As complaints about NJ Transit train service continue to mount, Gov. Phil Murphy insists the embattled Agency is on the right track and concrete steps are being taken to improve rail reliability.

During a visit to an NJ Transit training facility in Newark, Murphy said for several years before he took office, retiring engineers were not replaced with any regularity. But steps are now being taken to remedy the situation.

“The locomotive engineering training program has six concurrent classes in session made up of 102 trainees, which is a record number of classes running at the same time," he said.

“Property staffed rail means fewer unscheduled cancellations. It’s a key element for keeping the system running on time, so commuters can have faith that their trains will come.”

He noted the agency had received more than 4,000 applications from engineer candidates and only the best, elite candidates were chosen.

Murphy said four of the six classes will graduate this year, which means “we’ll be continually getting new staff into locomotive cabs throughout the year.”

He also pointed out 386 new NJ Transit bus operators were also hired last year, which “means more buses out on the road, and more seats moving along our highways."

As for a suggestion made a few days ago by Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, that Murphy declare an NJ Transit state of emergency so he could bypass regular rules and quickly hire more train engineers, the governor said that would simply not be possible because Federal Railroad Administration requirements for training must be followed.

He said even if you have experience as an engineer from another railroad, you need “education that is specific to NJ Transit’s route system.”

When Murphy was asked when commuters can expect all of the problems at NJ Transit to begin to fade and regular, reliable service to become the norm, he turned a bit philosophical.

“Rome will not be built in a day, but it is being built. We are getting there and we will get there.”

Gov. Murphy tours an NJ Transit training facility in Newark. David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

Murphy said he expects noticeable improvement in NJ transit train service by next November, when three classes of engineers will have graduated and "we’ve shaken a lot of the post-PTC testing hangover behind us.”

“I’ll be very disappointed if you’re not having a meaningfully better experience [...] by the end of this calendar year.”

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DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti agrees that as the year goes on, things will get better.

She pointed out while NJ Transit did meet the federally mandated the emergency brake Positive Train Control deadline last month. Dozens of additional rail cars still need to have PTC installed, a lot of equipment must be tested and all of it has to pass inspection, which means service improvements will be gradual.

“Repairing the system is not a switch. We don’t flip the switch and the light goes on, the system runs. It’s incremental and I’m going to keep using that word. You should see improvements incrementally.”

The Gov. tries an NJ Transit bus driving simulator. David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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