NJ Transit audit announced in January hasn’t yet started
Remember that executive order Gov. Phil Murphy signed in his first week in office directing a full audit of NJ Transit? It hasn’t started yet.
When he announced the audit at the Summit train station on Jan. 22, Murphy said he wanted it completed in three months, give or take a month.
“I’m also ordering this audit to be undertaken and completed as expeditiously as possible. The public cannot be left waiting for answers, and neither will I, and neither will we.”
“I would point you to sort of a one quarter. So, plus or minus three months,” Murphy said when asked about the timing. “If it slipped to four, please don’t say that we misled you. If we could do it faster, we will.”
Three months and eight days later, the contract for the audit was finally awarded Monday. Finalizing the scope of services and sustaining a concern by a vendor delayed things, said acting Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.
“Through the speed of government, the waiver was finally executed fully today,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti told the Assembly Budget Committee Monday.
“At the end of the day, the procurement process is usually what I would consider to be the long lead time process in almost anything we do in government,” she said.
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Summit, who attended Murphy’s January event, offered mild criticism.
“It’s a little dis – not disturbing, it’s uncomfortable to know the audit was just issued today,” Munoz said. “Obviously 90 days has gone by and we don’t have any results from the audit.”
Gutierrez-Scaccetti said some preliminary results from the audit should be ready in about three months, with a final audit completed by fall.
The North Highland consulting firm was awarded the $1.3 million contract. Gutierrez-Scaccetti said that company has extensive experience with transit – and that it won’t be permitted to bid on any of its recommendations.
“So the goal would be to have checks and balances in the system, where they’re not making recommendations that they at some point in time can supplement and earn more money on,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “So we’re trying very hard to be fiscally prudent and make sure we get recommendations that are solid and that we are certain need to be implemented.”
Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the first meeting with the auditors will be held within 10 days. To expedite the study, project managers at the Department of Transportation and NJ Transit have been set up to gather any data requested.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti said she’s “very confident” the audit will be helpful in improving the agency.
“Certainly we’re looking forward to the results. Gov. Murphy is laser-focused on improving New Jersey Transit, and this audit is an operational audit,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “It is an audit to see are our processes timely? What is it that’s at issue that causes us to not have on-time performance and time reliability in trips?
“And so I think that it’s in all of our best interest to see what the report provides and then what the appropriate next steps are to help improve the service and bring New Jersey Transit back to its legendary status,” she said.
Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration sent a letter to NJ Transit expressing concern it won’t have the ‘positive train control’ safety system in place by a year-end deadline.
Executive director Kevin Corbett said the state agency is coordinating closely with the FRA but might seek to qualify for an alternative schedule. All equipment would have to be installed this year, but testing and operation could take until the end of 2020.
“That is something that we are looking at. Should we look to have alternative criteria, we would have to move very quick to apply for that,” Corbett said.
NJ Transit ended 2017 with only 11 percent of the needed hardware installed. Updated numbers are due to be filed soon, Corbett said Monday.
Corbett said a review of PTC progress conducted shortly after he took the job in February was “frankly disturbing” and that the state has since had a series of productive meetings with federal regulators.
He says the state successfully tested the system on a 6-mile stretch of the Morris & Essex Line between Morristown and Denville.
“We have sternly warned our contractor they must deliver a system that meets federal safety requirements,” Corbett said. “I’m glad to report since then, the contractor has expanded to operate two equipment installment facilities with multiple work shifts in their efforts to meet the required federal deadline.”
Railroads that don't meet the PTC deadline, which was already extended from an original 2015 deadline, could be fined nearly $28,000 a day.
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