NJ Transit Nightmare Spills Into Second Week

(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Transit scratched at least four outbound evening rush-hour trains in Hoboken and Manhattan, promising to aggravate a Monday commute that was upended by 20 morning cancellations.

The delays and passenger crowding are extending last week’s nightmare commute. The nation’s second-largest commuter-rail operator on Aug. 3 said crew shortages, extra service for concert-goers and an emergency-braking project had interrupted operations.

This morning, about 15 trains didn’t run because engineers weren’t available, the railroad said, and the rest had mechanical trouble.

“Happy Monday NJ. The social team is signed on today until 8pm,” NJ Transit, the nation’s largest statewide mass-transportation provider, wrote on Twitter at 7 a.m.

Commuters bombarded the account asking why their trains were late or not running and complained about conflicting information.

Brandon Stefanowitz, a 24-year-old television producer who commutes to New York City on the Montclair-Boonton line, said the lack of trains is extending rush hours. He boarded two hours earlier than usual this morning to find passengers “aggravated, arguing.”

“They made it seem like last summer was going to be the solution with all the repairs they were making,” said Stefanowitz, referring to eight weeks of stepped-up maintenance by Amtrak at Pennsylvania Station in New York City, the most-used NJ Transit destination.

Three-quarters of the morning cancellations were “the result of a lack of available engineers,” Nancy Snyder, an NJ Transit spokeswoman, said in an email. Though the agency is 50 engineers short of a full roster, a class of nine will graduate next week, and four more classes are scheduled, she said.

At least three New Jersey-bound trains were canceled at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan this morning while the weather service said temperatures were to feel around 100 degrees (38 Celcius) and warned that poor air quality could cause breathing trouble.

Once a national model, the railroad, after eight years of budget cuts by former Governor Chris Christie, is the nation’s leader for accidents and safety fines. Christie’s successor, Phil Murphy, came to office in January with a pledge to turn around the railroad, though he warned it would take years to catch up on maintenance, staffing and technology.

The railroad is working to qualify for an extension to a Dec. 31 deadline for the installation of lifesaving technology called positive train control, mandated by Congress to prevent collisions and derailments. NJ Transit as of Aug. 3 was about halfway through the job, which includes work on tracks, radio towers and training. Of 440 locomotives, about 20 percent have necessary software installed, Snyder said.

NJ Transit last week said that in addition to delays caused by the safety work, train crew staffing was lower than typical, with some off the job because they had worked late to provide transportation at a MetLife Stadium show in East Rutherford.

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