It carries more passenger trains than any other railroad bridge in the Western Hemisphere, yet few people beyond those who rely on it have heard of it. It goes largely unnoticed, unless something goes wrong, which happens with irritating frequency. After all, the bridge is 104 years old.
Every time it swings open to let a boat pass is a test of early-20th-century technology that can snarl train travel from Boston to Washington, the nation’s busiest rail corridor. And over the years, because it is partially made out of wood, it also has proved to be quite flammable.
NEWARK, N.J. — A report released Friday on New Jersey Transit’s Super Bowl performance in February describes confusion on the ground and disagreement among top officials as train delays worsened, but praised the agency’s overall performance.
The 148-page report was commissioned by NJ Transit’s board of directors and prepared by the law firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney and Carpenter. The agency was criticized after fans had to wait hours after the end of the game at MetLife Stadium because of overcrowding. More than 33,000 took trains back to Secaucus Junction after the game, more than double pre-game estimates.
NJ Transit’s former railroad chief, who was pushed out in March following two tumultuous years that included the flooding of nearly 400 rail cars and locomotives during Superstorm Sandy, has landed a job within New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Kevin O’Connor, the former vice-president of rail at NJ Transit, started April 10 as Metro-North Railroad’s new chief transportation officer, according to Aaron Donovan, spokesman for Metro-North, a division of the MTA that provides rail service in suburban New York and Connecticut.
New Jersey Transit is planning to conduct a sweeping safety review of its rail operations.
The agency has hired an outside consultant and is forming a 17-member committee that will be made up of employees at all levels to take a hard look at maintenance procedures, work practices, equipment and its “overall safety culture,” NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said.
Conductors assaulted on trains. Employee facilities that are filthy and infested with rodents. A culture where “an on-time train is better than a safe train.”
An New Jersey Transit union official said Tuesday (April 8) there is no culture of safety at the statewide transportation agency.
“We just go about our work every day and we’re not told anything — nobody ever talks to us about safety,” Michael J. Reilly, general chairman with the United Transportation Union, said during the monthly NJ Transit board meeting in Newark.
The shakeup of NJ Transit’s upper management is becoming a clean sweep.
In the same week that Jim Weinstein’s four-year tenure as NJ Transit’s executive director officially ended, his directors of rail and bus operations, Kevin O’Connor and Joyce Gallagher, are being forced out, said sources close to the agency.
Just like that, the top boss at NJ Transit and the top officials in the rail and bus divisions of the statewide transportation agency are gone or going.
The head of New Jersey’s transit agency Feb. 3 defended the response to delays for thousands of fans leaving the Super Bowl by train, as officials sought to understand how ridership estimates could have been so far off base. About 33,000 people took the 7-mile ride between MetLife Stadium and the Secaucus rail transfer station, more than double the highest estimates made by organizers and transportation experts before the game. The overcrowding on the platform grew so severe immediately following the game that the stadium scoreboard flashed a sign asking fans to remain inside. The Super Bowl was held Sunday, Feb. 2, at Met-Life Stadium in New Jersey. It was billed as the first outdoor/mass transit Super Bowl. “I received an email this morning from New Jersey Transit Vice President and General Manager Kevin O’Connor, thanking our UTU/SMART members for a job well done,” said New Jersey Transit General Chairperson Michael J. Reilly. “Our members of Local 60 in Newark, N.J., came out in force, as there were more than 70 extra assignments to be filled on both Saturday and Sunday. Not only did they come out, our crews were exceptional in their duties and professional in very demanding situations.” In a message to Reilly and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen General Chairperson Dave Decker, O’Conner wrote: “Just wanted to express my thanks to both of you, as well as to your members. We filled virtually every job on Saturday and Sunday and on Sunday carried an unprecedented 28,000 people to the Meadowlands and took out over 32,000. I spoke to many employees as I saw them on Saturday and Sunday and thanked them for their efforts, but of course that was only a fraction of the work force, so please pass this on to everyone. Great job by all and greatly appreciated. Thank you. Kevin”
And the result, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, is a significant reduction in rail workplace derailments that too often lead to serious injury and death — plus, as a bonus, better labor/management relationships and improved operational performance.
We’re talking about four pilot projects called Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS), whose core value is that railroaders don’t intentionally make mistakes, and the most effective means of correcting workplace errors that have the potential to cause death, injury and accidents is to investigate the cause in a non-judgmental environment.
In a review of C3RS pilot projects on Amtrak, Canadian Pacific, New Jersey Transit and Union Pacific, the FRA also determined they result in supervisors becoming “more fair and cooperative” and placing a greater value on safety relative to productivity, fewer discipline cases, and workers more willing to raise safety concerns with management.
C3RS is a collaborative effort involving the FRA, carriers, the UTU and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
The pilot projects encourage engineers, conductors, trainmen and yardmasters to report — without fear of discipline or FRA enforcement action, even if rules violations are involved — close calls that may have resulted in accidents or injuries.
All C3RS reports by employees are collected anonymously and kept confidential. With names and locations masked, a C3RS peer review team recommends corrective action, such as improved training, changes in physical plant, changes in existing federal safety laws or regulations, changes in carrier operating rules, and improved training and/or education.
Examples of close calls include varying levels of risk, such as leaving pieces of equipment unsecured, improper blocking, operating trains beyond track authority, or violating operating rules.
UTU International Vice President John Previsich spearheads the UTU involvement in the four C3RS pilot projects – systemwide on Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, and at CP’s Portage, Wis., yard, and UP’s North Platte, Neb., yard.
At UP, which has the most experience with C3RS, the pilot project has led to reformatting track warrants so they are easier to read, and with a UP officer observing that C3RS “is helping UP move from a blame culture to one that bridges communication gaps between employees and management.”
A New Jersey Transit conductor has been arrested and charged with official misconduct, theft and conspiracy, according to news reports, following a seven-month investigation into missing ticket money.
The alleged crime is said to have occurred on NJT’s North Jersey Coast Line between New York City and Bay Head, N.J.
Conductor Robert Broschart was arrested along with a non-NJT employee – Phillip Swanger – on charges brought by the Monmouth County prosecutor and NJT. They are charged with defrauding NJT of thousands of dollars in ticket money over a one-year period. Broschart faces up to 20 years in prison, according to news reports.