NJT locomotive photo
Each NJT train needs an engineer

A shortage of locomotive engineers has bedeviled NJ Transit's rail operations, forcing an increasing number of train cancellations and making daily commuting even more unpredictable.  The situation reached a new peak on Monday, October 9 -- Columbus Day -- when NJT cancelled 35 trains, according to reporting by Larry Higgs for nj.com. NJT insisted that 20 engineers elected to take the day off; but the engineers' union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, disputed the number, saying only five engineers had laid off, and others had volunteered to run trains to take their place.

NJT's locomotive engineer staff  has been beset by retirements and by engineers leaving to work for the other two metropolitan area commuter railroads, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road, which pay about 20% higher salaries than NJT. NJT says it has a plan to increase its engineer count, with 39 trainees "in the pipeline" to become qualified locomotive engineers; training takes about two years, but as many as two-thirds of the trainees typically drop out of the program. According to NJT executive director Steve Santoro, the training program is expected to yield five more engineers in November, and two more in January.  The railroad says it has 364 engineers on active duty, and needs 268 to field a full complement of trains on a given weekday.  It figures an engineer averages three runs per shift.