system, that is. We've never seen one, which makes it hard to figure out which buses go to where you're headed.) Somehow, most commuters eventually figure out a coping mechanism, adjusting their departure times or switching between trains and buses from day to day. Or, as Brendan Myers of New City, N.Y. does: find a really long book to read.