NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Riders fed up with NJ TRANSIT got a chance to give the agency’s board members an earful on Wednesday.

Left waiting on the platform for more than two hours, commuter Mary Gigacz was visibly upset. She’s been riding NJ TRANSIT for 38-years and says this year’s been the worst, with a monthly pass soaring to $270 with little reliability in return.

“Last summer was the summer from hell? I believe you’re mistaken, this is the real summer from hell,” Migacz said.

Her horror story resonates with other riders forced to pack onto overcrowded trains with increasing regularity. NJ TRANSIT says unexplained engineer absences is to blame for the recent rash of last minute cancellations.

Executive Director Kevin Corbett calls the absences “totally unacceptable.”

An inside source tells CBS2 train engineers are overworked covering for workers who take days off. The source says vacation and personal days must be scheduled by 5 p.m. the day before, and sick days must be called in five hours before a shift. The agency should have plenty of time to inform riders if their line will be cancelled, the source said.

NJ TRANSIT says the rush to meet a December 31st deadline for installing Positive Train Control has also interrupted service, with the nationally mandated project only 58 percent complete.

“There’s no magic wand to get us through December,” Corbett said.

Republican Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz questions why there’s no contingency plan for unexpected absences.

“You were very, very, very able to plan for the summer of hell last year,” she said. “You had buses at train stations, you coordinated with ferries. I don’t see any buses at the Summit train station, or Westfield train station.”

TRANSIT leadership says nine engineers will graduate and come on board by the end of the week, each of whom will take four to six trips a day, but there’s fear among some who currently work there that half of the new graduates will bolt and go to Metro North in search of higher pay.