NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy met with NJ TRANSIT board members on Thursday following a recent rash of last-minute train cancellations.
Several dozen rush-hour trains have been called off in recent weeks due to unexcused engineer absences and a Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control.
All of it has left passengers irate.
“It’s abysmal and it’s a shame that we have to go through this each and every day,” commuter Jim Arenthal told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell. “We gotta invest in it, infrastructure, and we gotta get back to where we need to be.”
“We’re really getting tired of this,” added commuter Michael Davenport. “I understand there’s the positive control issue, but we really need to get a handle on this because it’s only gonna get worse.”
“I sincerely hope the governor can come to some agreement with NJ TRANSIT to improve service cause this has been a challenge,” West Orange resident Felicia Thomas-Friel said.
On Thursday, Murphy said the issues plaguing the transit agency are “not acceptable,” though he admitted he may have underestimated the mess he stepped into. He said the board now has “war room mentality,” CBS2’s Meg Baker reported.
“Fixing NJ TRANSIT is going to be a multiyear process,” the governor said before blaming ex-Gov. Chris Christie’s administration for failures he says have greatly contributed to the current situation. “We are climbing out of a deep hole after eight years of failure, in particular as it relates to NJ TRANSIT, but the Christie administration.”
That prompted a question from CBS2’s Baker, who confronted the governor: “This is no longer Gov. Christie’s problem. It is your problem. The commuters just want to know when they will see some relief.”
“This is inescapable. This was eight years of complete and utter negligence of the country’s premiere commuter rail and bus system,” Murphy responded. “I’m not passing the buck. At the end of day, we own this at the moment and we’re committed to getting this right. But I want folks who are watching out there to realize the mess that we’re digging out of.”
Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick, a Republican, responded, saying, “Commuters have not received that information as to the status of trains and train delays. Blaming Chris Christie seven months into the new governor’s term does not provide the needed information for our commuters.”
“Getting transit right is existential,” Murphy said. “The recent spate of last-minute cancellations cannot be tolerated and it will not be tolerated by me or anybody at this table.”
The governor asked riders not to take their frustrations out on transit employees.
“Under no circumstances — and I understand the frustration and the anger — let us please not take this out physically or even aggressively verbally on the folks that you’re dealing with,” he said.
Five trains were cancelled on Thursday morning, two due to a manpower shortage and the others because the ongoing issues with positive train control. Executive director Kevin Corbett said there is a PTC plan in place and he’s already spoken to the unions about engineers calling in sick.
“We even built in a margin for unexcused absences, but this summer we’ve had a much higher than traditional unexcused absences,” he said.
“There’s very little done to recruit engineers and train them in a timely fashion. We are trying to make up for that today, New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.
NJ TRANSIT says nine new engineers will graduate and be on the roster starting next week, but some within the agency fear they, too, will be wooed away by higher-paying jobs at other transit agencies in New York.
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