Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg

N.J. Transit Leads for Commuter-Rail Mechanical Breakdowns

  • Beleaguered agency under investigation after fatal train wreck
  • Worst performance in at least five years, federal data show

New Jersey Transit, under state and federal investigation amid slipping performance and a fatal train wreck, posted the most mechanical failures among 24 peer railroads in 2015, federal data show.

The number of major breakdowns -- when a train couldn’t start or finish a run -- was 240, the most in at least five years and a 13 percent increase over the 2014 figure, according to the National Transit Database. Only the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, operating in the Boston area, had more such breakdowns, with 302.

New Jersey Transit, though, was by far the leader when 300 other types of breakdowns were included. In those instances, a railroad’s policy prevents a train from starting or finishing because of a safety concern or an equipment problem. New Jersey Transit had 540 major and other failures to Massachusetts’s 356.

Among other railroads serving the New York City suburbs, Metro-North had 98 total failures and the Long Island Rail Road had one fewer. The average for 24 U.S. commuter railroads was 79 total mechanical failures and 25 major breakdowns.

New Jersey Transit, which is the nation’s third-biggest statewide commuter rail and bus operator, compiles the failure figures and submits them to federal regulators annually.

Jennifer Nelson, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the data published Monday by the Federal Transit Administration couldn’t be compared nationally because the state agency submitted more information than requested.

“New Jersey Transit was reporting all major and minor failures including resulting delays of other trains which made our numbers higher and was outside of the FTA’s requirement,” she said in an e-mail. “Moving forward, New Jersey Transit will remove resulting delays from the reporting process. ”

Most of New Jersey Transit’s rail customers commute to and from Manhattan. On Sept. 29, a woman on a platform in Hoboken was killed and more than 100 passengers injured when a train going twice the speed limit struck a bumper at the end of the tracks. The crash triggered an investigation by federal regulators and a review by state lawmakers, granted subpoena power to compel testimony and documents related to safety, operations and finances.

Since 1990, New Jersey Transit has diverted $7.1 billion of its capital budget to pay for day-to-day expenses. Forty-two percent of the total was shifted during the administration of Governor Chris Christie, 54, a Republican. At the same time, commuters have complained about paying higher fares for worsening service, including late arrivals and departures and crowding.

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