Why New Jersey’s Trains Aren’t Safer
- What we do know – have known for years – is that there are technologies to make trains safer that New Jersey Transit and many other commuter systems have been slow to install.
- New Jersey Transit says the impasse has forced it to put construction projects totaling $2.7 billion on hold.
- New Jersey Transit says it will cost $225 million to install positive train control.
- A version of this editorial appears in print on September 30, 2016, on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: Why New Jersey’s Trains Aren’t Safer.
- Most railroads, including New Jersey Transit, failed to meet the 2015 deadline, and Congress last year gave them three more years to finish the job.
Gov. Chris Christie and other state leaders have neglected and mismanaged the mass transit system.
@A_L: NJ Transit needs $2.7 billion for construction projects.
The state hasn’t raised its gas tax in 25 years.
Why did a New Jersey Transit train crash into Hoboken Terminal on Thursday morning, killing at least one person and injuring more than 100 people?
The engineer, who was injured, might have failed to hit the brakes in time. Or the brakes could have failed. What we do know — have known, in fact, for years — is that there are technologies to make trains safer that New Jersey Transit and many other commuter systems have been slow to install. The most promising of these can slow or stop trains automatically.
Congress in 2008 passed legislation requiring freight and passenger railroads to install the technology known as positive train control by the end of last year. Lawmakers acted after 25 people died in the head-on crash of two trains near Chatsworth, Calif., which could have been prevented by such a system. The technology could also have prevented an Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia in 2015 and the derailment of a Metro-North train in the Bronx in 2013, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Yet, most railroads, including New Jersey Transit, failed to meet the 2015 deadline, and Congress last year gave them three more years to finish the job. Commuter-train systems like New Jersey’s have struggled in large part because federal and state governments have not provided enough money to help them buy the necessary equipment and software.
New Jersey Transit says it will cost $225 million to install positive train control. By the end of June, the technology was not running on any of its 440 trains or any of its 11 routes, according to a quarterly report filed in July with the Federal Railroad Administration. Regrettably, that is unlikely to change soon, because state leaders have been squabbling for months over how to pay for road, rail and other transportation projects.
The Legislature wants to replenish a depleted transportation fund by raising the state gasoline tax to 37.5 cents per gallon from 14.5 cents. The current rate is one of the lowest in the country, and it has not been increased in more than 25 years. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, says he will not allow the increase to go through unless lawmakers cut the sales tax by one percentage point, which Democrats object to because it would blow a huge hole through the state budget. New Jersey Transit says the impasse has forced it to put construction projects totaling $2.7 billion on hold.
The neglect and mismanagement of the mass transit system by Mr. Christie and other state leaders began long before the gas-tax standoff. Capital investment in the system fell 19 percent from 2002 to 2016 after adjusting for inflation, according to a March report by New Jersey for Transit, a coalition of public-interest groups. That decrease is all the more striking when compared with the 20 percent increase in trips taken on New Jersey Transit’s buses and trains. It is not surprising then that the system has four times as many mechanical failures per mile as Metro-North and seven times as many as the Long Island Rail Road.
Of course, train travel is incredibly safe — a recent study found the death rate for people who traveled in cars or light trucks was 17 times higher than for people who used Amtrak or commuter trains. But taking the train could be made safer still.