Home New Jersey Transit Following Hoboken, NJ’s transportation future under a microscope

Following Hoboken, NJ’s transportation future under a microscope

by Benjamin Kabak
At least one person is dead and scores injured after NJ Transit train 1614 crashed into the Hoboken terminal this morning. (Photo by Ross Bauer)

New Jersey Transit service into Hoboken has been suspended since Thursday’s crash. (Photo by Ross Bauer)

It’s been a rough few days for New Jersey as the Garden State comes to grips with the fallout from Thursday’s fatal trash crash. Gov. Chris Christie, busy cavorting with the GOP presidential nominee, came home just quick enough to help implement an ex post quick fix to the state’s transportation funding crisis, and while no one knows if the New Jersey Transit train was speeding or by how much, the engineer claims to have no memory of last week’s incident. As the NTSB, it is a day of reckoning for New Jersey.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, in a clear case of political CYA, Gov. Christie had what many think may have been his “come to Jesus” moment over transportation funding, except it was a pyrrhic victory. Christie agreed to a 23-cent increase in the state’s gas tax to add billions of dollars to the state’s empty Transportation Trust Fund while New Jersey will cut its estate tax and sales tax. If this seems to be a regressive step, well, it is, but it was also high time for New Jersey to raise its gas tax. The state still features the cheapest gas around but now by a bit less than before. That the funding measure came amidst the fallout from a fatal crash speaks volumes about New Jersey’s transportation approach.

That is, in fact, the point Nicole Gelinas made in a piece earlier this week on the crash and funding agreement. New Jersey, she wrote, was not prepared to handle a disaster, and a disaster is what it got.

Would investment in better technology have averted Thursday’s crash? It’s impossible to know. New York and Amtrak aren’t flat broke like New Jersey is, but they’ve been slow, too, in rolling out automated-stop technology. Capital investments would give people a better day-to-day commute — and could avert a future disaster. New Jersey needs to fund about $5 billion out of the $20 billion cost of building a new tunnel across the Hudson River to do major repairs to the existing, century-old tunnel. But it has no idea where it’s going to get that money.

Just how bad are the decisions state officials have been making? New Jersey continues to squander the infrastructure money it does have on trifles and amusements. Last month, as the Bond Buyer reported, the state made plans to issue $1.2 billion in debt to fund a long-delayed “megamall” in East Rutherford.

Using scarce tax dollars to fund a mall made no sense in 2002, when the state launched the bizarre project, and it makes less sense today. Maybe, though, Christie and lawmakers can prod the mall’s owners to add an indoor miniature train to the planned indoor ski slope and water slide. At least, then, the state could say it’s working on some train project.

Meanwhile, as more information regarding New Jersey Transit has reached public eyes and ears this week, we have since learned what many have already known: The agency does not have a good safety record, and the Federal Railroad Administration has noticed numerous safety lapses in recent years. It is, as Bloomberg noted, a test of a beleaguered system that cannot meet passenger delay, one The Times noted suffers from “neglect and mismanagement.”

As the feds dig into the causes of this crash and service remains suspended into Hoboken, it seems that New Jersey Transit is on the abyss of a disaster. It has no leadership, and the board hasn’t held meetings in months. No one in Trenton seems to care, and Christie has over a year left in his tenure. The state’s next governor will have a headache, and one very important to the region, on his or her hands. Last week’s crash was illustrative of the problems; hopefully, it wasn’t a harbinger of worse things to come.

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SEAN October 4, 2016 - 9:57 am

Meanwhile the great Christie stomps for Trumpism as events unfold back home way beyond NJT – pensions, casino failures, bridgegate &who know what ellse maybe hidden just below the surface.

LordDeucey October 4, 2016 - 11:13 am

How does a transport authority get away with not meeting at least quarterly?

Maybe what’s needed is breaking up NJT and letting Amtrak operate the rail system (a la Amtrak California – although that’s a joint project with CalTrans).

BoerumHillScott October 4, 2016 - 11:38 am

Amtrak California is not operated like a commuter service (or at least it was not when I last lived there 7 years ago)

It is operated like any other Amtrak service, meaning single tickets for each ride, and showing ID each time.

AMH October 4, 2016 - 3:49 pm

Could it be operated similarly to the Keystone Corridor, which has discounted passes? It appears that these are available on many other trains as well. I’ve never been asked for ID.


tacony October 4, 2016 - 2:20 pm

It would make more sense to split NJ Transit between the MTA in the northern part of the state and SEPTA in the south. A significant part of the NJ Transit network already revolves around getting people into NYC and Philadelphia anyway.

Metro-North already operates in Connecticut under funding/agreement with Connecticut DOT, and of course the very NJ Transit train that crashed in Hoboken came from Rockland County under contract with Metro-North, so the idea that you can’t have a transit agency run service in a different state is nonsense.

Adirondacker12800 October 4, 2016 - 5:20 pm

Most NJTransit passengers travel, on buses, within New Jersey. Merging it all into one even bigger more unresponsive bureaucracy might not be the best idea.
… Connecticut doesn’t have the MTA run the buses or SLE…

SEAN October 4, 2016 - 8:11 pm

Q. Lets say that your suggestion is implemented, witch parts go to the MTA & witch go to SEPTA. Also how do you factor in the NEC since it connects the two.

tacony October 5, 2016 - 9:37 am

Mercer County (Trenton, Princeton, etc.) used to be a part of the Philadelphia metro area for statistical purposes, but it was rightly transferred to the New York metro by the Census Bureau I believe about a decade ago. Of course people complained, but a lot more people in Mercer County commute into the NY metro than the Philadelphia metro today. There will always be arbitrary borders drawn with people complaining that they don’t belong on one side or the other, just like the state lines today.

