TRENTON — A state audit finds that NJ Transit could miss the federal deadline to install automatic braking system on its trains despite more than doubling the budget of the now-$500 million project.
The 10-page report by the Legislature’s Office of the State Auditor heaps scorn on one of the state’s most maligned government agencies, finding fault with the brake system installation’s cost overruns.
In a 19-page response that was included with the auditor’s report released Thursday, NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett once again blamed the agency’s current problems on the previous administration and reiterated efforts that the rail-and-bus agency has taken to hire more engineers and upgrade equipment.
NJ Transit has been one of Gov. Phil Murphy’s top concerns and the Democrat devoted part of his annual state-of-the-state speech this month to preview a 10-year strategic plan and five-year capital plan. Murphy has insisted that the agency has been making strides under his watch but many lawmakers — and commuters — remain skeptical.
State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, who serves on the Senate’s Legislative Oversight and NJ Transit committees, said the audit’s findings “reinforce much of what we already know. New Jersey Transit isn’t doing enough to fix what’s wrong.”
Positive Train Control
A 2015 federal law requires rail agencies to install positive train control (PTC), a braking system that is supposed to prevent runaway trains.
The transportation agency has already missed the initial 2018 deadline and was given until Dec. 31 of this year to finish the job. The audit, however, said “it is debatable” whether NJ Transit would succeed, risking daily federal fines.
The audit found that NJ Transit’s budget for installing PTC on its 440 trains grew from $225 million in 2011 to $500 million today.
The ballooning expenses resulted in part from six change orders submitted by NJ Transit’s initial consultant and another eight change orders approved for its current consultant.
The audit also noted that NJ Transit hasn’t collected a penny of the $9.1 million in penalties that the agency assessed against its contractor for failing to meet project milestones.
Corbett’s response insists that the agency will meet the Dec. 31 deadline for PTC installation.
He explained that NJ Transit did not pursue the millions in penalties against its contractor because the assessment was under appeal.
He said NJ Transit monitors its contractors and subcontractors and has employees embedded with the PTC contractor.