For the first time in 2 years, the NJ Transit board met in person on April 13, 2022. Much was the same: security check-in, label, escort to the 9th floor—yet there were changes: speaker check-in was done online before the meeting, for both phone and in-person speakers; in person, there was not the usual 2 sign-in sheets, speakers and attendees, but only an attendance sign-in sheet. No stacks of paper; similar reliance on the online agenda. The conduct of the meeting was familiar, and it was nice to see more than the portraits of board members, but to actually see them in person. Joyce Zuczek was missing, but Meghan Umukoro did an excellent job of conducting the meeting. During the public comment period, the main difference came after the in-person speakers: there were a number of people calling in via telephone—a welcome addition.
The March vote by the NJ Transit Board to reject the proposed contracts that would have given Academy Express, LLC, the right to operate several bus lines in Hudson County for the next 3 was historic, and it represented a radical departure from the past 42 years of board practice.
The decision to reject Academy as an operator and instead award the contracts to Coach, USA, marked the first time that the Board had voted against an agenda item of major significance in the agency’s history, dating back to 1979. The vote was unanimous, in keeping with Board custom.
The vote by the NJ Transit Board to reject the pro-posed contracts that would have given Academy Express, LLC, the right to operate several bus lines in Hudson County for the next 3 years was historic, and it represented a radical departure from the past 42 years of Board practice.
The decision to reject the 2 contracts to Academy as an operator and instead award the contracts to Coach USA marked the first time that the NJ Transit board had voted against an agenda item of major significance in the agency’s history, dating back to 1979. It also marked the first time that such a negative vote was unanimous, although approvals almost always are.
We are pleased to note that the April board meeting will be held live on Wednesday morning, April 13th, at 9 a.m., at NJ Transit headquarters in Newark—for the first time in more than 2 years. Since March 2020, all meetings have been by phone—and without even live-streamed presentations of the A number of people requested that the call-in option be maintained. Commissioner Gutierrez-Scaccetti stated that in fact the call-in option will be continued, as it has proven quite popular, opening up participation to many who found travel difficult for various reasons. We hope that members of the public who make the effort to attend in person will have their full 5 minutes to be heard. In any case, it will be good to chat in person and to once again have the new board room used to its full capacity, presentations and all!
When in-person board meetings resume in April, there will be a full 13 members present (or at least 10: 3 individuals are nominated, not directly appointed, and need Senate confirmation). Missing from the dais will be current board member James Adams, who was not reappointed. The reason given is the end of his term (Dec. 31, 2020), but we are skeptical. Flora Castillo voted No twice in 2016, and she was not renewed. At the time we wondered if her Nos were a factor—Mr. Adams’ removal after multiple No votes seems to indicate that, indeed, dissent is not tolerated.
We were disappointed, but not surprised, to read this article. (No word on whether the Assembly version has made a similar change):
TRENTON, N.J. — A bill proposing reforms for management of NJ Transit has removed one of its key proposals, changing the way the agency’s board chair is selected.NorthJersey.com reports state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, majority leader and the bill’s sponsor, has dropped the requirement that the chair be selected by board members, instead of automatically going to the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation.
NJ Transit has invested heavily in new passenger equipment in recent years; customers note the “multilevel” (double-deck) equipment in service on most lines, but the railroad has also purchased new diesel and electric locomotives, and most recently a fleet of “dual-mode” locomotives has begun arriving—these units can operate both as ordinary diesels or as electric locomotives, allowing the possibility of a single-seat ride from nonelectrified stations through to Penn Station in New York. However, on some lines, much service continues to be provided by self-propelled, “electric-multiple-unit” cars. This type of car is used on subway lines and on most of the electrified commuter lines in the United States; however, NJT is fairly unique in its emphasis on locomotive-hauled equipment, even on electrified lines.
Locomotive-hauled trains are cheaper to buy and maintain, but they have the disadvantage of lower power and slower acceleration, which makes for slower schedules, particularly on lines that have frequent stops or are hilly—a particular concern on NJT’s Morris & Essex lines. NJT’s electric fleet uses the stainless-steel-sided “Arrow III” equipment, now 35 years old and well beyond its expected lifetime. Customers on other area systems, such as the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, and SEPTA in Philadelphia, have enjoyed new electric cars, delivered in recent years, but on NJT, the Arrows continue to soldier on.
The Arrows are mainly used in long trains on the Northeast Corridor, and to Hoboken on the Morris & Essex lines; the old design suffers from an inability to change voltage while running, which prevents them from running from the M&E into Penn Station, or south of South Amboy on the North Jersey Coast Line. Now NJT is considering its options, according to reporting by Larry Higgs in the Asbury Park Press—but instead of buying conventional equipment as have neighboring systems, NJT is proposing to have consultants design a new type of car: a self-propelled, electric, multilevel design, which could then pull additional, unelectrified multi-level cars.
This has led to conflict between NJT and its Board of Directors, and with state Transportation Commissioner James Simpson, according to Higgs’ article; this came to a head at NJT’s October 15 Board meeting, which decided after some debate not immediately to proceed with a $1.4-million contract with LTK Engineering to design an electric version of the existing locomotive-hauled multilevel design. The debate was unusually intense; the Board normally approves NJT management proposals with little discussion. Board members questioned why NJT wanted to proceed with its own design, which could be risky; Commissioner Simpson said, “I’m not in favor of moving forward, because I’m afraid of saddling this agency with something for the next 50 years … that could be a disaster.”
Lackawanna Coalition Chair David Peter Alan, speaking at the Board meeting, said, “We don’t see how converting this (multilevel) equipment to self-powered would help. We suggest testing SEPTA’s (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) new Silverliner V cars, which already run on the Northeast Corridor. It’s far less expensive than building something new.” Board members were also skeptical; board member Myron Shevell said, “I’m afraid we’ll be the guinea pig.” Commissioner Simpson had the last word: “We spend money around here like it’s water. Let’s make sure we get the best water.”