New Jersey Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett called training and hiring engineers a priority on Wednesday during a Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey forum called “Roads, Rails, and Ports-Initiatives and Opportunities in 2019.”
New Jersey Transit has cancelled many trains because it lacks enough engineers to operate them and because engineers have called out sick from work without notice.
“Our governor is focusing on transit,” Corbett said. “We did not have a good track record when I came in. I heard of vendors who were not willing to do business with us because they said they were not getting paid. We should be a company of choice so you want to do business with us. If you are not getting paid, I want to know about it.”
“Money was slashed for training,” Corbett said, prior to his arrival. “If we had kept training at a steady rate, we would not have been in this position.”
Becoming hired by New Jersey Transit and trained as an engineer takes 20 months. Corbett said heading into last summer, he knew Transit did not have enough engineers.
“Unfortunately, we are still going to be short this summer,” Corbett said. “We are working on a schedule to juggle engineers. We will graduate 30 engineers in October.”
A member of the audience asked Corbett what would happen if the Hudson River rail tunnels fail.
“I hope you are all good swimmers,” Corbett said. “Think of 9/11 and its economic impact. You could not drive into Lower Manhattan. I would say that is a serious threat.”
A panel discussion involved Nat Bottigheimer, director of the nonprofit Regional Plan Association; Eric Daleo, assistant executive director of capital programs and planning at New Jersey Transit; and Stephen Sigmund, chief of public outreach at the Gateway Development Corp.
The North River Tunnel tracks carry 200,000 travelers per day and are crumbling after damage from more than 100 years of use and flooding during Superstorm Sandy. Two weeks ago, the Regional Plan Association released “A Preventable Crisis,” a report outlining the catastrophic economic consequences of a tunnel being shut down.
“You are talking about tremendous impacts in lost wages and lost time,” Bottigheimer said, citing billions of dollars.
The nonprofit Gateway Development Corp. is managing the estimated $20 billion bridge and tunnel infrastructure project. It features replacing both the 108-year-old Hudson River rail tunnels that connect New Jersey with Manhattan and replacing the 108-year-old Portal North Bridge in New Jersey.
The Portal North Bridge spans the Hackensack River between Secaucus and Kearny and swings open to allow ships to pass through. It often becomes stuck in the open position, halting trains from Washington, D.C., to Boston, Massachusetts. Amtrak employees use sledgehammers to manually return the bridge into place so trains can cross.
Daleo said Transit wants to do business with companies through capital projects.
“In 2017 Transit did $34 million in contracts and in 2018 did $124 million in contracts,” Daleo said. “We are engaged in the first design-build station in the Northeast Corridor. We are accepting delivery of articulated buses this calendar year. In terms of future opportunities, we are ready to go on the Portal North Bridge.”
Sigmund discussed the Gateway program of nine infrastructure projects that will double the capacity of trains in New Jersey and New York City.
“Since 1910 the Portal North Bridge delays the system for 20 minutes when it works,” Sigmund said. “When it does not work, it causes substantial delays.”