The 2010/2011 winter weather has been among the harshest on record for NJ, with more snow and colder temperatures in the first half of the season than the state typically sees in a full winter. But NJ Transit riders might have noticed something odd: the weather didn’t really seem to be affecting service that badly. Sure, there were delays here and there, but the overall commuting picture was sunnier than it was last winter and during the train-melting summer of 2010.
The improved service is no fluke, according to NJ Transit spokesman Dan Stessel, who says that the agency implemented a revised set of “reliability measures” to keep the trains running. Chief among these was, oddly enough, running fewer trains—specifically, limiting the number of older Arrow III rail cars in the rotation. “While cancelling these trains has a negative impact on on-time performance figures, it actually enhances reliability by minimizing the potential for mechanical problems that would cause further delays,” says Stessel. “Reducing the number of Arrow III cars in service, combined with the retirement of older equipment has in turn reduced the number of mechanical failures to trains while en route. The new multilevel rail cars have performed exceptionally well during winter weather, largely because most of their important components are located inside, where they are not subject to the effects of snow and ice. In addition, our mechanical department developed a new screen to protect the ALP-46 locomotives from snow ingestion, which can interfere with electronic components and result in engine failures.”
All of which means that while individual trains still had weather-induced delays (and the total number of delays was about average for wintertime), there were fewer of the big breakdowns that throw the whole system into disarray and strand hordes of commuters at Penn Station during peak travel hours.
In addition to running fewer of the winter-averse older trains, NJT also tried a couple of new things. Stessel says that the simple change of not using the center doors on cars helped keep things running more smoothly, since the doors in the middle are more susceptible to snow and ice issues. “While this measure results in minor system-wide delays due to slower boarding and longer dwell times at stations…we are helping to prevent the more significant delays that would result if the doors failed and the train had to be canceled while en route.”
Finally, as anyone who is signed up for NJT’s MyTransit e-mail/SMS alerts will have noticed, the messages showed up earlier, were updated more often, and contained more detailed information. In fact, for the bigger storms that hit this winter, messages arrived the day before, outlining precautionary measures like ticket cross-honoring and extended station hours. I even noticed that when I was on a delayed train, the announcements from the conductors tended to be more informative than, “We are stopped at a red signal.”
Do you think that NJ Transit is having a better winter than last year, despite the flurry of Snowpocalypses? Are there other measures you’d like to see implemented when the weather gets rough during commuting hours?