NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – There has been a spike in cancelled NJ TRANSIT trains in recent weeks and the agency is blaming a shortage of engineers.
Now, Gov. Phil Murphy is facing some questions from furious commuters.
Last month, New Jersey's governor bragged about progress made by NJ TRANSIT this year – saying commuters were experiencing fewer cancellations and delays than in 2018.
"They're already seeing it, you have to look at the data, it's already happening," Murphy claimed.
But according to NJ TRANSIT, 373 trains were cancelled in June. That's a 52-percent increase from a year ago when there were 245 for the month. This coming after all that "improvement" earlier in the year.
CBS2 asked the governor about that Thursday.
"The June numbers we're still trying to analyze. I have to say myself I don't have a complete answer on the specifics of June, but on the aggregate the data is getting better," Murphy still argued.
A year and a half into his term, he continued to place the blame on the previous administration.
"The summer is more complicated because the last administration allowed the pool of engineers to thin. Amtrak does the bulk of its annual work on its assets in the summer," Murphy said.
The issue seems to be the ongoing engineer shortage CBS2 has been reporting about, coupled with problems with Amtrak's infrastructure and recent incidents.
NJ TRANSIT claimed these issues all contributed to the delays and cancellations:
- June 17 - Amtrak signal problems and a trespasser fatality
- June 19 - Amtrak's NEC power outage
- June 20 – A third rail fire
- July 1 - Amtrak car fire which NJ TRANSIT says also impacted a portion of the following day's engineer availability issues
Since some crew members met their federally mandated hours of service during the July 1 incident, it made them unavailable for their assignments that Tuesday.
Commuters CBS2's Alice Gainer spoke to in New Brunswick say service has become so unreliable it's changed their entire day.
"In the morning I have to give myself up to 45 minutes for a 15-minute commute," one rider said.
"I'd say almost three out of five days I was always late maybe 20 minutes, some days it was cancelled," Jas Singh of New Brunswick added.
Singh says NJ TRANSIT lost him as a steady customer.
"Honestly I just drive now. The only reason I'm taking the train today is because my car is in the shop so after I took the train for a whole year I said it's not worth it because my train pass is about $160. I could spend that on gas for a month."
A lot of promises have been made about better service, but so far it seems like one step forward and two steps back for the beleaguered agency and the governor.
NJ TRANSIT says it takes a while to get engineers on the job because it takes 20 months to train them. The agency says it's increased the number of training classes.
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