As a federally-mandated deadline of December 31 approaches, NJ Transit's installation of the advanced Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system has been lagging. Originally, a law passed in 2008 required nationwide compliance by the end of 2015, but after widespread protests by the nation's railroads that the deadline was unreasonable, the date was extended by three years.  Further extensions on a case-by-case basis are possible, but the railroad has to show that it is well on the way to completing installation. The cost-effectiveness of PTC has been controversial, but each time a rail accident occurs the result is to mute opposition and solidify the political support for PTC, which is federally-mandated but whose costs are borne entirely by the rail systems that must implement it.

In the New Jersey areat, Amtrak has completed installation of PTC, as has the Philadelphia-area commuter carrier SEPTA.  Installation of PTC on the PATH rail system is continuing, with service interruptions scheduled to facilitate the installation work (see article below). However, NJ Transit's installation has lagged, and the consequences of non-compliance became more significant when Amtrak announced that it might not be able to allow non-compliant equipment to operate on its tracks; Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and New York Penn Station are used by a large fraction of NJ Transit trains. While it seems politically unlikely that Amtrak or the federal government would actually force NJT to stop operating trains on January 1, 2019, the pressure is clearly on NJT management to achieve compliance by the deadline.

At the NJT board of directors meeting on May 9, NJT Executive Director Kevin Corbett said he has verbally warned the railroad's PTC contractor, Parsons Transportation Group, that they must deliver a compliant system by year's end. (Parsons had once had a PTC contract with the Caltrain commuter rail system in suburban San Francisco, but lost it last year due to lack of progress.) The status of NJT's compliance, and Corbett's actions, was reported by Ralph Spielman in the Trains Magazine Newsletter online on May 14; further coverage by Larry Higgs and Jonathan D. Salant appeared on nj.com on May 16 (and in the Star-Ledger on May 17).  Spielman's article reported that, since Corbett's announcement, Parsons is operating two equipment installation facilities, both using multiple work shifts, in an effort to comply. And, writes Spielman, initial field testing has begun on NJT's Morristown Line, on the six mile double-track, electrified stretch between Morristown and Denville.

According to the Higgs/Salant article, as of a March 31 Federal Railroad Administration report, only 172 of 1100 NJT employees have been trained on PTC, just 37 of 124 required radio towers have been installed, and only six miles of track equipped; presumably, this is the Morristown-Denville segment referred to in the Spielman article. Only 13% of PTC hardware has been installed by NJT, ranking NJT as fourth lowest among 26 commuter railroads required to install PTC. The PATH system was 86% complete as of the March report. NJT reportedly has made progress since March, equipping 43 locomotives for PTC, installing 44 radio towers, and training 309 employees; apparently these figures are in addition to the numbers reported by the FRA.

As reported by Spielman, Corbett said that NJT was working closely with the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, and area freight carriers (NJT's Raritan Valley Line uses Conrail freight tracks between Cranford and Newark, which also require PTC compliance). Corbett said, "This is the most complex project I've ever seen."