Jersey transit strong

November 4, 2015

It takes tenacity—and lots of capital—to keep one of the nation’s largest rail transit systems rolling.Website Insert State Supported Passenger Trains copy

It usually isn’t a good idea in the journalism business to use superlatives—words like “largest,” “fastest,” “heaviest” or “strongest.” However, when writing about New Jersey Transit, “unique” would be a perfectly acceptable word to use.

The nation’s third-largest transit agency, now 32 years old, is the only one that covers an entire state (and the argument, “So what? New Jersey is a geographically small state” doesn’t hold water, because it is the most densely populated, with the highest mobility needs). Its capital budget rivals that of some Class I railroads. It operates more trains on the Northeast Corridor than Amtrak, though it technically is only a tenant. Its rail system encompasses just about every mode commuter/regional, electrified light rail, diesel light rail. It is the only U.S. rail system to operate dual-power (AC catenary/diesel) locomotives. It was the first U.S. system to open a DLRT (diesel light rail transit) system, the River LINE. On any given day, you can see single- or multi-level railcars hauled by an ALP46 electric, diesel or ALP45DP dual-power locomotive. You will also see electric multiple-unit cars.

And let’s not forget the massive bus fleet. This may be a rail publication, but we would be remiss if we did not at least acknowledge that NJ Transit’s rail and bus systems are quite well-integrated.

Running NJT is an arduous task, not only because of its operational complexity, but because of the fact that this is, well, New Jersey, a state whose highly contentious politics (and frequent political scandals) are nationally known. Typically, some legislators in the State House in Trenton act as though they should be in charge of running the state’s public transportation system. This is true of the current governor, Chris Christie, who is not known for being a hands-off, let-the-professionals-run-the-trains politician. Christie is currently running for President of the United States, a situation that makes funding NJT more problematic than usual.

What do Christie’s presidential aspirations have to do with NJT’s operational and capital budgets? It goes like this: New Jersey’s highly stressed transportation infrastructure—roads, bridges, railways—is dependent upon the state’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), which is funded entirely by gasoline taxes. New Jersey has one of the lowest gasoline taxes in the nation, and that tax has not been raised since 1988. That’s right—27 years. Many legislators in Trenton believe that the only way to shore up the TTF is to raise the gas tax. They correctly point out that New Jersey is a “corridor state,” a crossroads where, for example, most of the long-haul truckers tearing up the pavement on the New Jersey Turnpike are just passing through town.

Read the full story from Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono by clicking here.



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