October 9, 2018 / 7:08 PM / 6 months ago

New Jersey Transit in crisis, needs strategic plan: audit

(Reuters) - An audit of New Jersey Transit released on Tuesday found that operations at the state’s passenger rail system were “inefficient” and “unsustainable,” and recommended that the state urgently implement strategic planning, recruit more personnel and invest in technology.

FILE PHOTO: Passengers crowd to catch New Jersey Transit commuter trains in New York's Penn Station, the nation's busiest train hub, which is closing tracks during construction causing massive disruption to commuters in and out of New York City, July 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

“This audit is what will allow us to begin rebuilding New Jersey Transit and restore faith in its operations,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Tuesday. “This is fixable and within our grasp.”

The $1.3 million audit of NJ Transit, the largest statewide public transportation system in the United States with over 900,000 daily riders, highlighted the system’s inadequate funding, failures in organizational structure and a dearth of engineers.

Amtrak, the U.S. national rail operator, is responsible for maintaining tracks and other railroad infrastructure on the Northeast Corridor - a crucial railroad gateway connecting New England to Washington that runs through New Jersey via New York’s Penn Station.

But New York Penn Station, which is used by an estimated 600,000 commuter rail and Amtrak passengers daily, has been hampered by a limited number of tracks and a century-old tunnel to New Jersey, which was heavily damaged during 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.

Amtrak’s $24 billion Gateway plan to build a new train tunnel under the Hudson River and repair the existing tunnel, is considered one of the most important infrastructure projects in the country.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, canceled a new Hudson River tunnel project for which ground had already been broken soon after taking office in 2010, saying the cost was too high.

Murphy, a Democrat whose election campaign focused on improving the state’s transit system, ordered the audit days after his inauguration in January.

NJ Transit’s riders have been vocal on social media in their recent criticism of the commuter railroad.

“NJ Transit, dysfunctional in the evening and in the morning. What a perfect sandwich to ruin two days,” tweeted Matthew O’Grady (@Matthewtogrady) on Friday.

Some users have even devoted Twitter accounts to documenting their daily transit woes.

Twitter user Commute From Hell (@fromheretoNJ) circulated a petition on Monday called “Demand Improvement in NJ Transit Service,” which nearly 150 people had signed as of Tuesday afternoon.

Murphy assured commuters on Tuesday that they will not see fare hikes in the near future and instead said he will work with lawmakers to increase funding.

Reporting by Gabriella Borter; editing by Lisa Shumaker and G Crosse

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