TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Amtrak and New Jersey Transit claim track work is progressing on time, but New Jersey legislators have some new questions.
Why have so many engineers called out of work in the month of July?
As CBS2's Meg Baker reported, not only does NJ TRANSIT have physical infrastructure problems, but it's come to light that the agency may have a human resources issue as well.
"We are really talking about people not showing up for work, and screwing NJ TRANSIT passengers in the process, is that what we're talking about mister director?" State Senator Joseph Kyrillos asked.
Kyrillos demanded answers from NJ TRANSIT, questioning why dozens of engineers called out of work during an emergency situation.
There were 126 cancelled trains in July, NJ TRANSIT's Executive Director, Steve Santoro said 57 percent of those were annulled because of manpower shortages -- there were no engineers to drive the trains.
The agency said some employees are using a contractual loophole to take two days off from work. A spokesperson said the clause -- which dates back eons -- gives the workers the right to take 48 hours to choose a new assignment before a schedule change.
On top of that, employees had pre-scheduled vacations.
"Shouldn't we have anticipated that there might be this problem?" State Senator Bob Gordon asked, "Wasn't anyone doing any manpower planning to see who was going to be working, and who wasn't?"
"it was probably our understanding, we could accommodate rollover," Santoro said.
On Sunday July 16, there were 26 crew members out.
A union rep said the problems are much deeper -- chronic under-staffing, and competition from other railroad companies.
CBS2's transit expert Martin Robbins agreed.
"NJ TRANSIT has been underfunded for four or five years under the Christie administration, so there are untold issues NJ TRANSIT and the next governor will be facing," he explained.
NJ TRANSIT budgets 383 positions. There are 350 engineers in service, and 17 in training, but it takes more than two years to train to become an engineer, and NJ TRANSIT said there is a 60 to 70 percent failure rate.
NJ TRANSIT's executive director said another schedule change will occur in September, the agency is planning to meet with the engineers union on Friday to discuss the 48 hour rule, and employee time off.
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