NJ Transit leaves weekend riders stranded amid canceled trains
NEWARK — NJ Transit is having another bad weekend, as "engineer availability" was blamed for dozens of canceled trains, mostly on the Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast Line and Raritan Valley Line.
According to service updates from NJ Transit via Twitter, 14 trains were canceled on Saturday, while another 21 trains were canceled on Sunday morning as of 6:15 p.m. By last afternoon bus service was substituted on the North Jersey Coast Line between Long Branch and Bay Head.
NJ Transit said it is continuing to make improvements in service as it continues to deal with an engineer shortage, while NJ Transit riders have been dealing with the frustration of a recent daily spike in canceled trains.
Anywhere between 6 to 12 weekday trains recently have been canceled during each of the morning and afternoon commutes, based on a daily count of the Twitter account of each NJ Transit line. The cancellations have a ripple effect of sending passenger to already crowded cars.
Each time, the explanation given most often included some element of "equipment availability due to equipment issues resulting from engineer availability." Spokeswoman Nancy Snyder previously said that the engineers are needed to position equipment.
Snyder said that NJ Transit has been "very transparent" about its engineer shortage and has hired 100 engineer trainees over the past year.
"We’ve actually seen a 47% reduction in cancelled trains when comparing the first quarter of 2018 (Jan-Feb-March) vs. the first quarter of 2019," Snyder said.
"It’s important to note that replenishing the ranks of locomotive engineers is a long-lead time effort. Each class takes 20 months to train before they can operate passenger service," Snyder said, adding that 11 of the first 12 graduates are now working for NJ Transit with three more engineer classes scheduled to graduate in 2019.
Another issue is the apparent "work to rule" action by engineers who are declining opportunities to work on their days off.
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers General Chairman Jim Brown wrote on the union website last month that NJ Transit managers approached certain engineers prior to the BTS concert at MetlLife Stadium and offered "an extra arbitrary payment for working the concert event train" in violation of their contract with NJ Transit.
He said NJ Transit would not discuss the matter and the membership that he personally was would not work relief days or take other assignments. He did not order members to follow his lead but said they "individually chose" to follow his lead.
Brown declined to comment last week about whether or not he has discussed the matter with NJ Transit.
After 44 cancellations the weekend of June 22 and 23, the number fell to approximately 20 the following weekend and about 20 the following weekend.
Snyder also declined to say if the matter was discussed and repeated that working on relief days is not a contractual obligation.
"We are always appreciative of our engineers who go above and beyond the call of duty to fill open shifts as we diligently address the current engineer shortage. NJ Transit adheres to the contract, and in that Collective Bargaining Agreement, there is a formal process in place to resolve disputes," Snyder said.
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