New York

Engineers' Union Says Crew Shortage That Canceled NJ Transit Trains Is Due to ‘Inadequate' Staffing

New Jersey Transit is weighing whether it can pursue disciplinary action against train engineers after a manpower shortage forced dozens of ride cancellations this week amid summerlong track work at New York's Penn Station, an agency official told lawmakers Wednesday.

NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro said at a joint Assembly-Senate oversight committee that there were 40 total cancellations Sunday and Monday and that he will meet later this week with union leaders.

The union contract spells out the process for discipline, Santoro said after the Democrat-led hearing. "If it's appropriate, disciplinary action will occur consistent with the contract," he said.

It's unclear how many of the cancellations stemmed from engineers exercising a contract provision that allows them to take two days to report for work when schedule changes are made. But vacations and the summer track work also may have been a factor, Santoro said.

The head of the union said NJ Transit portrayed its workers negatively, "implying that engineers simply do not want to come to work."

"In fact, the opposite is true," said James Brown, chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

One lawmaker in particular got heated when discussing the canceled trains. Republican state Sen. Joe Kyrillos fumed about workers, at one point asking Santoro whether it was true they were "screwing" NJ Transit customers by not working earlier this week.

"That is the end product," Santoro said.

Democratic Assemblyman John McKeon said he would issue the panel's first subpoena later this week for correspondence between Republican Gov. Chris Christie's office and NJ Transit. He said he received 1,200 pages in response to a request, which he called "unacceptable."

Santoro said after the hearing the agency has been busy with train operations but would comply with McKeon's request.

The hearing, which also included testimony from officials at Amtrak, PATH commuter trains and the New York Waterway, came amid the second week of extensive repairs at the nation's busiest rail station.

Lawmakers and an Amtrak official said the first week of work went better than expected.

"The summer from hell has not been quite as hot as expected," Democratic state Sen. Bob Gordon said, referring to Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's comment earlier this year anticipating a "summer of hell."

Aside from the NJ Transit's staffing issues, there was general agreement that the first week of the track work went well. Michael DeCataldo, an Amtrak vice president, said the work got off to a "promising start," with concrete and rail ties being replaced.

Amtrak owns Penn Station.

This week's cancellations came during the second week of extensive repairs at the station that already have affected train service for hundreds of thousands of commuters.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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