Aging infrastructure, and the lack of cash to fix it, particularly on the Northeast Corridor, are cited as a main cause of service delays on NJ Transit, according to reporting by Karen Rouse and Dave Sheingold of The Record (reported in the Star-Ledger, August 8). An NEC commuter is quoted as saying that conductors frequently blame signal problems, and Amtrak (which owns and maintains the Northeast Corridor track) as the cause of delays.
The Record (newspaper) analyzed operating records from 2002 to 2012 in the study, which showed that the NEC had the worst on-time performance, 91.7%. In contrast, the Main/Bergen and Pascack Valley Lines, which do not connect physically with the Northeast Corridor, posted the best performance: about 97.5% for both. Morning rush hour is the worst time to ride the trains, with 1 in 12 delayed; the evening is better, with 1 in 18, and off-peak best of all, with 1 in 24 delayed. The study noted the difference between operating and capital funding: NJT sends Amtrak about $70 million a year for operating costs, but its contribution to capital projects remains stuck near 1996 levels: $55 million was spent in the past year; $50 million in 1996. Amtrak notes that there has not been significant funding increases from Congress since 1976.
Also, while track and signal problems are a significant cause of delays, bad rolling stuck (locomotives and rail cars) are actually the leading cause of delays. Dispatching delays, when Amtrak and NJT trains compete for scarce track space, also are significant. Key infrastructure components at risk include the power system that supplies the signals, and the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, over which all NJT trains to Manhattan must pass; the bridge is 100 years old, dating from the original Penn Station, and Portal failures accounted for roughly 75 NJT train delays last year. Additional delays occur when the bridge must be opened for marine traffic, and trains must travel at reduced speeds over the span at all times.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that infrastructure conditions have reached a critical point, especially on the Northeast Corridor, and must be addressed immediately; replacement of the Portal Bridge is an essential component of any plan going forward.