Passenger Rail News Briefs

For new NJ Transit trains, a rough ride

With advanced technology and the latest amenities, NJ Transit's new rail passenger car was supposed to make commuting easier.

Instead, the model, called the Comet V (five), has produced tedious travel delays and routine aggravations ever since it started carrying New Jersey riders back in the fall of 2002.

First, there were computer glitches that caused the trains to shut down en route. Then came a nagging series of door malfunctions that riders say still have not been fixed.

On top of that, the very comforts that transit officials bragged about in a news conference two years ago have turned out to be less than comfortable. Take, for example, the Comet V's public address system. More often than not, it spews annoying static.

What else? The ticket holders are ripping the new red seats. The faucets in the restrooms do not work correctly. The windows leak. The electronic message screens sometimes announce the wrong station.

All this for rail cars that cost between $890,000 and $1 million apiece.

"It's some of the worst new equipment I've seen," said Bob Vallochi, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. "They arrived dead on arrival."

NJT officials say it's normal for new rail cars to have kinks that need to be ironed out. After the manufacturer, Alstom Transport of France, provided a test model of the Comet V a few years ago, NJT crews found 260 things that needed to be fixed before the rest of the cars could be completed.

Once the trains started running on regular schedules, the railroad identified another batch of flaws that needed to be resolved. NJT has a list of 60 "modifications" that still need to be done, including things like the public address system and the doors.

At present, Alstom has about 25 employees at NJ Transit's various rail yards, working on improving the cars.

(From the Star-Ledger.)

TSA to test rail security at Maryland station

The government plans to use a suburban Maryland train stop to test the feasibility of security checks for rail passengers, a response to last month's deadly railway bombings in Madrid.

The testing in New Carrollton, Md., is expected to begin by the end of May and last 60 to 90 days, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Darren Kayser said.

Kayser said the TSA is looking at a range of technologies and hasn't decided how many kinds of equipment to test or in what combination. An important question is how quickly machines can check people and luggage, he said.

The site was chosen because it presents challenges likely to be faced in screening railway passengers for weapons or explosives.

The platform is open to the elements and serves a mix of people, including rush-hour commuters and longer-distance passengers, Kayser said. The agency intends to screen Amtrak riders and is in talks with the Maryland Transit Administration, which operates the MARC commuter rail system, about participating.

Easy access to railways makes them vulnerable to terrorist attacks. In 1995, cultists unleashed nerve gas in a Tokyo subway, killing 12. Recently, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department warned that terrorists might strike trains and buses in major U.S. cities using bombs concealed in bags or luggage.

The key problem in screening railway passengers is doing it fast enough so the trains can still run on time.

Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said the railroad is pleased the TSA is turning its attention to ground-based security. The agency spends the vast majority of its budget on aviation security.

"We will continue to work cooperatively with them in their efforts," said Stessel.

(From the Associated Press.)

SEPTA facing 'crisis' with $70 million deficit

SEPTA officials are looking at a $70 million deficit for its fiscal 2005 budget that its general manager, Faye Moore, calls "one of the greatest financial crises in the history of SEPTA."

The agency has proposed a $920 million budget and has not asked for fare boosts or service cutbacks.

Not yet, at least.

What SEPTA is asking for is "long-term predictable funding," said agency spokesman Richard Maloney.

"We need a source of revenue from the state," he said. "Probably a tax, but it wouldn't have to be."

State legislators have not increased the subsidy to SEPTA in six of the past nine years, Maloney said. If the state had given the agency a 3 percent cost of living each of the last nine years, "we'd be hunky-dory," he said.

SEPTA will hold public hearings next month in the five-county area, urging citizens to lobby their state legislators to pass such a tax or subsidy.

Also, SEPTA officials will provide general information on possible options for the deficit, "including steep fare increases and significant service reductions," according to a news release.

The public hearings in Philadelphia will be held on May 20 at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, located at 1101 Arch Street, Room 204.

Any comments or complaints can be sent through e-mail at or by mail to 1234 Market St., 10th floor, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107.

(From the Philadelphia Daily News).

Report: Metro-North employees in pay scam

More than 40 Metro-North employees were found over the course of almost a year to have left work when they were supposed to be repairing and inspecting cars in an upstate New York railyard.

Investigators with the MTA Inspector General's Office witnessed dozens of nighttime employees exiting the Croton-Harmon facility in Croton-on-Hudson during a 10-month probe. They headed to a pizzeria, bars or simply home, staying away for far longer than their 30-minute lunch break.

They escaped notice by having colleagues punch them out using a timeclock that is not monitored by a security camera, or after supervisors signed time cards with no departure time stamps, according to an Inspector General's report acquired under the Freedom of Information Act.

Most of the abuse occurred last spring and summer. In all, 42 people were found during that period to have collected more than 260 hours of undeserved pay, the report said. With employees at the yard each earning from $15 to $30 an hour not including benefits, the lost pay totals at least $4,000.

(From New York Newsday.)



© 2004 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen