Feds were warned of NJ Transit staff issues before deadly crash
NEWARK — A NJ Transit vice president tried to alert the Federal Railroad Administration about 93 non-union engineers who had retired between 2014 and 2016 — a warning that came just two months before a deadly Hoboken crash.
NorthJersey.com reported a letter was sent by Robert Lavell, vice president and general manager of rail operation to the agency during a safety audit. The train crash two months later at Hoboken Terminal in September, 2016 killed a woman standing on a platform and injured more than 100 people.
There is question about what specifically was included in the letter sent to the agency. According to the news site, it obtained a draft version that "indicated the agency's top management knew about the staffing problem but showed little urgency to fix it" — but wasn't signed. It said a final version received by the agency didn't include the negative references to the situation or management response — but the agency wouldn't provide NorthJersey.com with a copy of the final version.
Lavell also told the news site he didn't write the critical language that appeared in the original version, and wishes he knew who did.
NJ Transit has been under fire by the NJ Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers union over ongoing shortages of engineers, which its president, James P. Brown, said led to trains being canceled or combined at the start of the summer project and again during the Monday of the Columbus Day weekend.
A separate NorthJersey.com review of the NJ Transit engineer roster in September showed that “dozens” of its 370 engineers are eligible for retirement now or in the near future. It also reported that the number of engineers leaving NJ Transit for Metro-North has increased in the past year.
Brown said in July that NJ Transit needs to hire 30 new engineers.
Spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said told New Jersey 101.5 20 engineers called out over Columbus Day weekend and are subject to discipline for violation of the attendance policy.
In a letter dated Nov. 8 the union cited "the ongoing loss of locomotive engineers" as one of the reasons its member dues have increased.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.
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