KEARNY – The latest group of NJ Transit train engineers graduated from their classroom training in a ceremony Thursday, pushing the roster to more than 400 once they're done with field training and final check rides later this month.

Gov. Phil Murphy attended the ceremony, as he typically does, to draw attention to still-unfinished efforts to improve transit service.

“No one outside of our team – and I do literally mean no one outside of our team – thought we would be able to even begin to turn NJ Transit around,” Murphy said.

“We still all have a ways to go to complete NJ Transit’s turnaround story, but let’s make no mistake,” he said. “We are well on our way.”

Training takes a year and a half. The latest graduates began their classes in March 2020 – just as the pandemic was starting, which meant the intensive classes had to be reinvented for the Zoom era, with few chances for in-person coaching.

“Obviously we had to look at how do we keep this going,” said NJ Transit president and chief executive officer Kevin Corbett. “We couldn’t risk going back to having an engineer shortage and all the pain that we went through in 2018 and 2019.”

A full roster includes 390 engineers. Corbett said that by having a full roster, NJT is able to handle things such as service to MetLife Stadium on Sundays for Jets and Giants home games without harming regular service for the Monday morning commute.

The latest class is the 11th to graduate during Murphy’s term, bringing on 127 new engineers. In part, classes allow the agency to stay ahead of attrition, as the 14 new engineers bring the total to 404 – but the total was 398 when the last class graduated in June.

“After a net loss of 61 engineers between 2009 and 2018, a loss that saw NJ Transit fall into the tailspin of canceled trains and frustrated customers, in just the past four, we have overseen a net gain of 73,” Murphy said.

“This means that today, when an engineer calls out for whatever reason, there’s someone else to step up and into the cab to keep the line running on time,” he said. “In fact, cancellations due to engineer availability have decreased 38% since we started NJ Transit’s turnaround by restocking the roster, and cancellations have not exceeded single digits in seven of the last nine months.”

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There are four other classes currently in the middle of training. The next class graduates in April.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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