Photo of NJT train

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.