Monday, March 12, 2012

Delays Grow As Rails Age At NJ Transit

A WSJ analysis shows equipment failures along the rail lines that carry NJ Transit trains are causing longer delays affecting a growing number of commuters. Broken signals or faltering overhead power lines led to average systemwide delays of three hours and 25 minutes in 2011, a jump of more than an hour since 2009. The number measures the total wait experienced by all trains affected by each incident. The number of NJ Transit passengers affected by the delays rose 7% between 2009 and 2011, even though ridership declined over the same period. Some passengers said the delays were particularly frustrating in light of a 22% fare increase initiated by NJ Transit in May 2010. The fares were raised after an 11% state cut to transit funding.

NJ Transit's most popular line, a 60-mile stretch between Trenton and New York City, is owned and operated by Amtrak. The wires that power trains along that route were last replaced in the 1980s. There are few areas along that stretch where trains can bypass each other, and only two tunnels carry NJ Transit and Amtrak traffic in and out of Penn Station. One mishap can have ripple effects systemwide. Amtrak is responsible for major upgrades, and the national rail agency has long struggled with budget constraints. A 2009 Amtrak report on the Northeast Corridor found that the system needed $38 billion to modernize it. Total federal funding for Amtrak operating and capital expenses was $40 billion over the past 40 years, according to agency figures.

Amtrak began to replace the overhead wires in 1996, but a lack of funding put a halt to the project a year later. The upgrades are scheduled to resume as part of a $450 million federal project to bring high-speed rail along the corridor. The work is slated to be complete by September 2017 and will upgrade a 24-mile section from Trenton to New Brunswick in New Jersey.


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