So it’d make sense for the NJT NEC to go to the MTA along with the rest of the rail network that connects to Newark, Hoboken, and NY Penn. SEPTA could take over the River Line, Atlantic City Line, and all the buses in South Jersey. Are there buses that would cross between this newly-created MTA/SEPTA divide in the middle of the state? Sure, and that’s not a problem. There are already many examples of overlaps between the existing transit agencies’ service– obviously NJ Transit runs trains and buses into NY and PA already, Nassau County buses enter Queens, Westchester Bee-Line buses enter the Bronx, etc. etc…

John-2 October 5, 2016 - 5:07 pm

The problem with merging the MTA with NJT would be you would recreate the current battle with the Port Authority, where both states would fight over where the bulk of the money should go, and who contributes what and where (the battle over whether NJT or Metro North/New Haven would get any slots open at Penn, after ESA opens for the LIRR at Grand Central, would be particularly brutal).

Add to that no N.J. governor, Republican or Democrat, is going to allow the governor of New York to basically have voting control over the agency running their transit system, and you’d have a bureaucratic nightmare in the making (where the real loser could be subway and bus riders in NYC, since the city’s already-limited voting power on the MTA board would be weakened even more if New Jersey came aboard with their own slate of board members).

Hank October 6, 2016 - 12:11 pm

The state would still need to kick in funding, which is a large part of NJT’s problem.

Ralfff October 4, 2016 - 3:29 pm

There is no government reorganization that can fix a corrupt government and the apathetic, entitled electorate that installed it. New Jersey political power appears to be concentr

Ralfff October 4, 2016 - 3:32 pm

ated in the areas that benefited from the initial wave of suburban sprawl, and these are the same people who are plotting their move to Florida now. New York’s political system is clearly on the same path. Consider the ludicrous Empire Outlets mall subsidies next to the SI side of the Staten Island ferry.

Nathanael October 8, 2016 - 11:46 am

NY isn’t on the same path. However, the reason NY isn’t on the same path:
(1) The entire core city is in NY.
(2) Half of the NYC suburbs are not in NY.
(3) NY has a large upstate area which does not have the same political dynamics.

By contrast, New Jersey is basically 100% suburban sprawl with practically no core cities and certainly no rural areas, which means it has the worst possible dynamics.

Adirondacker12800 October 8, 2016 - 12:38 pm

Your view from the Garden State Parkway is miles from downtown Newark. The suburbs it passes through, between I-280 and I-78, are denser than most big cities.
Newark has the same population as Toledo. All of metro Binghamton could move to Newark. Slice off Vailsburg and all of metro Ithaca could move to Vailsburg and Irvington. Or Vailsburg and East Orange. NJTransit trains, in Newark, have more riders than Caltrain does in San Francisco.
Plop Mercer County down in North Dakota and it would be the biggest thing between Minneapolis and Seattle. Downtown Trenton is much more urban than downtown … Fargo.

Tower18 October 4, 2016 - 4:27 pm

I can’t stand the concept of “revenue-neutral” tax increases/cuts. What a destructive bit of policy brought to us by today’s GOP. If you need more revenue, raising taxes just to cut taxes elsewhere doesn’t give you more revenue. It just plays whack-a-mole and maybe fills in some potholes, but meanwhile schools fall apart.

alex October 4, 2016 - 5:44 pm

Solution: New Jersey cannot continue to exist in her current form. So long as the mass transit dependent NY-lite portion of the state share Trenton with the vast suburban empire further south, mass transportation infrastructure is going to suffer. Poor NJT service affects a person in Newark or Jersey City far more acutely than a person in Menlo Park – even with weekday commuting to the city factored in. The mindsets/lifestyles of the people in these two areas are simply too different to be reconciled regarding transportation funding.

tacony October 5, 2016 - 9:50 am

NJ has the second highest share of transit commuters in the US after New York State. I don’t think it makes sense to look at NJ as being uniquely suburban and anti-transit, despite its reputation as being the poster child for suburban sprawl. That’s a reputation that made sense 60 years ago but is woefully out-of-date. We’re now a suburban nation: the majority of Americans live in the ‘burbs and drive everywhere. Compared to the US as a whole, NJ is heavily urbanized and closer to NY than any other state in urban form and transportation. The share of households that don’t own cars for instance in Atlantic City and Camden and Trenton are higher than almost anywhere else in the US. (Half the people who live in AC don’t have cars!) Those people need transit. It’s not so easy to slice off the northeast corner of the state and assume the rest of the state is Menlo Park. (Also, tons of people in Menlo Park take transit into NYC.)

Eric F October 5, 2016 - 8:51 am

I’m not sure how what is almost certainly a case of operator negligence has any wider implications for NJT. I also don’t get what Christie ‘cavorting) (?) with Trump has to do with anything. The Metro North derailment occurred with a larger loss of life and no cavorting with the GOP seemed to be proximate to it.

I’m not a huge fan of the tax offsets, but estate tax reform was long overdue in NJ. The tax thresh-hold was set at about 600k, way below the federal exemption level and the NY level, and is a very obvious motivator to get relatively productive people to flee NJ when estate planning comes around. The offsets also show the value of a GOP governor, because had a Dem been in office, the gas tax would have been raised on its own without any discussion of offsets.


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