Progress Through Unity

Archives for October 2016

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Tom Gavin

A message from Cookie
Our friend and co-worker, Tom Gavin from Mountaintop, PA has passed away. There will be a funeral mass at St. Ann Basilica in Scranton PA. Wednesday October 19th  at 4 pm 1250 St. Ann Street Scranton, PA 18504
There will be no wake
I will have a card at the ticket receiver’s in Hoboken window for anyone to sign for his family.
Thank you,

Letter to Anthony Foxx, Secretary U.S. Department of Transportation

A letter to the Honorable Anthony Foxx Secretary U.S. Department of Transportation Washington, DC

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NJTV Article

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Hoboken Crash

By Briana Vannozzi

New Jersey Transit’s Board of Directors offered few words on the pending federal investigation into last month’s deadly train crash in Hoboken. The agency met publicly today for the first time in four months as public scrutiny grows over the effects of NJ Transit’s diminished funding under the Christie administration and its possible role in hindering safety.

“Second question, why don’t you have a budget today? If you look back at the resolution that was passed 15 months ago, the first meeting of the new fiscal year, you have to pass an operating budget,” said Joe Clift, retired planning director for Long Island Rail Road.

The National Transportation Safety Board today releasing a preliminary report on the Hoboken crash, confirming speed was a factor and stating for the first time the train’s brakes were fully functional.

“That’s a good thing. That’s always positive, but I don’t know how that affects everything else that happened. I don’t have the whole story,” said Stephen Burkert, chairman of SMART Local 60.

But it could speak to the relevance of a positive train control system and whether it could have prevented the crash.

“We’d have to see if positive train control would actually be inside that part of that rail because you’re inside the terminal and PTC is more for the mainline trains, not inside the terminal itself,” Burkert said.

“NJ Transit is way behind the curve in this respect. It has virtually nothing going on as it relates to PTC based on the last filing with the Federal Railroad Administration. That’s unacceptable. That’s unacceptable to myself who’s brought almost $5.5 billion over the last 10 years to NJ Transit from the federal government,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.

The agency has been without a leader at the helm. Today announcing Stephen Santoro, who currently directs capital projects, will take on the role of executive director. And he’ll have plenty of work.

According to the state Department of Treasury, operating assistance has been cut by $252 million since 2012, forcing diversions from other funding sources, as well as fare hikes to make up the difference.

“It’s affected NJ Transit. We just went through five years without a contract for us because they had no money. The police department, I’m sure, has gone seven to eight years without a pay raise. You’ve had management here going nine years without a pay raise. So if you look at those positions other companies have absolutely come in here — Amtrak, Chicago, Florida. They have cherry picked every good manager you had here that they felt was good for their business, gave them pay raises. They left,” Burkert said.

“We’ve got to figure out how the state is going to start investing in rail infrastructure to alleviate not just the risk of tragedy but to really alleviate the pressure on commuters in this region,” said Sen. Cory Booker.

Some have suggested dedicating money from the pending gas tax hike that will replenish the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. And as Menendez put it today, the agency can’t continue to rely on pots of federal money to save it. A state solution is imperative. It is, after all, NJ Transit.

New York Times Article

In the 1990s, New Jersey Transit was riding high.
Its ridership was increasing, and its trains were new and running on time. It won a coveted award for outstanding public transportation three times. In the years ahead, faster routes to Manhattan and double-decker trains would put it at the forefront of the nation’s commuter railroads. Even as recently as 2007, it won a leadership award from New York University.

That all seems like a very long time ago.

Today, New Jersey Transit is in crisis. Its aging tracks and trains need billions of dollars in improvements. Delays and fares are rising along with ridership, with passenger cars packed to the breaking point. The century-old tunnel that carries its trains to New York is crumbling. And it has gone nearly a year without a permanent leader.
“It was an excellent railroad and running quite well until the last seven years, and it has been in constant decline,” said Martin E. Robins, a former deputy executive director of the agency.

Under the administration of Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, the state subsidy for the railroad has plunged by more than 90 percent. Gaping holes in the agency’s past two budgets were filled by fare increases and service reductions or other cuts. And plans for a new tunnel under the Hudson River — one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the country — were torpedoed by Mr. Christie, who pushed for some of the money to be diverted to road-building projects.

The result can be felt by commuters daily. So far this year, the railroad has racked up at least 125 major train delays, about one every two days. Its record for punctuality is declining, and its trains are breaking down more often — evidence that maintenance is

Now, New Jersey Transit is facing its most high-profile test: A train slammed into a station in Hoboken last month, killing a young mother, injuring more than 100 other people and raising concerns about whether the railroad’s financial and leadership problems are creating an unsafe system. Even before the crash, the Federal Railroad Administration had taken the unusual step of launching an investigation of the agency after a spike in safety violations.

