Trouble ahead, trouble behind on New Jersey Transit for frustrated commuters

N.J. Burkett Image
Tuesday, July 2, 2024
Trouble ahead, trouble behind on New Jersey Transit
N.J. Burkett has the latest.

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- New Jersey Transit riders are frustrated when it comes to recent delays, suspensions, struck trains and wire issues.

It comes down to multiple agencies and multiple problems, but commuters don't care -- they simply want to get to work and get home.

Eyewitness News reporter N.J. Burkett sought out to find answers on how to fix an aging railway and restore reliability.

Kay Christian just wants to get home, but she takes New Jersey Transit. Which means she's never really sure when, or if, she'll get there.

"Last week, it actually it got to the point where I couldn't get a train home. It took me five hours to get home Friday. It's got to stop. They have to figure something out. It's not right," she said.

Victor Velez says he's fed up.

"I've been doing this for 18 years, and this has been the worst year ever for delays. I get home like four hours later, three hours later. It's just ridiculous. I was like, I wish I'd never moved out of New York," Velez said.

On average, one in 10 NJ Transit trains is more than six minutes late. Last month, nearly 400 were canceled, altogether.

The railroad relies on two crumbling tunnels with aging overhead power cables to get trains into and out of Manhattan, and a creaky, mechanical swing bridge over the Hackensack River, both built in 1910 and owned by Amtrak. Overhead wires sag in the heat and snap in the winter.

NJ Transit is quick to blame Amtrak for most delays, but it's not that simple. Roughly one-third of the railroad's fleet is 40 years old and trains break down. It happens in the winter as well as in the summer. In fact, the LIRR's trains are three times more reliable and Metro-North's trains are five times more reliable.

Last week, our NJ Transit train was stopped for several minutes, waiting for the portal bridge to close. On another train, we were delayed for 10 minutes when a door got stuck on a train so packed, we had to ride between cars.

"A transit system requires a year in, year out investment," said Micah Rasmussen with Rider University.

Rasmussen is an expert on state politics. He says governors have been short-changing NJ Transit for decades.

"The priorities are in other places. They're on roads, they're on schools," he said.

Two new rail tunnels would have opened six years ago, if former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had not canceled them. And like his predecessors, Christie took money from the railroad's long-term capital plan just to keep the system running.

"He found nickels and dimes it took to operate, he also delayed and deferred maintenance and projects that had to be done and that clearly had an impact," Rasmussen said.

To a lesser extent, current Governor Phil Murphy has done it, too.

"You promised, years ago, that you were going to fix New Jersey Transit if it kills you, but here we are," Eyewitness News Reporter N.J. Burkett said.

"I'm still alive. But listen, what would you like me to say? We are beholden to infrastructure," Murphy said.

Murphy insists that the railroad is a priority and that the failures are being addressed.

"We're making up for lost time. So please bear with us. We'll do the best we can, given we're talking about decades of underinvestment," Murphy said.

Riders are skeptical.

"People plan around New Jersey Transit failing," Christian said. "They plan their schedules around that. They do."

A spokesman for Chris Christie, Karl Rickett, said in a statement:

"Gov. Christie always supported public transit when it was done right, but the ARC Tunnel neither made sense nor served riders. It dropped commuters off deep in Macy's basement blocks away from Penn Station and unfairly left New Jersey taxpayers solely responsible for all cost overruns in the project, leaving the federal government, the State of New York and the City of New York with almost no responsibility for the cost of the project. When it comes to funding NJ Transit the facts speak for themselves - state aid for NJ Transit went up 54.6% during his administration. The Murphy Administration has had 6 1/2 years to improve NJ Transit 'or die trying' -- it is now worse and more expensive for riders than it was when they came to office."

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