Murphy wants to know how NJ Transit fell ‘so far, so fast’
SUMMIT — Gov. Phil Murphy ordered a "comprehensive, strategic, financial and operational audit" of NJ Transit he hopes is a first step in fixing the troubled rail line.
During a news conference at NJ Transit's Summit station Monday, Murphy said new Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti will lead the audit, which Murphy hopes will be complete in three months.
"The public deserves a true accounting for how this once model agency has fallen so far so fast. Our goal must be a new NJ Transit that will begin with a new culture and its management and a new commitment to getting this system right," Murphy said.
The audit will include a critical review of NJ Transit's funding, leadership structure, personal hiring and customer service. It will also examine NJ Transit's relationship with Amtrak.
The governor, who has called the agency "a national disgrace" said correcting the situation with NJ Transit is a bipartisan matter. Democrats state Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John MacKeon, along with Republican state Sen. Tom Kean and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, stood with Murphy as he issued the order.
"We cannot continue with the system that lead the nation in accidents and breakdowns. We cannot continue with a system that has been so started by Trenton that its been forced to use long-term capital funds to pay for day-to-day expenses, delaying much needed upgrades including those to passenger safety," Murphy said.
In a statement, MacKeon blamed former GOP Gov Chris Christie for NJ Transit's problems.
“The Legislature has been working hard toward legislative solutions to fix NJ Transit, but as long as Gov. Christie was in office, we lacked a partner. Gov. Christie was in denial and refused to take responsibility, but Gov. Murphy is already doing the right thing," he said.
NJ Transit came under criticism from riders and politicians after more than 100 trains were canceled because of mechanical or equipment issues, without further information provided to the public, in the 10 business days after the snowstorm at the beginning of the year.
The system has also been criticized and fined for missing benchmarks in its plan to install positive train control, a system experts say might have avoided crashes including a deadly one in Hoboken.
"We cannot continue with a system whose customers are all too often left on the platform without any explanation for delays," Murphy said.
Murphy, who spoke with commuters while at the Summit station, said NJ Transit is an agency that needs to be "boiled down to its essentials and then put back together."
NJ Transit said it does not comment on executive orders.
Commuter Gabriel Gall of Ewing, who rides the Northeast Corridor from Hamilton several days a week, is hopeful the audit will help improve NJ Transit.
"I think they should look at where the money is going and is it going to the right places. Being that they (the NEC) lines are Amtrak owned, probably not," Gall said.
David Matthau contributed to this report.