New Jersey Transit is returning 20 passenger rail cars to service and leasing another 20 from Maryland to ease car shortages and overcrowding among other changes aimed at remaking the agency, Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday.
The Democrat announced the continued overhaul of the transit agency, which he has called a "national disgrace" at Trenton's rail station alongside Acting Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and newly approved NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett.
But while passengers stand to benefit from the return of the rail cars, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told lawmakers in Congress Thursday that the agency is considering preventing New Jersey Transit trains from using its tracks along the vital Northeast Corridor into New York if it doesn't meet a Dec. 31 deadline to install a sophisticated speed control system.
In a filing to federal regulators last month, NJ Transit reported that through September, the braking system had only been installed in 25 of 440 locomotives and on none of 11 track segments. New Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said last month that measures were being taken to meet the deadline.
NJ Transit is the nation's largest statewide public transportation system with more than 200 million passenger trips annually on its trains, buses and light rail.
Murphy has been in office for about a month after campaigning on remaking the agency, which had been plagued by safety concerns and rider frustration over crowded cars and delays. At a news conference in December to announce the selection of Gutierrez-Scaccetti, Murphy called NJ Transit a one-time national model that has become "national disgrace."
He cautioned on Thursday that the changes he announced would not fix the agency's problems overnight, comparing NJ Transit to baseball.
"These folks have inherited a squad that finished in last place last year notwithstanding really strong players day in and day out," he said. "And I don't think we should be expecting they'll be playing for World Series in October but we're gonna get there as fast as we can."
Gutierrez-Scaccetti said 12 of the 20 cars from in-state were back in action Thursday. She says they had been out of service for upgrades and were fitted with positive train control.
That system hasn't been tested yet and the cars will function as regular passenger trains, she said. She added that the action is not expected to delay the agency's year-end deadline to get the system operational.
NJ Transit will also be swapping a locomotive for 20 rail cars from Maryland in a lease deal, she added.
Among the other changes Murphy announced were outsourcing repairs through March to accelerate maintenance and picking up the pace of hiring.
There was no cost estimate immediately available, but Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the outsourcing would be "relatively inexpensive."
Murphy ordered an audit of NJ Transit earlier this year.