This story was reported and written by David Matthau and Sergio Bichao

Need a career change? NJ Transit is hiring — and the job comes with big bucks.

The nation’s second-busiest rail system has been struggling to keep its trains running on time, sometimes canceling as many as two dozen a day.

Officials blame this commuting nightmare in part on a lack of engineers — the people who operate the trains. The shortage is exacerbated whenever a slew of engineers call out sick.

The agency has been scrambling to fill training classes with recruits. Prospective job applicants might jump at the opportunity when they find out just how much the job pays.

The median engineer pay at NJ Transit is nearly $122,000 a year. But a handful make even more. Much more.

A New Jersey 101.5 analysis of the agency’s nearly 11,200-employee payroll finds that five engineers and five conductors made more than $200,000 last year in base pay and overtime.

Another 10 engineers and five conductors also topped $200,000 thanks to retroactive pay awarded in the 2016 contract negotiation that averted a shutdown. [Scroll down to see the list of employees.]

Of the 405 engineers on the payroll, 269 earned at least $100,000 in total pay.

And 120 engineers made at least $50,000 just in overtime and other payments in addition to their salary.

In all, NJ Transit last year spent more than $169 million on overtime, which amounts to more than 20 percent of the payroll (excluding last year’s $36.6 million retro payments.)

What NJ Transit actually pays its train engineers is more than what the agency advertises on its career website, which lists a starting salary of $76,000 after training.

Executive Director Kevin Corbett, who earns $280,000 a year, said it has become challenging to attract younger workers to become train engineers, despite the pay — which is higher than the state’s median household income of $76,000.

“It’s because we’re understaffed and it’s sort of supply and demand," Corbett said about the overtime. "I think most of the engineers are really good in putting in more overtime than they’d like to cause they are trying to help out. There are some who are able to game the system and have caused problems."

The numbers above are based on NJ Transit's complete payroll for the fiscal year that ended in June and excludes the executive director, who was appointed late in the fiscal year and not paid his full $280,000 salary, and other employees for which the data reported zero base pay for the year. The calculations above also exclude the retro payments. "Other" pay includes contractual allowances. New Jersey 101.5 obtained the data through the state Open Public Records Act.

Years of neglect add up

Lawmakers who saw New Jersey 101.5's analysis said they were not surprised and blamed years of poor planning by the agency, an independent corporation overseen by directors appointed by the governor.

Assemblyman Dan Benson, D-Mercer, chairman of the transportation committee, said the overtime “is a strong signal that this is a symptom, and a very bad one, of that neglect.”

“What we found is a system that for eight years was not holding enough training classes to make sure that we have the staff needed to run one of the largest transportation systems in the country," he said.

Corbett, who was appointed this year by Gov. Phil Murphy, said the agency ideally should have 390 engineers, but currently has 344. He said 293 engineers are needed to run the 700 daily trains, but the agency needs enough back-up workers in case anyone calls out.

Engineers have to complete a 20-month training course. NJ Transit recently graduated nine engineers. Another 12 are expected to graduate in May while nine more will graduate next fall. Corbett said NJ Transit will begin four training sessions a year, instead of one. Trainees earn $26.77 an hour.

The added engineers could be a wash, as 10 to 20 engineers leave every year — some to rail systems in neighboring states that pay even more.

Corbett agrees that the engineer shortage is due to a lack of recruitment for several years during the Chris Christie administration as older engineers were retiring, “and there was apparently no sense of urgency or no budget to restore the pipeline.”

The situation is so dire that state officials this fall relaxed a residency rule in order to allow Pennsylvania and New York residents to apply for NJ Transit jobs.

State Sen. Pat Diegnan, D-Middlesex, who chairs the Senate transportation committee, said NJ Transit went two to three years without scheduling training sessions.

"This has left us with a very serious situation," he said, adding that the overtime is "money going out the door that we shouldn’t have to spend."

Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said if NJ Transit is spending this kind of money, “I would hope the train would either show up or you would be able to tell the rider that it’s not going to show up.”

NJ Transit officials recently said they would improve efforts to notify commuters of expected canceled or delayed trains.

“I’m going to focus on the fact that the transparency to the rider is of prime importance because these people have to get to work," Bramnick said. "Yes, we have to look into why there’s so much overtime. But more importantly, tell the people why you don’t know that a train is going to show up or not show up at 7 or 8 in the morning.”

Corbett noted that even when NJ Transit has a full quota of train engineers, there still will be overtime opportunities — a fact that the agency might promote.

“You could be making $100,000 a year or more if you want the overtime, with good benefits, so I think it’s a good job.”

$200K earners at NJ Transit

Kevin Corbett, Executive Director
TOTAL: $280,000
____________________

Charles J. Bingert III, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $106,230 — Overtime: $125,864
Other: $2,160 — Retro: $17,320
TOTAL: $251,574
____________________

Gordon R. Prochnow Jr, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $160,379 — Overtime: $70,831
Other: $2,917 — Retro: $15,179
TOTAL: $249,306
____________________

Michael A. Stewart, Conductor
Base: $154,942 — Overtime: $62,137
Other: $4,502 — Retro: $17,194
TOTAL: $238,774
____________________

Peter J. Oko, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $139,254 — Overtime: $81,405
Other: $594 — Retro: $16,843
TOTAL: $238,096
____________________

Wayne Alleyne, Conductor
Base: $120,244 — Overtime: $87,452
Other: $5,507 — Retro: $19,959
TOTAL: $233,162
____________________

