Senate President: Continuing shortage of engineers after 22 months is ‘unacceptable excuse’ when issue was flagged before new NJT management took over
Trenton – Senate President Steve Sweeney today sharply criticized NJ Transit’s leadership for blaming a continuing shortage of engineers for the cancellation of two Pascack Valley Line express trains that led Metro-North to withhold contracted payments for the service from the fiscally strapped agency.
“After 22 months in charge, it is an unacceptable excuse for NJ Transit’s leadership to continue to blame a shortage of engineers for its inability to restore two cancelled express trains on the Pascack Valley Line,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “What’s worse is that NJ Transit can’t even tell Metro North when the service it is paying for will resume.”
Senator Sweeney, who is personally chairing the Senate Select Committee on New Jersey Transit, said he was alarmed to learn that Metro-North President Catherine Rinaldi will be withholding 15% of contracted payments to NJ Transit because of customer frustration over train cancellations on the Pascack Valley Line.
The Pascack Valley Line originates in New York’s Orange and Rockland counties and serves Bergen and Hudson County riders on the way to and from Manhattan; the two express trains were cancelled in June 2018.
“I understand how frustrated Metro-North and the Pascack Valley Line riders must be because it took us nine months to finally get concrete answers from NJ Transit on when service would finally be restored on the Atlantic City Line after it was supposedly ‘temporarily’ suspended in September 2018,” Senator Sweeney said. “Raritan Valley Line passengers had to wait even longer for the restoration of their service that was cut.”
Senator Sweeney said the Administration knew about the critical shortage of engineers before it took office because it was one of the main issues analyzed in the joint Senate-Assembly hearings on NJ Transit held in the wake of a fatal 2016 derailment on the Pascack Valley Line that killed a young mother standing on the platform in Hoboken. Senior incoming Administration officials were briefed on the need to address the issue prior to the November election, during transition and in January 2018.
“We know that Administration officials keep pointing to the seven classes of engineers that are scheduled to graduate this month and over the next year, but we still have questions about why it has taken so long and whether those numbers will even be sufficient,” Senator Sweeney said. “It didn’t do anything for our confidence when the Administration budgeted a meager $25 million increase to NJ Transit’s operating budget and the Legislature had to fight to add another $50 million that we all knew the agency desperately needed.”
Legislative staff requested NJ Transit rail and bus schedules going back to 2015 to benchmark cancellations and reductions in service as part of its document request for the NJ Transit hearings.
The next Senate Select Committee on New Jersey Transit hearing will be held on Thursday, December 12, at noon in Committee Room 4 of the State House Annex in Trenton.