Welcome to the inaugural edition of NJ TRANSIT: Moving Forward. In this column, I’ll highlight some of the significant investments we’ve made over the last seventeen months in equipment and personnel, along with our continued focus on maximizing service delivery that will ultimately help improve your experience as a customer of the third-largest transportation agency in the country. Whether you are a daily commuter or casual traveler, the entire team at NJ TRANSIT is committed to providing a safe and more reliable experience for all train, bus, light rail, and paratransit riders.
My focus since I arrived can be described as a back-to-basics exercise, the key elements of which have been a focus on people and infrastructure. I live in Mendham and still continue to commute today by rail from Morristown, as I have for more than 20 years. I know firsthand how critically important a positive NJ TRANSIT experience is to the quality of life of our customers. I am excited to share a few facts and statistics that illustrate what we’ve accomplished, and to discuss what the future holds for NJ TRANSIT.
Investing in A Modernized Fleet
We have 113 new multilevel rail cars on order, 182 new cruiser buses being delivered this year, and 85 new articulated buses, 183 new cruiser buses and 17 new dual-powered locomotives are scheduled to begin arriving in 2020. We are purchasing eight electric buses for a pilot in Camden with funding recently awarded from the NJ DEP that will allow us to study in real-world scenarios the benefits and challenges of utilizing this alternate energy source.
A new, modern fleet means increased reliability - resulting in reduced maintenance and down time, improved performance, more capacity. It also gives us a greener transit system that’s emitting less greenhouse gases and reducing our carbon footprint. In addition, the onboard experience is also improved with new customer amenities like USB charging ports at seats and upgraded information displays.
Some of our rail cars and locomotives are well over 40 years old. While still safely transporting our customers, these vehicles are difficult to maintain and travel much fewer distances between mechanical breakdowns. The 40+ year-old Arrow III cars, which will be replaced by the 113 new multilevel cars, travel just an average of 40,000 miles between breakdowns compared to almost 400,000 miles between unplanned servicing projected on the new multilevel cars.
While I’ve been very candid publicly about the rail service challenges we’d face this summer due to a shortage of engineers, we have seen a 47% decrease in the number of train annulments in the first quarter of 2019 when compared to the first quarter of 2018. Train annulments are defined as trains that did not operate from their origin station. They are communicated to customers as a cancelled train. When comparing the first two quarters of each year combined, annulments are still down 31% year-over-year.
Aggressive Personnel Recruiting
As you may have read, we recruited 102 locomotive engineering trainees last year, running a record-setting six concurrent locomotive training classes. We anticipate having three classes graduate over the next 6 months, in addition to the class that graduated in June. By the end of this year and moving into early next year, customers should see a significant improvement in the number of cancelled trains due to engineer availability. Most people I talk with are not aware that it takes 20 months for a locomotive engineer to train before becoming certified to operate alone in passenger service. The training is akin to that of an airline pilot, with an extensive classroom and field training curriculum.
We’ve also hired more than 500 new bus operators since January 2018. The new buses in combination with the record-setting number of new operators results in 1,900 new passenger trips we’re providing every weekday on bus. That is an additional 500,000 passenger trips each year.
These are just a few of our many accomplishments over the last seventeen months, and we’re not slowing down. Unfortunately, constructing infrastructure, building vehicles or training engineers, bus operators and other skilled trades takes time. Like turning around a battleship, long-lasting positive change does not happen overnight. We’re working with a sense of urgency to make up for years of neglect and show our customers that we’ve got what it takes to transform this agency into the national role model it once was.
With the cooperation and continuous support of our riders, NJ TRANSIT is moving forward, and we’re committed to keeping you informed along the way. In my next installment of “Moving Forward” I’ll share how we’re leveraging technology to enhance the customer experience including improved communications.