I naturally wanted to wait a few days to pass before opining on the terrible New Jersey Transit tragedy that left one person dead and scores of others injured this past week. And, no one is still sure whether the engineer is fault, the equipment wasn’t functioning or Amtrak/NJT simply decided not to fund the automatic braking system that would have prevented this bloody nightmare in the first place.
I must admit to having a knee-jerk reaction when I first heard the news: It was a combination of horror and resignation, but most certainly not shock.
NJTransit has been a favorite target of mine; I’ve blogged, Tweeted, posted photographs on FBook and Instagram and even included NJT in my stand-up comedy routine. But the accident was most definitely NOT a laughing a matter.
But, if any accident could be seen happening years in advance, it was the one in Hoboken.
For years, I’ve:
– Ridden on decrepit, ill-kempt passenger cars that were filled with litter.
– Sat on trains that were stuck at a full-stop.
– Avoided restrooms that doubled as cesspools.
– Been barked at by morose and sullen conductors.
– Been frustrated by the near total lack of communications on delays, cancelations or other matters of import.
– Waited patiently as rookie engineers routinely undershot, or overshot, station platforms (note: this was a weekly, if not daily, occurrence)
The latter always elicited a head-shaking, Donald Trump-like sigh from me, but I never imagined it would one day lead to tragedy. It was quite clear the engineers were inept when it came to safely easing their massive engines and precious cargo into a station. But, I figured well, one day, they’ll get it right. And, then there were the times when a train came whizzing into Penn Station, making me wonder how on earth the engineer would brake the cars in time for a safe stop.
And, don’t get me started on NJT’s hub, Penn Station. It’s easily one of Manhattan’s worst eyesores.
All of that spoke to me of a management that simply didn’t care, wouldn’t invest the money to upgrade its transportation or, more importantly, properly train engineers and conductors on everything from driving and maintenance to courtesy and professionalism.
Sometimes, you can spot an accident waiting to happen just by the way a business comports itself. Sadly, NJT was a case in point.
In this case, my only question is: How come it took so long?
Here’s hoping the tremendous image and reputation hit will knock some sense into NJ Governor Chris Christie and the ineffectual management at Amtrak/NJ Transit. I think it will. But, why does it always take a tragedy to force change? This one was years in the making.