George J. Burke, Syst Pwr Supervisor
Base: $109,885 — Overtime: $95,872
Other: $8,449 — Retro: $16,890
TOTAL: $231,096
____________________

Charles Hohenstein, Conductor
Base: $149,186 — Overtime: $59,468
Other: $2,805 — Retro: $18,489
TOTAL: $229,947
____________________

Alan J. Imperiale, Police Sergeant
Base: $101,943 — Overtime: $105,602
Other: $3,499 — Retro: $17,965
TOTAL: $229,009
____________________

Jose R. Tirado, Police Officer
Base: $93,410 — Overtime: $99,520
Other: $6,974 — Retro: $28,214
TOTAL: $228,117
____________________

John Peters, Conductor
Base: $111,044 — Overtime: $89,327
Other: $5,243 — Retro: $19,818
TOTAL: $225,432
____________________

John J. Maimone, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $101,095 — Overtime: $107,592
Other: $2,538 — Retro: $13,223
TOTAL: $224,448
____________________

Frank L. Gregory Jr, Police Officer
Base: $90,119 — Overtime: $77,198
Other: $28,105 — Retro: $28,549
TOTAL: $223,971
____________________

Jermaine T. Hill, Police Officer
Base: $97,693 — Overtime: $84,102
Other: $13,352 — Retro: $28,597
TOTAL: $223,744
____________________

Laquan L. Hudson, Detective
Base: $98,213 — Overtime: $83,081
Other: $19,508 — Retro: $22,927
TOTAL: $223,729
____________________

Brian A. Alleyne, Conductor
Base: $119,731 — Overtime: $79,629
Other: $2,387 — Retro: $20,058
TOTAL: $221,804
____________________

David R. Jamison, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $101,188 — Overtime: $93,459
Other: $4,349 — Retro: $17,536
TOTAL: $216,532
____________________

Pasquale Pucciarelli, Technician
Base: $66,052 — Overtime: $134,277
Other: $2,604 — Retro: $13,571
TOTAL: $216,504
____________________

Boguslaw K. Lozanski, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $102,729 — Overtime: $99,012
Other: $ — Retro: $13,489
TOTAL: $215,231
____________________

William R. Richardson, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $102,522 — Overtime: $94,665
Other: $865 — Retro: $16,493
TOTAL: $214,545
____________________

Keith R. Miano, Police Lieutenant
Base: $112,144 — Overtime: $88,243
Other: $ — Retro: $13,503
TOTAL: $213,890
____________________

Paul Tarnawski, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $101,591 — Overtime: $92,015
Other: $4,019 — Retro: $16,246
TOTAL: $213,871
____________________

Kevin B. Pollard, Asst Conductor
Base: $111,847 — Overtime: $83,319
Other: $3,558 — Retro: $14,758
TOTAL: $213,482
____________________

David A. Rasmussen, Conductor
Base: $144,413 — Overtime: $52,119
Other: $2,963 — Retro: $13,634
TOTAL: $213,128
____________________

Thomas H. Ohanlon, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $104,110 — Overtime: $88,848
Other: $4,609 — Retro: $14,489
TOTAL: $212,057
____________________

Abram Hamilton, Police Sergeant
Base: $108,805 — Overtime: $95,781
Other: $ — Retro: $4,314
TOTAL: $208,900
____________________

Andrzej Bijowski, Conductor
Base: $119,999 — Overtime: $67,322
Other: $3,874 — Retro: $15,778
TOTAL: $206,972
____________________

Piotr J. Regula, Foreman III
Base: $77,874 — Overtime: $113,234
Other: $1,855 — Retro: $13,832
TOTAL: $206,795
____________________

Robert M. Marusky, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $100,013 — Overtime: $86,854
Other: $3,418 — Retro: $13,995
TOTAL: $204,280
____________________

Raymond J. Pereira, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $104,189 — Overtime: $82,873
Other: $560 — Retro: $15,468
TOTAL: $203,090
____________________

Edward Clifford, Supr C & S
Base: $96,274 — Overtime: $87,069
Other: $4,742 — Retro: $14,929
TOTAL: $203,015
____________________

James R. Benecki, Asst Conductor
Base: $109,842 — Overtime: $76,058
Other: $775 — Retro: $16,145
TOTAL: $202,820
____________________

Derek R. Peins, Police Lieutenant
Base: $90,012 — Overtime: $77,508
Other: $ — Retro: $35,080
TOTAL: $202,600
____________________

Gilbert Herbert, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $97,297 — Overtime: $84,296
Other: $4,274 — Retro: $16,691
TOTAL: $202,559
____________________

Easton W. Morris, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $96,084 — Overtime: $90,930
Other: $2,578 — Retro: $12,729
TOTAL: $202,320
____________________

Eric S. Williams, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $103,220 — Overtime: $79,066
Other: $2,298 — Retro: $17,395
TOTAL: $201,979
____________________

Melvin L. Webb, Police Sergeant
Base: $103,544 — Overtime: $87,259
Other: $ — Retro: $9,575
TOTAL: $200,378
____________________

Aldo Cammalleri Jr, Conductor
Base: $90,197 — Overtime: $89,596
Other: $4,522 — Retro: $16,045
TOTAL: $200,361
____________________

Christopher J. Tremper, Locomotive Engineer
Base: $107,702 — Overtime: $80,795
Other: $402 — Retro: $11,291
TOTAL: $200,189