Sierra Club: Christie at Penn Station: Going to See His Transit Mess

Contact: Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

 

Christie at Penn Station: Going to See His Transit Mess

 

Governor Christie will make remarks regarding federal investments in the Northeast Corridor today at Newark Penn Station, while he has systemically cut funding for public transit. Instead of fixing our aging transportation system, funding has been slashed by 90 percent in the past 11 years. As a result, NJ Transit has 12 times more equipment failures than any other commuter train in the nation. While the Christie Administration slashed funding, they used federal funding that was supposed to go towards Positive Train Control braking systems for operations and maintenance. We also still need money to install important safety features on our rails. Instead the Governor has failed to address trains being derailed like what happened in Hoboken because there is no money for Positive Train Control.

 

“Governor Christie has returned to the scene of the crime of what his Administration has done to the commuters of New Jersey. What used to be once the best transit systems in the country is now breaking down, failing apart, and delayed every day. Commuters are gambling whether the train will arrive on time or whether they can get to work on time. People are actually surprised when NJ Transit is on time because delays and break downs is the new norm. If the Governor took the train instead of getting chauffeured around, maybe he would understand this is unacceptable. He would see that commuters are arriving to work late, tired, and stuck with 1200 people for hours like what happened on Friday,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Our mass transit system is crumbling because the Christie Administration has no funding for operations and maintenance. Instead they have stolen $8 billion in federal funding for operations, which was supposed to go to things like automatic braking to make our trains safer. They have even taking $80 million from the Clean Energy Fund to keep the lights on, but our trains are going off the tracks and the wheels are still coming off the bus. The Governor will arrive at Newark Penn Station today on time at 12:30 PM because he didn’t take NJ Transit.”

 

While ridership has gone up 20 percent, capital spending has gone down 19 percent. We even received $8 billion in federal funding for capital improvements, but that money went to operations and maintenance because NJ Transit is broke. The NJ Transit train crash into the Hoboken station killed at least one person and injured more than 100 people. The incident occurred because the train was going too fast as it pulled into the station. At other terminals including Penn Station, if the engineer is speeding, but fails to press a button, an automated system immediately applies emergency brakes. However, no such automatic braking system exists on any NJ Transit locomotives nor have employees received the training. The National Transportation Safety Board estimates braking systems like Positive Train Control could have prevented 145 accidents since 1969 which killed 296 people and injured 6,700.

“NJ Transit continues to hit commuters twice by cutting service and raising fares, while cutting maintenance. People are paying more to get to work late because of delays and accidents. While fares have been raised nine times, they have still not made our trains safer. This is because Christie played games with the funding to improve our transit infrastructure and install important safety features on our rails. Governor Christie hasn’t even address trains being derailed like what happened in Hoboken because there is no money for Positive Train Control, putting commuters at risk. Instead our Governor settled dirty deals that robs the middle class to give tax cuts to the wealthy,” said Jeff Tittel. “We need to replace these antiquated braking systems and monitor our rail lines to prevent future disasters, but we cannot do so if they keep taking the funding. All along the Christie Administration has cut transit funding, but there are serious consequences. While there have been runaway trains and malfunctions happening along NJ Transit lines, the federal government even mandated NJ Transit to upgrade their system with an automatic braking system, but they have failed to do. This is because they keep cutting funding to make commuters safer.”

 

NJ Transit receives smaller portions of their operating budgets from state and local governments or other funding like advertising—which means our N.J. commuters are forced to pay more. Since 1988, the gas tax hasn’t been raised, but the fares for NJ Transit have been raised 9 times. All along, the Christie Administration has continuously balanced the NJ Transit budget by stealing money from clean energy. As a result of the Christie Administration’s method of pay-as-you-go financing for capital, the state borrowed a total 97.4 percent of all transportation capital costs during his first four years in office.

 

“Given what’s happened in Hoboken and New York City, we need to ensure we have proper scrutiny on our transit rail lines. We not only need an investigation to find out what caused these accidents, but what could be done to prevent it from happening again. There must be an independent investigation to determine if NJ Transit could have helped implemented better safety and monitoring controls. Was the Christie Administration to blame? Some of the failures we have seen on NJ Transit rail lines are because equipment is too old or did not work. We need to updated our braking system immediately because this should have been done a long time ago,” said Jeff Tittel.

New Jersey has the worst smog in the nation from car and truck pollution. We should be promoting public transportation as a way to reduce our impact on climate change.  The failure to have good and reliable public transit is bad for the environment because it will out more people in cars and increase pollution.

 

“The Christie Administration’s failure to invest in transportation have caused a transit disaster. By robbing the Clean Energy Fund to pay for the lights at NJ Transit, it is clear our Governor wants to continue to attack mass transit, while the Transportation Trust Fund is not a real fix. By delaying the installation of Positive Train Control, NJ Transit are really playing Russian Roulette on our rails. At the same time, the state has no money for operations and maintenance at NJ Transit, but they want to build unnecessary sprawl projects in Sussex County,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Raising fares and cutting services has hurt commuters, the economy, and the environment. It has caused more commuters to be aggravated people because of delays and because they are paying more for less service. Governor Christie’s transit policies have caused hikes in fares, getting rid of off peak pricing, cuts to maintenance all resulting in a drop-in customer satisfaction. This has added to traffic, pollution, and sprawl, while causing NJ Transit to go to ruin.”

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