The story of how the nation’s third-busiest commuter railroad declined so rapidly is a tale of neglect and mismanagement that represents an ominous symbol of the challenges facing mass transit systems across the United States in an era when governments are loath to raise taxes.The agency’s troubles are especially perilous because it serves the country’s most crowded region, where hundreds of thousands of commuters depend on mass transit; the loss of productivity from the many wasted hours commuters endure on delayed trains is impossible to calculate.

A decade ago, New Jersey Transit was laying the groundwork for robust growth. While ridership has indeed boomed — nearly 20 percent more passengers have flooded the system in the past seven years — the railroad has failed to make the investments in infrastructure needed to meet the rising demand or to simply provide reliable service.

Today, its trains break down about every 85,000 miles, a sharp decline from 120,000 miles between breakdowns four years ago. The region’s two other large commuter rail systems, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, are twice as reliable: Their trains travel more than 200,000 miles between breakdowns. New Jersey Transit also reported more major mechanical failures: 213 in 2014, compared with 89 for the Long Island Rail Road and 169 for Metro-North.
The New Jersey Transit board plans to meet on Thursday after not holding a public session in months. It is expected to promote an executive from within the agency, Steven Santoro, to the top job.

The railroad’s falling reputation, some fear, could push people out of the state and turn others off from living there.

“If I had known how inconvenient New Jersey Transit was going to be, I never would have moved to where I did,” said Melissa Walters, 31, a social worker who lives in Union County. After having a baby this month, she and her husband are moving to Westchester County in New York in favor of the Metro-North Railroad.

Today’s grim picture is a far cry from the recent past, when major investments by the agency helped to fuel a real estate boom in New Jersey. Three initiatives — Midtown Direct in 1996, the Montclair Connection in 2002 and Secaucus Junction in 2003 — increased the value of homes near lines with improved service by $23,000 on average, according to a 2010 report by the Regional Plan Association, an urban policy group. All together, the projects raised home values by $11 billion.

The proposal for a new Hudson River tunnel, known as Access to the Region’s Core, was a crucial next step, creating the path for more trains to New York. The project had cleared the high hurdle of securing federal financing and could have opened in 2018. But nine months after Mr. Christie became governor in 2010, he abruptly canceled the plan. That year, fares grew by nearly 22 percent.
Under Mr. Christie’s administration, the railroad’s finances have been dealt a blow. The direct state subsidy to its operating budget plummeted to $33 million last year from $348 million in 2009, according to the agency’s financial reports.

That decline has been offset by temporary infusions from New Jersey’s toll roads and utilities. But each year the railroad’s executives are still left to figure out where they will get the money to keep the trains running. New Jersey Transit has also had to divert billions of dollars from its capital budget to pay for operating costs, siphoning money from future improvements.Mr. Christie has said he canceled the tunnel project over concerns that the state would be responsible for cost overruns. He also criticized the project’s inclusion of an underground station near the Macy’s store in Herald Square in Manhattan. The governor’s office has also argued that the overall state financing for New Jersey Transit’s operations has remained about the same, despite its shifting sources.

Mr. Christie and Richard T. Hammer, the state’s transportation commissioner, declined to discuss the challenges facing the railroad. Stephen Schapiro, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, responded to some questions submitted by email.

A nearly $45 million budget shortfall this year, he said, was “absorbed through internal efficiencies and using cash reserves.”

On the ground, belt-tightening means making do with less: Commuters complain about missing cars; some late-night trips have been canceled. The train that crashed in Hoboken was a car short, and a device required on board to record speed was not working.

“We’re not looking for extravagance, but you have to fund this in a safe manner,” said Stephen Burkert, a rail union leader and longtime conductor who joined New Jersey Transit in 1989.

Midway through Mr. Christie’s first year as governor, New Jersey Transit was spending about $1.35 billion on projects to maintain and improve service. By the middle of last year, that figure had fallen by more than half, to about $600 million. The average age of the agency’s train fleet — nearly a quarter of which was flooded during Hurricane Sandy — is 16 years, compared with less than 13 years for the Long Island Rail Road.

Transportation experts argue that New Jersey Transit needs dedicated sources of revenue similar to those that New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has, instead of relying on a tumultuous state budget process. New York collects a fee on taxi rides as a payroll tax and other taxes for its transit system.

To close a $60 million budget gap last year, New Jersey Transit raised fares by about 9 percent, causing an uproar among commuters. Mr. Christie has hinted that fares could soon increase again.

In March, Mr. Christie settled a long-running dispute with rail unions over a labor contract, narrowly avoiding a crippling strike. Union leaders said the episode had hurt morale among workers, who had been working under an expired contract.

Mr. Robins, the former New Jersey Transit executive, agreed.

“That is a cardinal sin in labor relations,” he said. “It creates a very incendiary situation where people feel like they’re being taken advantage of.”

