Federal Audit of NJ Transit Should Be Released: House Democrats

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By Stephanie Beasley

Oct. 14 — The results of a federal safety audit of New Jersey Transit conducted prior to a fatal train crash in Hoboken, N.J., last month should be released immediately, according to top Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), railroad sub-panel ranking member Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) and Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) called for the Department of Transportation to take swift action to ensure the safe operation of NJ Transit. Along with publicly revealing findings from a federal audit that reportedly uncovered dozens of safety violations, the DOT should also release copies of any correspondence between the Federal Railroad Administration and NJ Transit since the beginning of the year, the lawmakers said in a letter sent Oct. 14.

“At this moment, there is an $86 billion backlog to bring our Nation’s public transit systems to a state of good repair,” the letter said. “The horrific tragedy in Hoboken and the deterioration of NJ Transit only underscore the need for increased investment in our transit systems.”

The lawmakers questioned the actions of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who they said pushed for the diversion of public transit funding to road-building projects. “Safety must be our number one priority, and that is something that we believe the Christie administration ignored,” they said.

There has been a 62 percent increase in NJ Transit accidents and incidents between 2010—when Christie took office—and 2015, compared to the previous five years, according to FRA data.

The FRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on when or whether it would release the audit report.

NJ Transit Tries to Recover

NJ Transit is the nation's third-largest mass transit agency. It has been under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board since Sept. 29, when a train crashed into the Hoboken station, killing one person and injuring more than 100 passengers. The train was traveling at more than twice the legal speed limit when it ran through a barrier at the end of its track.

The NTSB released a preliminary report Oct. 13 showing the train's brakes were working at the time of the crash. Both House and Senate Democrats have said the incident illustrates the need for all commuter railroads to quickly install automatic braking technology known as positive train control.

Freight and passenger railroads must comply with a federal mandate to install PTC by Dec. 31, 2018.

NJ Transit is among a handful of major public transit agencies that have yet to begin installing PTC systems on commuter trains (See previous story, 10/05/16).

Following the Hoboken crash, the agency's board appointed a new executive director; it had functioned without one since 2015. But the board has yet to approve a proposed $2.1 billion operating budget for the fiscal year or address an estimated $46 million funding gap.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Beasley in Washington sbeasley@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

For More Information

The House Democrats's letter to the DOT is available here: http://src.bna.com/joi

The NTSB's preliminary report can be found here: http://src.bna.com/joM

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