Thousands have applied to be NJ Transit engineers. Now comes the hard part

NJ Transit reported an overwhelming response from people who want locomotive engineer jobs. Will it end train cancellations?

NJ Transit does not have enough engineers and it is one of the reasons why trains are continually late. Commuters though may get some relief, although it may not happen soon.

More than 5,000 people have applied to be locomotive engineers and the deadline for procrastinators to do so is Nov. 9, NJ Transit officials said.

“We’re extremely pleased with the overwhelming response,” said Nancy Snyder, an NJ Transit spokeswoman. “The number of applicants accepted depends on a few variables, such as the graduation rate of classes currently underway, as well as the rate of attrition.”

The response comes after an intense campaign to recruit engineers for training classes, a process that can take up to two years, depending on an individual’s experience. 

Applicants must meet minimum requirements, pass a pre-employment test and interview process to be considered, she said.

Agency officials cited a shortage of engineers as the reasons for a rash of canceled trains during the summer, especially when engineers would call out from work at the last minute. That forced officials to scramble to find another engineer to run that train.

About 400 engineers are needed to provide daily service and cover engineers who are sick, on vacation or must take mandated rest periods. 

“We expect to see a substantial net gain in engineers by the end of 2019, while realizing incremental gains along the way,” Snyder said.

Officials also blamed the engineer shortage on a flurry of retirements and a lack of training classes for new engineers between 2010 and 2017. Only 11 training classes were held between those years and engineers who were trained in 2009 were furloughed due to budget issues

NJ Transit also lost engineers to other regional commuter railroads that offered better pay during the six years engineers worked without a new contract.

Officials said NJ Transit was roughly 15 percent below the full staffing level required to provide riders with reliable service commuters “expect and deserve.” The agency has hired more human relations workers to interview the prospective engineers, officials said.

NJ Transit recruiters attended 32 job and career fairs since January. The agency is still recruiting bus drivers.

NJ Transit is conducting four engineer training courses, where a year ago, they had one class, said Kevin Corbett, executive director. The first class is expected to graduate in May, he said. 

Larry Higgs may be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @commutinglarry. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

 

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