Commuters & Transit

LOCAL MAYORS CALL FOR NJ TRANSIT STATE OF EMERGENCY

By Walter Elliott


ESSEX - Respective South Orange Village President Sheena Collum and Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca were joined by Orange Mayor Dwayne D. Warren, West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi and 12 other mayors along New Jersey Transit's Morris & Essex Line to urge the public carrier to declare a state of emergency on its commuter railroad system Aug. 24.


The 18 mayors, from Hoboken to Hackettstown, is asking NJTransit for the state of emergency so that the nation's second largest Class One commuter railroad can "make the commute for 150,000 (daily) riders tolerable during this time of transition."


The mayors, in their two-page letter to Gov. Phil Murphy, NJDOT Secretary Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and NJTransit Executive Director Kevin Corbett, presented the following emergency plan.


· Set up a "war room" minded train movement and communication center. The war room would more quickly respond to any train delays or cancellations and communicate that information to riders in real time.


· Run more buses and Hudson River ferries, along the line of last summer's substitute service while Amtrak repaired switches and tracks beneath New York Penn Station.


· Develop a regional ferry system, including new routes to Bayonne, Carteret and South Amboy plus a relocated Hudson River ferry maintenance dock.


The mayors thanked Murphy (D-Rumson) and his appointees for making NJTransit's renewal a priority and for measures like waiving the state residency requirement for train engineers and ordering a 100-day audit of NJTransit.


The officials, however, said that Murphy and his administrators are moving too slowly in the face of NJTransit's three-headed crisis. Waiving the state residency for engineers, for example, may only slightly advance the months of training aspiring operators need before hitting the rails.


Some 10 years of state funding cutbacks have contributed to the engineers' shortage, resulting in at least five daily cancelled train runs, and an overall brain drain at NJTransit.


Implementing the federally mandated Positive Train Control system before Dec. 31 is another immediate and urgent task.


The FRA issued warning letters to NJTransit and seven other commuter railroads that they are at risk of not making the Dec. 31 PTC implementation deadline.


· Continuing cross-honoring with buses, ferries and PATH trains.


· Resume routing conference calls with local-level elected officials.


· NJTransit Board of Directors and administrators be held to publicly available performance and accountability metrics, like on-time performance.


· Continue supporting the Gateway Tunnel project and its funding.


The mayors thanked Murphy (D-Rumson) and his appointees for making NJTransit's renewal a priority and for measures like waiving the state residency requirement for train engineers and ordering a 100-day audit of NJTransit.


The officials, however, said that Murphy and his administrators are moving too slowly in the face of NJTransit's three-headed crisis. Waiving the state residency for engineers, for example, may only slightly advance the months of training aspiring operators need before hitting the rails.


Some 10 years of state funding cutbacks have contributed to the engineers' shortage, resulting in at least five daily cancelled train runs, and an overall brain drain at NJTransit.


Implementing the federally mandated Positive Train Control system before Dec. 31 is another immediate and urgent task.


The FRA issued warning letters to NJTransit and seven other commuter railroads that they are at risk of not making the Dec. 31 PTC implementation deadline. Failure to have the GPS-based communication and braking system in place may result in no service in lacking areas on or after Jan. 1.


The FRA also distributed $200 million to help 28 railroads finish PTC instillation. NJTransit, which had applied for its share, did not get any of that money.


NJTransit replied that they are one-third complete with its PTC project. The largest statewide transit carrier in the nation said that they have made progress in the last six weeks than it has had the last six years.


The FRA will extend PTC's deadline into 2020 provided that NJTransit has 85 percent of the work done by Dec. 31. Congress had first extended the deadline three years from Dec. 31, 2015.


NJTransit, for its part, will suspend all direct Newark Penn Station - New York Penn Station service on the Raritan Valley Line Sept. 6. The move will allow workers to concentrate on PTC installation.


The carrier, who said it developed its planned train suspensions based on rider feedback, will also suspend the entire Atlantic City Line on Sept. 10.


A copy of the mayors' letter has been sent to John McKeon (D-West Orange) as Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman. McKeon will send copies to State Legislative District 27 assembly colleague Mila Jasey (D-South Orange) and State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland).