NJ TRANSIT Board Meeting

Peter Haskell/WCBS 880

Murphy Urges Riders To Not Take Frustrations Out On NJ TRANSIT Conductors, Engineers

August 10, 2018 - 9:30 am

NEWARK, N.J. (WCBS 880) -- Another day, another delay.

NJ TRANSIT is finally acknowledging it has a problem as commuters dealt with several more delays Friday. Eleven more trains were canceled Friday afternoon.

A problem it calls "unavailable trainmen." The term refers both to conductors and enginners, NJ TRANSIT officials told WCBS 880.

It's gotten so bad that commuters have started getting violent toward the trainmen who do show up -- something Gov. Phil Murphy warned against.

Six trains were also canceled Friday morning a day after Murphy met with the top brass of NJ TRANSIT behind closed doors  and ordered a war room set up to deal with the massive problems the system has had this summer.

One woman said she hired a college student to take her kids to summer camp so she could take an earlier train, WCBS 880's Sean Adams reported.

Hours after the Thursday meeting, NJ TRANSIT canceled another 11 trains for the afternoon rush. 

Murphy wants NJ TRANSIT to stage a war on delays and cancellations, Sugerman reported.

“That’s the footing that we need to be on right now,” he said.

A summer of hell for NJ TRANSIT riders will not stop anytime soon, but Murphy hopes to get it better with nine more engineers coming on track next week.

Work to modernize the system is one reason for the massive problem. But also an issue is engineers using unplanned absences and leaving trains at the station.

“This is a small population who are spoiling it for the broader population,” Murphy said.

Some engineers say they only get five sick days a year, and if they use them early, it counts as that unplanned absence.

Murphy had said the buck stops with him and he would not blame the administration of his predecessor Gov. Chris Christie, but Murphy did go on to blame Christie for the problems.

“And ultimately, to the damaging defunding of NJ TRANSIT throughout Governor Christie’s term,” Murphy said.

Thursday marked Murphy’s first day back after a vacation with his family in Italy.

The meeting also came on a day where NJT riders faced major delays and suspensions after a person on the tracks was struck and killed around 6:30 a.m. near the train station in Metuchen. Service had been suspended in both directions early Thursday between Metropark in Woodbridge Township and Trenton.

Meanwhile, revenue from ticket sales is expected to drop by three percent, and with service suffering riders are looking to get their money back, WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported.

DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti could not say "with any emperical evidence" if it's because of unreliable service, but did say people are not happy with NJ TRANSIT service.

On Wednesday, NJT board members got an earful from commuters and rail advocates frustrated by dozens of last-minute train cancellations.  

The agency blames the cancellations on engineer shortages caused by years of under-investment in recruiting and training. Officials say the shortages have been exacerbated by unexcused absences combined with required track safety work. 

One woman told the board Wednesday that in the amount of time she's been delayed from cancellations in the last few weeks, she could have flown to Florida. 

Executive Director Kevin Corbett said nine new engineers will be starting work shortly, adding that train cancellations should lessen as summer vacation season ends. But he added improvements are going to be gradual.

More than 100,000 people ride NJ TRANSIT trains to New York daily, directly or via connections.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)