Gov. Murphy: Rail commuters entitled to anger over cancellations

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NEWARK -

Gov. Phil Murphy says rail commuters have every right to be angry at a spate of recent train cancellations, but adds the situation can't be fixed overnight.

The governor returned from his Italy vacation and met Thursday with New Jersey Transit officials as the state's rail system is beset by dozens of rush-hour cancellations due to crew shortages.

The week started off badly, with at least 20 trains canceled. Commuter Joel Horowitz told News 12 New Jersey that passengers were crammed into trains “like a cattle car” on the trains that were available.

Unexcused absences by engineers are blamed for many of the cancellations. NJ Transit also is making federally required safety improvements that tie up equipment and crews.

NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett says that he is in talks with the engineer union to cut back on the callouts.

“We even built in a margin for unexcused absences but this summer we’ve had a much higher-than-average unexcused absence,” says Corbett.

NJ Transit officials say that a small group of engineers is basically able to hold passengers’ commutes at their whim. The agency currently has only 330 engineers – and needs 291 to run the whole system in a day. When engineers call out, delays and cancellations can happen.

NJ Transit had 400 engineers at its peak. Officials say that nine new engineers are about to be added to the roster.

Murphy blamed years of under-investment by former Gov. Chris Christie for the lack of engineers. Murphy also said efforts are being made to ramp up recruitment and training.

“This is inescapable. This was eight years of complete and utter negligence of the country's premier commuter rail and bus system,” says Murphy.

Murphy has made reforming the transit agency a top priority in his first year in office.

News 12 New Jersey has reached out to the engineer union for comment on NJ Transit’s allegations, but has not heard back.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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