Anne Strauss-Wieder of the North Jersey Transportation Association illustrated how the trucking industry is facing problems with recruiting new drivers on Wednesday at the Carpenters Apprenticeship Training Center in Edison. Real estate organization NAIOP (National Association for Industrial and Office Parks) sponsored the event.
Strauss-Wieder said high school seniors want to become drivers, but many trucking companies will not hire drivers who are younger than 22 years of age. As a result, an 18-year-old who graduates from high school will not wait four years to become a truck driver. Instead, these people enter other occupations.
The trucking industry is facing other challenges because of the long hours of driving, safety concerns (especially among female drivers), and the profession taking drivers away from family members.
Steve Sigmund of the Gateway Development Corp. explained that trains stop in the 109-year-old Hudson River tunnels because the infrastructure needs to be replaced. Amtrak as well as New Jersey, and New York have provided their share of local funding.
Sigmund said the $14 billion project is being stalled because of a lack of a federal partnership providing matching funding.
“We are asking the federal government for $5.4 billion, which is down from $6.8 billion,” Sigmund said. “I get that it is expensive at this point. But the longer you wait, the more expensive it gets.”
In the meantime, paying commuters have been delayed 85 days a year, Sigmund said. “That is having an economic impact,” he added.
New Jersey Transit President Kevin Corbett said Transit is replacing the Raritan River Bridge at a cost of $600 million. “We’ve completed the special pre-qualification review for the bridge’s complex movable span and flanking spans and notified qualified contractors,” Corbett said. New Jersey Transit advertised a contract on Oct. 29, 2019, and bids are due on Jan. 7, 2020.
Corbett said Transit is also working with the town of Matawan and local developers to leverage a New Jersey Transit-owned property near the Aberdeen-Matawan train station. In May 2019, Corbett said that Transit solicited proposals to develop a seven-acre plot of land near the Aberdeen-Matawan station. He anticipates designating a developer partner in early 2020.
On the subject of buses, Corbett expects Transit to take delivery of 183 new cruiser buses and 85 new articulated buses in 2020. The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $17 million grant to buy up to 25 additional articulated buses to expand capacity in Northern New Jersey. Transit is also going to move forward with an electric bus pilot in Camden starting in mid-2021.
New Jersey Transit has been plagued by canceled trains due to a lack of engineers, but training is ongoing.
“We have seven locomotive engineer training classes running concurrently- the most in our history,” Corbett said. “From November 2019 through January 2020, we will graduate three classes. And over the two-year period between 2019 and 2020, we will graduate seven classes: the same number that graduated in the previous five years combined.”