EWR Monorail, Station to Close May 1 for 75 Days

Newark Liberty International Airport’s monorail system is showing its age, and it will shut down May 1 for a 75-day overhaul, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the transportation system, reported by Steve Strunsky in the Star-Ledger (April 9).  The monorail is the only way to get from NJ Transit’s airport station to the airport’s terminals, so train service will also be suspended during the repair period.  The repairs include fixes to the steel and epoxy running surface; the years of service have eroded 60 spots along the 6.3-mile system.  Buses from airport terminals to Newark Penn Station will replace the monorail.

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Simpson Trashes NJT Staff Off-Peak Report

“I threw the report in the garbage,” said NJ state transportation commissioner and NJ Transit board chairman Jim Simpson, referring to a report for NJ Transit rail operations saying that off-peak discounts for rail riders were not viable “for capacity reasons,” according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (March 13). “I don’t think the report was worth the paper it was written on, so I’ve asked folks to go back to the drawing board,” Simpson continued. The report was written by staff under Kevin O’Connor, who reportedly has been forced out as general manager of NJT’s rail operations; O’Connor was not at the NJT board meeting on March 12, at which Simpson made his comments.

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Equip Trains with Safety Cameras (Lawmakers)

If several area lawmakers have their way, trains nationwide would be fitted with surveillance cameras that would record what the train engineer does and the track ahead.  Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut joined in a news conference at Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal on December 8 to make the proposal, according to reporting by Verena Dobnik of the Associated Press (reported in the Star-Ledger, Dec. 9).  Grand Central Terminal was the destination of the ill-fated Metro-North Railroad commuter train that crashed on December 1, killing 4 passengers and injuring many more.  Engineer inattention has been cited as a likely cause.  Proposals for surveillance cameras were first recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board 5 years ago.  Sen. Schumer said that engineer fatigue was also suspected in 2 other collisions, in Iowa in 2011 and in Massachusetts in 2008.  It was not made clear as to how cameras would help solve the problem of train-operator fatigue.  Any such regulation would have to be issued by the Federal Railroad Administration.

“Push-Pull” Trains Questioned After Metro-North Wreck

Whether operation of trains by locomotives pushing rather than pulling the cars is totally safe has come into question after the fatal Metro-North train wreck that killed 4 passengers and injured many others on December 1. The train consisted of 8 cars and a dual-mode diesel and electric locomotive, which was pushing the cars from the rear.  According to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer and Patrick McGeehan in The New York Times (Dec. 2), rail-safety experts have at times questioned the performance of this type of train in the event of derailment, speculating that accidents were made more severe by the pushing force from the rear.

Of the commuter railroads in the New York area, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road use push-pull operation sparingly and mostly for trains the operate beyond the limits of electrification.  These lines use all-electric “multiple-unit” equipment, in which there is no separate locomotive, for most services where electrification is available.  The two railroads have been reequipping their electric car fleet in recent years.

In contrast, NJ Transit has chosen not to order new electric cars and increasingly is using locomotive-powered push-pull trains to provide service on all lines, even the electrified ones.  Critics have said that NJT is even stalling on rehabilitating electric cars damaged in Superstorm Sandy.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the parent of Metro-North, defended the use of push-pull equipment, saying that if the National Transportation Safety Board had any reservations, the railroads wouldn’t be allowed to use push-pull trains.  Metro-North intends to install a “positive train control” system in which computers monitor train speed in advance of restrictions such as the sharp curve where the wreck occurred. The status of positive control system installation on NJ Transit is not clear, but NJT had been a leader in positive train control planning and has let several contracts over the past decade to begin installation of the system on its routes.

Read more about this (limited access) at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/02/nyregion/severity-of-derailment-revives-safety-concerns-about-pushed-trains.html