Mr. Burkert said that Mr. Christie did not seem to understand New Jersey Transit’s essential role in the state’s infrastructure.
“Had he taken buses or trains he would have seen — no, it’s not just people going to Wall Street,” he said. “It’s the blue-collar worker holding two or three jobs who doesn’t have money for a car, and they need that train.”

A Leadership Vacuum

New Jersey Transit has lacked steady leadership amid its mounting challenges. Veronique Hakim, a highly respected executive director, stepped down last year to join the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.Transit advocates rejoiced this spring when William Crosbie, a former Amtrak executive, was named to the post. But he quickly withdrew over a disagreement about keeping a home in Virginia — a reversal that angered Mr. Christie. Instead, a bus operations official, Dennis J. Martin, served as interim executive director.

Several top New Jersey Transit officials — all with deep experience running a railroad — have left for high-level transportation jobs elsewhere.

Last year, Michael Drewniak, an ally of Mr. Christie’s, joined the agency. Mr. Drewniak, who was embroiled in the scandal over the closing of traffic lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 and is known for his combative tactics, now serves as New Jersey Transit’s chief of staff despite having virtually no transportation experience. Mr. Drewniak was Mr. Christie’s press secretary at the time of the lane closings and helped manage the administration’s response. He declined to comment about his current role.

“Planning for the future really can’t be done when you have temporary leadership in place,” said Thomas K. Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association and a New Jersey train commuter for 15 years.

It remains to be seen what Mr. Santoro, who has worked at New Jersey Transit on capital planning and light rail projects, will choose as his priorities as the agency’s next leader.Trevar Riley-Reid is fed up with her chronically unreliable commute from Union County in New Jersey. Ms. Riley-Reid, 48, a librarian at the City College of New York in Harlem, said that delays kept her away from her family, including a 10-year-old daughter on the autism spectrum.

Eager to make it on time to a performance at her daughter’s school one night, Ms. Riley-Reid got off a stalled train in Newark and took a taxi. She arrived 20 minutes late, just as her daughter mounted the stage.

Despite having two master’s degrees, Ms. Riley-Reid has considered taking an overnight job at Target to be closer to home.

“I love my job,” she said. “And I love the students I work with. But I don’t know how much longer I can do this commute.”

When things go awry, and they often do — there were at least 15 major train delays in September — commuters suffer. They wait in the Meadowlands on stalled trains. They cram onto overstuffed buses, PATH trains and ferries.
Just last week, a crowd of devoted Beyoncé fans were stranded on a broken-down train on their way to the singer’s concert at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.

New Jersey Transit says about 93.5 percent of its trains are on time — a 2 percent decline from recent years and a seemingly exemplary record that commuters have trouble accepting. The figure refers to the full schedule rather than just rush hour, when delays are more disruptive.
Ridership has continued to grow. The railroad now carries about 165,000 people a day — up from about 138,000 in 2009. New Jersey Transit also has about 274,000 daily bus riders and 37,500 riders on light rail.

Many delays are a product of aging infrastructure that includes not just the Hudson River tunnel but also the Portal Bridge, a century-old swing bridge over the Hackensack River. It is difficult to imagine better service without a massive overhaul of the entire corridor leading to New York City — a project that Amtrak, which controls the corridor, says could cost more than $20 billion.

Both Amtrak and New Jersey Transit rely on a single, two-track tunnel under the Hudson River that was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy. There was little effort to jump-start plans for a new tunnel until a series of paralyzing delays last summer led to a scolding from the federal transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, who called the neglect “almost criminal.”Now a plan for a new tunnel is finally progressing. New Jersey and New York have agreed to pay for half the project, though neither state has said where its portion of the money would come from.

In the meantime, federal officials worry that Amtrak may have to close one or both of the existing tunnel’s tubes for major repairs before a new one opens in a decade — a prospect that would be devastating to travel across the Northeast.

Then there is the quagmire that is Pennsylvania Station. The dispiriting maze — North America’s busiest train station, shared by Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road — was never meant to handle a daily flow of 600,000 passengers and 1,300 trains.

With only 21 tracks, keeping trains moving requires a complex dance — one that determines the fates of commuters scrambling to make it to work, and home, on time.

On a recent morning inside Penn Station’s cavernous control center in Manhattan, trains were moving smoothly until a North Jersey Coast Line train reported a mechanical problem. A different train was canceled so its equipment could be used for the next North Jersey Coast trip out of the station.That kind of hiccup that can trigger a cascade of delays across the vast rail network. A day earlier, a signal problem with a train near Secaucus had delayed 26 trains.

“We have tracks, signal systems, catenary, power grids,’’ said Dennis Hamby, who runs the control center for Amtrak. “All the stuff has to work perfect or else we have a problem.”

