Cancellations and delays continue to plague New Jersey’s rail commuters, a year after similar issues led officials to vow to fix the problem.
An engineer shortage has contributed to a spike in cancellations in recent weeks. After a first quarter in which cancellations were down 47% compared to last year, New Jersey Transit says 373 trains were cancelled in June, a 52% increase from 2018.
Mechanical problems and issues with Amtrak’s aging infrastructure also have contributed.
Executive Director Kevin Corbett said he’s cracked down on abuses of unscheduled engineer absences that snarled operations last summer. NJ Transit didn’t give details Wednesday on what effect that’s had.
“We’ve taken a lot of steps,” Corbett said. “We told staff beforehand that abuse of any program like that is unacceptable, and we’ve seen a very significant improvement.”
The chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers didn’t respond to messages seeking comment, but letters posted on the union’s website last month appeared to recommend that members not work overtime on their scheduled days off while the union is in a dispute with NJ Transit.
The lack of engineers, combined with mechanical problems, can have a ripple effect on train service. For example, on Monday, more than two dozen trains on just two of NJ Transit’s 12 rail lines were affected, either by being cancelled or delayed by cancellations that caused late or missed connections.
NJ Transit had about 335 engineers on duty last summer but said it needs at least 390 engineers to accommodate service on its 12 rail lines and cover for anticipated absences. The agency has expanded its training program to address the shortfall. One class of 12 trainees graduated this spring, and about 40 more are expected to graduate by early January.