Will NJ Transit make the deadline for PTC installation?
NEWARK — Optimism abounds that NJ Transit will meet its Dec. 31 deadline for completing federally mandated emergency-brake installation.
The railroad adjusted its schedule, reduced fares and suspended service on the entire Atlantic City Line in order to finish the job on time. Gov. Phil Murphy was so confident about the timeline that he said that there is no "Plan B" in case the effort falls short.
"We will succeed," Murphy said.
At its board meeting in November, the agency said the work on the system known as positive train control is 88 percent complete and workers will continue "tirelessly" to meet the goal. Last January, NJ Transit was just 12 percent finished.
Among the milestones NJ Transit said it has met in the installation process:
- 1,827 employees are trained
- 228 locomotives and controlling cab cars of the 282 required by the end of the year are complete
- 110 poles and wayside units have been installed
- 93 of 98 antennas have been installed
In order to complete the equipment installation, the contractor has added additional resources at three facilities and staff is working multiple shifts to complete the work.
The downside to the installation is the continuing cancellation of trains is that the car needs to be pulled out to be outfitted with PTC technology. Crews are also needed for the testing of equipment.
NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said the installation is extremely complex.
“People don’t understand this is like [...] the Apollo space program. When you see the communication back to our mainframe computers, back to the tracks, it’s an incredibly complex safety enhancement program," he said earlier this fall.
Each train will have crash-hardened event recorders installed; components that will tabulate PTC data; a separate on-board computer system that will direct all PTC functionality that’s taking place; and up front, the speed display unit.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, who has led legislative efforts to improve NJ Transit, is pulling for the deadline to be met.
"I think everyone in the Legislature and in the executive branch understands the importance of making it for the commuting public and I think everyone's on the same page. We're going to do everything in our power to get this thing done on time," Kean told New Jersey 101.5.
He said that the railroad's next challenge is to deal with communications and the issue of engineer shortage and absences. One of Kean's long time proposals to waive residency rules for NJ Transit engineers was approved by Murphy.
"There don't seem to be any contingency plans if a train is out of service for more than 90 minutes as there should be. The communications flow from NJ Transit to riders in a real time basis is completely inadequate and they get conflicted information frequently," Kean said.
"We still have a situation where engineers take time off and one person creates an entire systemic breakdown if they don't show up for work. We need to make sure we have trained engineers, trained in a more timely basis and make sure that those people who betray the public trust by not showing up at work conveniently on a Monday or a Friday are forced to leave and we hire people who are going to do their job."
Next year should also see a return to service of the Atlantic City Line, which was suspended in September for PTC installation. NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said the a lot of money was invested not only in PTC but also in the track in and around the Atlantic City Line.
The threat to block NJ Transit trains from New York's Penn Station likely won't become reality but, according to Ronald Batory, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, a fine of nearly $28,000 per day would likely be imposed.