NJ Transit Riders Endure Worst November Delays in 15 Years

(Bloomberg) -- Nearly a third of New Jersey Transit’s rush-hour trains to and from Manhattan arrived late in November as the agency worked to meet a year-end deadline to install a lifesaving brake system.

Just 71 percent of those commuting-hour trains were on time last month, and around-the-clock service systemwide wasn’t much better. Overall timeliness for the trouble-plagued agency plunged to 82 percent, the lowest for a November since at least 2003 and down from 92 percent a year earlier.

Of 16,563 trains last month, 18 percent were late, which is defined by arriving 6 minutes or more past schedule, according to a report released today at NJ Transit’s board meeting in Newark.

NJ Transit trains carry most passengers to and from Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan. From 2014 to 2017, the on-time statistic for November ranged from 85 percent to 91 percent.

To meet a federal deadline for the emergency system called positive train-control, NJ Transit sidelined locomotives for equipment installations and canceled the Atlantic City route, with service to Philadelphia. The nation’s second-biggest commuter railroad also cut fares 10 percent for three months starting in November to compensate riders for reduced service.

November’s dismal performance figures have an upside: Ninety-five percent of installations are done, and Governor Phil Murphy last week said the deadline will be met. In January, when Murphy came to office, the project was just 12 percent finished, having dragged for years and more than doubled in cost, to $320 million, under former Governor Chris Christie.

Positive train control, or PTC, which brakes speeding trains in danger of colliding or derailing, was mandated by Congress for freight and passenger railroads after a series of deadly wrecks. Even if NJ Transit meets its Dec. 31 deadline for preliminary work, safer trains may not be operating until 2020, when all railroads’ systems must be in place.

“We’ve had to complete four years’ worth of work in less than one year and we are not finished,” Kevin Corbett, NJ Transit’s executive director, said in a letter today to agency’s board. “We’ll have to complete another four years’ worth of work over the next two years to have PTC fully operational by the federal mandated deadline of Dec. 31, 2020.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.