After a train crashed into the Hoboken terminal killing one and injuring more than hundreds, the New Jersey Transit has been under intense scrutiny. Steven Santoro took over the role of executive director of the agency 3 weeks ago. He was appearing Friday at a joint hearing of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee and the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which together are investigating NJ Transit’s troubled leadership and poor safety record.
During the hearing, Santoro revealed that a federal investigation into the New Jersey Transit found multiple safety violations. According to NorthJersey.com the Federal investigators found that emergency tools and fire extinguishers were lacking on some trains. They also found that employees were using their cellphones when they were not authorized to do so. Engineers sometimes didn’t blow the horn at grade crossings or didn’t perform brake checks as required. Additionally, locomotives were not proprely secured in train yards.
Santoro admitted that to operate safely the agency would need to hire at least 305 more employees. Additional funding will also be necessary. Santoro explained that the money allocated to construction projects to keep the railroad safe was used to pay for new equipment purchases.
Santoro’s acknowledgement of a safety crisis within the agency contradicts years of statements by other agency officials that everything was fine and that no extra funding was needed. No longer than two weeks ago, Richard Hammer, the New Jersey Transportation Commissioner was claiming that New Jersey Transit had enough money to fund its operation. In his testimony Santoro disagreed with this statement. He also said that he would stop to use the construction money to acquire new equipment. Santoro is now working with the NJ Treasurer’s office to find additional funding.
Since Santoro took over the role of executive director several positions opened with the New Jersey Transit. The agency is looking for a chief of compliance, uniformed officers and more than 20 employees to implement Positive Train Control, a new high tech safety system.