HOBOKEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — While investigators search for clues in Thursday’s NJ TRANSIT train crash in Hoboken, CBS2 uncovered some startling numbers.
NJ TRANSIT has 12 times more equipment failures than any other commuter railroad in the nation.
So why is it such a mess?
CBS2’s Marcia Kramer demanded answers from experts.
“One word: funding,” said Janna Chernetz, New Jersey policy director for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
Chernetz puts NJ TRANSIT’s woes smack dab on Gov. Chris Christie’s doorstep. She said he’s slashed state funds for the nation’s third busiest commuter system by 90 percent in 11 years.
But she’s not the only one.
Martin Robins, the former deputy executive director of NJ TRANSIT and one of its founders, calls it “starvation.”
“The agency has been starved,” he said.
Experts say Trenton’s starvation diet has forced the agency to take billions in federal funds earmarked for capital projects — like a positive train control system that might have stopped the train speeding into Hoboken on Thursday — to operate the system and pay for preventive maintenance.
Robins said the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul routine means that about $400 million a year is now used by NJ TRANSIT for “things like tires. … But capital is meant to be for things that last 20 or 30 years.”
Added Chernetz: “In the past 12 years, ridership has gone up 20 percent, whereas capital spending has gone down 19 percent.”
That infuriates Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who has been responsible for getting $8 billion for NJ TRANSIT, money that apparently didn’t go for the capital projects it was supposed to.
“That’s simply wrong, and in a state that is so dependent upon transportation as part of its economic lifeblood, it’s just bad policy,” Menendez said.
But that’s not all. The agency has been operating without an executive director for over a year. The board has not met for three months and won’t say how it will close a $45 million budget gap.
Robins said that’s Christie’s fault, too.
“There’s only one person who runs New Jersey state government, and that’s Gov. Chris Christie,” Robins said.
Christie’s spokesperson refused to comment.
When Kramer asked NJ TRANSIT about the funding issues, a spokeswoman said, “I am declining to answer your questions.”
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, is launching her own investigation.