New Jersey transportation officials held a “listening session” Tuesday night in Princeton to discuss issues of concern and give updates on efforts to improve NJ Transit train service.

During the session, which was held in a dark, chilly and cramped Dinky Station waiting room, state Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti told the crowd of about 40 people that progress is being made in getting more NJ Transit cars into service, but the Agency will continue to face bumps in the road.

She noted positive train control equipment that was installed at the end of last year must be still checked, certified and inspected, and that affects the entire NJ Transit operation.

She also said NJ Transit is doing everything possible to get more engineers trained and more equipment back into service but officials cannot make up “for multiple years of not having engineer classes, and not having people to operate your trains, or not having conductors in place.”

NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett said 2018 was particularly difficult for the agency, kind of like “a patient that was critically ill on his death bed. I think this last year has just been being able to stabilize the patient.”

He acknowledged it will take time before commuters feel warm and fuzzy about NJ Transit.

“You sort of become the piñata that everyone likes to whack and I get that. But if you actually look since Jan. 2, our service for the trains that we are running, we’ve had a dramatic drop off in annulments," he said, using the agency's term for train cancelations.

He said while most of the emergency braking system has been installed, it doesn’t mean all of that equipment can be immediately put back into service.

Following several questions about when NJ Transit will re-start Dinky shuttle service from one part of Princeton to the Princeton Station, Gutierrez-Scaccetti said schedules and equipment is still being configured but service should be restored sometime between April and the end of June.

The 2.7-mile Dinky service in Princeton was suspended in September because of engineer shortages, and equipment was shuffled to allow the federally mandated PTC project to be completed.

Gutierrez-Scaccetti said engineers are required to go through extensive training before they’re able to go to work on any line, so there is no shortcut. She said it’s the same situation when it comes to fixing NJ Transit .

“It feels like a long time but this is not a problem that came to pass in the last 12 months. This is a problem that probably came to pass someplace over the last 10 to 12 years.”

Gutierrez-Scaccetti pointed out that the culture of training engineers at NJ Transit has changed dramatically. She said in the past it was about looking for ways to fail candidates but today “it’s a much more engaged style of training. We encourage people, we coach people, we try to make sure they’re successful in their training.”

Assemblyman Dan Benson, D-Mercer, the chairman of the Transportation Committee, helped to organize the listening session.

He said he understands people get frustrated with constant delays and interruptions in service.

Corbett said the first new class of engineers and conductors will graduate in the fall.

“From October on I think you’ll see significant improvements. I think this summer is still going to be rough, and I think for us that’s making sure what we do run this summer we can deliver, when we have issues, that we communicate them quickly and effectively.’

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