Railway Age and Railway Track & Structures (RT&S) jointly sponsored a light-rail conference in Jersey City on November 15 and 16. NJ Transit was the “transit host” and several managers were on hand to attend the event and make presentations. NJT CEO Kevin S. Corbett gave the keynote address, focusing on the agency’s 3 light-rail lines: Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLRT), Newark Light Rail, and the RiverLine between Trenton and Camden. Gregory Woods, the head of NJT’s light-rail component, explained some of the technical aspects of the HBLRT, including overtakes by Bayonne Flyer runs during peak commuting periods and a tricky operational maneuver north of Hoboken. I was on the closing panel for the conference; an all-journalist group that also featured the editors-in-chief of the two sponsoring publications. One of the issues that I raised was the impending financial catastrophe that will befall essentially every major transit agency within the next 2 years, when the COVID-19 relief money provided for transit by the federal government runs out. Most federal funding is geared toward capital projects, and not toward operations.
With ridership still below pre-COVID levels in many places, I raised the possibility that providers might not have the money to operate on infrastructure financed in part with grants under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), which was also passed during the COVD emergency.
NJ Transit is one of the agencies that could be hard-hit next year, when the money is used up. That could result in massive fare increases and, even worse, severe service cuts. The Lackawanna Coalition has called on New Jersey’s political and transit leaders to work on finding more money to keep our transit going, including a dedicated source for stable, secure, and sufficient funding: a goal that has eluded the agency since it was founded more than 40 years ago. This time, the failure to provide enough money to run the system could result in consequences far more
dire than NJ Transit and its riders have ever faced before.