So many canceled trains: Why NJ Transit can’t always plan for absences
Another day, another slew of trail cancelations by NJ Transit.
According to Kevin Corbett, the executive director of NJ Transit, every effort is being made to attract more engineer candidates and get them into training programs that typically last 20 months.
But in the meantime, one major issue continues to be train cancellations that are suddenly announced without warning, sometimes minutes before a train is due to arrive at a station.
He said this is usually caused when an engineer doesn’t give notice and does not show up for work as expected. But communication with train engineers is regulated, and it’s actually banned completely until the individual has had a certain number of hours of rest.
Sometimes NJ Transit might not know whether an engineer will be off until an hour or so before their expected shift.
He noted each engineer will usually make between four and eight trips a day, “so if that engineer is out that has an impact on several trains.”
Corbett said that when engineers give warning about taking vacation or sick days, that information is worked into normal scheduling and it usually is not an issue. But when engineers are absent with no notice given, that is unacceptable and disciplinary action can result.
“We are pursuing that as per the contract. We have a union contract that goes through 2019 and, money aside, we expect people to show up to work,” he said.
“It’s not just about money. It’s a certain commitment to your job and that’s not acceptable to me and we are pursuing the discipline process as per the contract.”
He noted some trains must be pulled out of service to be outfitted with emergency braking Positive Train Control equipment. Reassigning engineers will then take place so they can be trained in how to use the system. While this is planned for, filling the void in manpower that follows can sometimes be an issue.
“We have to communicate much better and we’re working on that. We’re now operating out of our emergency operations center in Maplewood, just like we would during a hurricane, etc, where we have everyone in the same room, so there’s no excuse for not getting the information out.”