Phil Murphy: NJ Transit trains will run better in 2019 after safety milestone reached
Phil Murphy said Chris Christie all but ignored a federal deadline to install a crash avoidance system on NJ Transit trains. NorthJersey.com
NJ Transit trains should run better in 2019 after the agency met a year-end federal deadline to install safety equipment to prevent crashes — an effort that caused delays throughout the rail system, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.
But 2018 continued to be a mess.
As if on cue, the Monday evening rush hour at Penn Station was fast becoming a nightmare, with dozens of trains canceled or delayed due to "equipment availability" or lack thereof on several lines.
Commuters posted videos and photos on Twitter of rail riders jammed into Penn Station corridors waiting for trains to get home.
Hours earlier at a news conference at a rail maintenance facility in Kearny, Murphy said that positive train control had been installed on 282 locomotives and cab cars and on 326 miles of rail line and other infrastructure — much of it done in the last year.
The equipment still needs to be installed on about 150 locomotives and cars within two years for the system to be fully operational. Murphy said installing less equipment over a longer amount of time will allow fewer trains to be taken out of service in the coming year.
"You will see a much softer impact," Murphy said.
Murphy framed the installation as a victory for his administration. Positive train control had been installed on only 12 percent of rail cars and equipment when he took office 11 months ago. Murphy hammered former Gov. Chris Christie's administration for delays in installation.
"I think 'dragged' may be too charitable a verb," Murphy said. "Commuter safety took a back seat to cronyism. Service and reliability were sacrificed for frankly no good reason. That's the legacy we inherited."
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Murphy has weathered criticism for service delays, much of it due to taking locomotives and cars off the rails in order to install the equipment.
Riders had to deal with canceled trains almost every day during the summer. Autumn saw NJ Transit closing down entire routes and scaling back others in an attempt to finish installation by Jan. 1 in order to avoid a fine from the federal government.
NJ Transit closed its Atlantic City Line in early September, closed down the Princeton Dinky and halted weekend service on the Gladstone Branch. All three were replaced, temporarily, with buses. Murphy said Monday that he is still waiting for federal approval on the Atlantic City Line and did not have a date for when it would reopen.
Positive train control is supposed to prevent crashes like the one at Hoboken Terminal in September 2016, in which attorney Fabiola Bittar de Kroon was killed when the train's engineer fell asleep approaching the station. The system causes trains to brake automatically to ensure they don't run past stop signals or exceed the appropriate speed on curves.
But positive train control installations were far from the only problem for NJ Transit. A chronic shortage of locomotive engineers caused the agency to cancel trains almost every day during the summer, which resulted in a record number of complaints.
A bill intended to reform NJ Transit addresses some of those problems, including allowing the agency to hire some employees who do not live in New Jersey, making it easier to fill in-demand positions such as locomotive engineers and machinists.
Murphy's announcement came on the day the Legislature was expected to pass an NJ Transit reform bill. The Senate and Assembly were scheduled to vote on the bill on Monday afternoon.
Murphy's administration had considerable input on the bill, working with legislators on the final amendments, said Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Middlesex.
A NorthJersey.com and USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey investigation last year showed that NJ Transit suffered from a senior management exodus that threatened its ability to operate safely and reliably.