NJ Transit has suspended all rail service Friday evening due to what the agency has called an “illegal job action” by the union of locomotive engineers.
The announcement, made amid rush hour, followed a hellish day for commuters. The apparent job action canceled almost 80 rides — mostly on the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast lines.
The last trips of the night were due to leave stations in Hoboken, Manhattan and Newark between 7:06 p.m. and 8:13 p.m., with the Bergen County Line offering the final ride.
Seven eastbound trains to Hoboken and Manhattan remained on the timetable, with the last set to leave Suffern, New York, at 10:17 p.m.
For the list of final trains for Friday, click here.
Commuters who normally return home from work in an hour, or two, were stranded on railway platforms across the agency’s service area.
Tim Palladino said he had to take a bus from New Brunswick to Woodbridge Township, where he waited until 8 p.m. for a ride that would take him over the Raritan River to his home in South Amboy.
“I’m waiting for the last — the actual last train of the night, down to the shore,” he said. “They have everyone standing around, or sitting, just waiting for trains that weren’t coming.”
The only experience that compared, the salesman said, was a day in April 2017 when the New York Mets opened their season.
Rail tickets were being accepted on all of the agency’s buses and light rail lines, as well as NY Waterway ferries and the PATH.
“With today’s engineer call-outs at nearly triple the rate of an average weekday, it is clear that this is the result of an illegal job action,” NJ Transit spokesman Jim Smith said Friday. “NJ Transit is disappointed that the union would perpetrate such an act on the more than 100,000 commuters who depend on NJ Transit rail service every day. We intend to explore all legal remedies in response to this illegal and irresponsible action.”
Jim Brown, general chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLE&T), did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the union’s website, BLE&T and NJ Transit are at an impasse in contract negotiations and Brown, in his message to members in March, wrote, “I want to remind everyone about saving for a possible strike.”
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James Devine, of NJ Transit’s labor relations and administration department, warned Brown in a letter Thursday of the consequences of a “job action.” The warning letter was first reported by New Jersey 101.5.
“Given the rumors that Engineers will intentionally ‘mark off’ tomorrow in protest, we must insist that you put out a communication to all Engineers to show up for work tomorrow as they are scheduled/assigned,” according to the letter obtained by NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY Network New Jersey. “Please be aware that NJ Transit will not tolerate an unlawful job action and may institute disciplinary action against any employees taking such action.”
Scott Shuster, who boarded the train in Asbury Park on Friday morning, said he was lucky to arrive when he did and catch a train that wasn’t canceled.
After talking to the conductor, “He said it was a job action,” Shuster said.
Seventy-eight train rides were canceled by 4:20 p.m., and the Princeton Dinky did not run at all. Twitter announcements from several of the agency’s train line accounts identified “engineer availability” as the reason for the annulled trains, while other tweets did not identify a reason.
New Jersey and its state agencies, including NJ Transit, observed Juneteenth on Friday.
The BLE&T is the only rail union of the 15 that NJ Transit bargains with that did not sign the new collective bargaining agreement, which would have made Juneteenth a paid holiday. Because they are subject to the old contract, it did not include Juneteenth as a holiday.
NJ Transit encouraged riders to check in frequently with every available channel — alerts on email, text message, apps, social media and departure vision boards — to get the status of all trains.
“NJ Transit rail tickets and passes are being cross-honored by NJ Transit bus, light rail, private carrier buses and PATH at Newark Penn Station, Hoboken and 33rd Street,” Smith said.
While “engineer availability” was the most common reason for NJ Transit train cancellations from 2017 through 2020, it plummeted as a reason for cancellations last year after the agency reached a full roster of locomotive engineers.
Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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