- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 10, 2018

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Some New Jersey Transit rail commuters will soon find themselves riding on another state’s rail cars as the embattled agency seeks to alleviate overcrowding on its 12 lines.

NJ Transit has finalized a deal to lease 10 rail cars from the Maryland Transit Administration’s MARC commuter rail service and expects to have them delivered “very shortly,” NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said on Tuesday. NJ Transit said it generally uses 848 rail cars to operate 128 trains each weekday to meet its ridership demand.

The lease agreement was one of several short-term fixes proposed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy to address overcrowding and poor on-time performance at NJ Transit, the nation’s third-largest transit system, which serves New Jersey and parts of New York and Pennsylvania.

In exchange for the eight-week lease of the cars, NJ Transit is giving Maryland a locomotive that was slated for retirement. The new cars won’t be deployed individually but will be coupled together as one train and be used as needs arise throughout the system, NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said.

Train overcrowding has been a recurring problem for rail commuters, many of whom post pictures on Twitter showing trains with all seats and aisles filled. Often overcrowding is caused by trains operating one or two cars short because of maintenance issues or because a train becomes disabled.

Murphy targeted NJ Transit’s maintenance operations as another area in need of improvement, and at Tuesday’s board meeting the board approved paying an outside engineering firm $2 million to review and upgrade its rail car and locomotive maintenance operations.

Corbett, who was named executive director by Murphy on Jan. 30, defended the expenditure as necessary to improve an outdated system.

“I hate to say it in this day and age, but a lot of things are still on paper and still very traditionally managed versus using optimizing software,” Corbett said. “This allows us to optimize and be flexible between certain kinds of equipment on certain kinds of routes and match that up to where we see where the predicted loads are based on past ridership levels.”

On another pressing issue, the federally mandated Dec. 31 deadline to install an emergency braking system, Corbett said that a recent overnight test of the system on a train between Morristown and Denville went “quite well” and that he felt more confident overall than he did a month ago. But he said he couldn’t guarantee NJ Transit would meet the deadline.

Through the end of 2017, NJ Transit had outfitted 35 of 440 locomotives with the system, called positive train control, and hadn’t fully completed any track segments. It also had completed installation of 35 out of 124 radio towers.

Congress mandated railroads install positive train control after a 2008 commuter rail crash in California killed 25 people. It extended the original Dec. 31, 2015, deadline as railroads balked at technological and other obstacles.

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