Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg

NJ Transit Train-Safety Technology on Hold

  • Trailing its peers with hundreds of installations still needed
  • Murphy pick doubts agency’s confidence in hitting the goal

New Jersey Transit has stopped installing federally mandated safety technology on trains as software problems have sidelined 8 percent of locomotives undergoing tests.

The non-functioning technology has led to an equipment shortage since late last year that’s increased canceled and late trains and caused crowding. NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro, who will leave the job in April, has told lawmakers that the agency is confident it will meet a Dec. 31 deadline to have the software in place on all 440 pieces of power equipment.

Part of the program is on hold, though, according to Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, nominated to oversee transportation by Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, who took office Jan. 16. Asked in an interview whether the agency is continuing to pull locomotives and other power equipment, called cab cars, from service for software installations, she said: “At this moment in time, no.”

At a news conference earlier in New Brunswick, Gutierrez-Scaccetti also wasn’t so confident in the agency’s ability to make deadline on the technology, which automatically brakes trains in danger of derailing or crashing.

“Nobody can say that right now,” she said.

The nation’s second-biggest commuter railroad, financially starved by two-term Republican Governor Chris Christie, has the most accidents and safety fines among its peers. In December, Murphy called the agency “a national disgrace.”

“This is a failure of leadership,” Murphy told reporters at the news conference to announce Kevin Corbett, a vice president at the engineering company Aecom, as his nominee for NJ Transit executive director. “We’re here today to announce turning the page on the boss.”

The new technology, called positive train control, could have saved eight passengers killed when an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia in May 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded. Federal investigators are examining whether the system could have slowed another Amtrak train in Washington state that was traveling 80 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone before it derailed on Dec. 18, killing three.

NJ Transit’s latest estimated project cost is at least $320 million, a 28 percent increase over the October 2016 figure. In the U.S., the railroad ranks third from bottom on project progress among 41 passenger and freight lines, according to Federal Railroad Administration data.

The other New York City-area operators -- the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North -- are more than half finished, while Amtrak, the national passenger railroad, is 96 percent complete.

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