NEWARK — NJ Transit has seemingly come up with a new way to upset riders: empty cars on crowded trains.

Riders returning to the rails after the holidays were greeted by the empty cars this week, causing some passengers to try and board to the cars, only to find them unavailable. They had to then run down the platform to get on an available car.

NJ Transit said that due to "safety and operational reasons," passengers cannot ride in the cars. As an example, if a passenger were to have a medical emergency while riding the car crew members would not be able to reach them, according to a NJ Transit spokesperson, who said it is not possible to assign a crew member solely to the cab car.

The Positive Train Control (PTC)-equipped empty passenger cars, also called cab cars, are placed at the front of trains before non-equipped locomotives, which NJ Transit said allows it to operate more trains and provide service that would not have otherwise been available.

"To maximize service delivery, we’re pursuing creative, 'out-of-the-box' solutions and expending every available resources," NJ Transit said in a statement.

The PTC installation project now goes into the testing phase in order to reach the next deadline of Dec. 31, 2020 for full certification by the Federal Railway Administration

"While we continue to equip, test, and certify the remaining locomotives and cab cars, this provides us with necessary flexibility to continue to perform routine maintenance and required inspections on PTC-equipped vehicles," the statement continued. "This could be seen on various lines to maximize every available resource."

NJ Transit met a critical deadline in its installation of federally mandated PTC on 282 locomotives, cab cars, and wayside installations along 326 miles of track in December. During an announcement about the milestone, Gov. Phil Murphy said that the 282 completed installations is what the FRA determined NJ Transit needed to be fully functional with PTC.

There are still 158 locomotives and cab cars that need installation, bringing the total number of vehicle installations to 440.

Murphy said at the December announcement that commuters will eventually notice a difference in service because equipment that was pulled out of service for installation will be available again, but there isn't a "magic moment" that will correct all of NJ Transit's problems.

So far, morning and afternoon commuters have had no magic as trains continue to be canceled at the last minute due to "equipment availability."

"This is going to be an incremental step-by-step in the right direction and I'm going to stay on this like a hawk," Murphy said in December.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ.

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