Investigators find many NJ Transit violations

By MICHAEL R. SISAK

Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. — Federal investigators have found numerous safety violations in New Jersey Transit’s commuter train operations, including the lack of on-board emergency tools and working fire extinguishers, trains stopping too close to each other and workers using cellphones when they shouldn’t have.

NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro disclosed the findings found during a Federal Railroad Administration review that began last spring to lawmakers at a state oversight hearing Friday. The hearing was scheduled after September’s fatal train crash in Hoboken that killed one woman and injured more than 100 people.

Santoro said investigators also found that train engineers sometimes failed to blow horns at grade crossings, as required by law, and didn’t always perform required brake checks. He said the findings are unacceptable.

The 16-year NJ Transit veteran was appointed to run the agency after the deadly train crash when a packed train going twice the 10 mph speed limit slammed into a bumping post at Hoboken Terminal.

An Associated Press analysis of federal safety data from January 2011 through July 2016 found that NJ Transit trains have been involved in 157 accidents since the start of 2011, three times as many as the largest commuter railroad, the Long Island Rail Road.

According to federal data, NJ Transit trains break down about every 85,000 miles, compared to more than 200,000 miles for the LIRR and the Metro-North Railroad.

Santoro and other top NJ Transit officials skipped out on an oversight hearing last month to instead attend a meeting with federal officials in Washington. The Railroad Administration said that meeting could have been changed if they knew about the Trenton hearing.

Legislators said NJ Transit officials gave short notice that they would be missing the earlier hearing to meet with federal regulators and threatened to issue subpoenas if they did not agree to testify on Friday.

Lawmakers also want information on the agency’s finances, how it is responding to victims of the Sept. 29 crash and the status of a project to install sophisticated train control technology that could have prevented the wreck.

NJ Transit board chairman Richard Hammer told the oversight committee last month that NJ Transit would meet a December 2018 installation deadline, with testing scheduled for next year on a 6-mile stretch of the Morris and Essex Line.

He said NJ Transit would look into whether the technology should be installed at Hoboken Terminal. Federal regulators had given the agency an exception for the station.

After the crash, NJ Transit lowered the speed limit at Hoboken Terminal to 5 mph and ordered conductors to stand in the front of the train and act as a second set of eyes for engineers when entering the station.