Mounting Safety Lapses

In June, federal inspectors swarmed New Jersey Transit’s rail operations, part of a “deep audit” by the Federal Railroad Administration prompted by an increase in safety violations and a lack of leadership at the railroad. The federal agency fined the railroad for several violations and warned officials of the problems it had uncovered.

The railroad administration, which has not made its audit public, examined New Jersey Transit’s operations, including whether crews were following safety rules. The agency is weighing additional enforcement steps against the railroad.

New Jersey Transit has cooperated with federal inspectors, and if they raise any issues, the railroad will promptly address them, Mr. Schapiro, the Transportation Department spokesman, said.An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board will determine whether the crash in Hoboken was caused by a mechanical problem or by human error, as well as whether the railroad had a poor safety culture — the damning conclusion of a federal review of Metro-North Railroad after a fatal derailment in New York in 2013.

The accident in Hoboken was New Jersey Transit’s first fatal crash involving a commuter in 20 years — an impressive feat for a railroad that runs hundreds of trains across a huge system each day. Nontheless, the railroad has been cited for a large number of safety violations in recent years.

Since 2010, New Jersey Transit paid about $465,000 to settle 76 safety violations identified by the Federal Railroad Administration. During the same period, the Long Island Rail Road paid $77,000 to settle 18 safety violations, and the Metro-North Railroad paid about $346,000 to settle 71.

Train accidents were twice as common for New Jersey Transit during those years as they were for the region’s other commuter railroads. New Jersey Transit had 200 train accidents since 2010, though most were minor episodes. Metro-North Railroad had 100 accidents during the same period; the Long Island Rail Road had 58.

Days after the Hoboken crash, John McKeon, a New Jersey state representative, called for the railroad’s administration to release its findings and let commuters know whether the problems had been fixed.

“If trains are going to be delayed now and then, that’s one thing,” Mr. McKeon, a Democrat who represents northern New Jersey, said in an interview. “But safety’s nonnegotiable.”

The crash also revived calls for the addition of technology that can automatically stop a train headed for trouble. American passenger railroads are required to install such technology, known as positive train control, by the end of 2018. But New Jersey Transit has made virtually no progress toward that goal.

It was only after the crash that Mr. Christie reached a deal with Democratic lawmakers to raise New Jersey’s historically low gas tax by 23 cents a gallon to replenish a fund that pays for much of the state’s transportation work. When negotiations over the fund stalled this summer, Mr. Christie declared a state of emergency, halting work on $2.7 billion in New Jersey Transit projects. While the gas tax increase will finance billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, it will not solve the annual battle over financing the railroad’s operating budget.

Karl Ward, who was seriously injured while riding in the lead car of the train that crashed in Hoboken, said he was angry that New Jersey Transit had not installed an automatic braking system. Mr. Ward, a site-reliability engineer recovering from surgery on a knee hurt in the crash, said the brakes and the broader reliability problems must be fixed.

“I want to know that there’s a plan in place to solve the systemic problems,” he said. “The State of New Jersey has dragged its feet. It’s very disheartening.”

Revision of L-1

The conductor must be in the operating cab by the time eastbound trains reach Terminal Interlocking


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Rule L-1 item B Information

Your GC would like to offer clarification on the revision of the L-1 and until some questions are answered by the carrier he is asking members to always follow the safe course and report any issues to the local 60 office and the safety hotline 877-806-8283. This is an additional responsibility added to an already full workload, and members need to follow all rules and work as safely as possible to ensure our passengers and coworkers our protected.

  • Please ensure you have proper PPE particularly safety glasses (clear and tinted). Entering the control cab without them is prohibited. Hearing protection is also important
  • Safety Job Briefing must be done with all crew members and updated any time there is a change or any deviation from discussed plans.
  • Prior to departing the last station stop before Hoboken or Atlantic City please make announcement informing passengers of remaining crewmembers location and a reminder that passengers must remain seated until crews are able to move through train to operate doors and traps, this is particularly important on MU or Arrow equipment these traps are not to be opened from the exterior of the train.
  • If you have a scheduled stop at the MMC ensure employees departing and employee responsible for operating doors are in position
  • Establish and test communication with remaining crew members in body of train and inform the ACD immediately and before departing if there is not a working source of communication
  • Ensure you have in your possession your belongings and required books.
  • Have a safety job briefing with locomotive engineer upon entering control cab as per rule L-1
  • Remember that control cabs have video and audio recording and we are required to focus exclusively on the railroad
  • You are required to take appropriate action to control movement of train if it not being operated safely or in violation of rules governing movement, please do so if necessary.
  • You must remain on leading end till train comes to a complete stop
  • Upon arrival remind engineer to remain cut in till you can secure the train or confirm that train is secure.

These recommendations will be updated when we receive more clarification from NJ Transit and we are asking all members to continue to work professionally and safely as we always do