NEWARK —The engineers union said this week's NJ Transit manpower shortage, which led to 58 trains being canceled over the past week, is because the railroad doesn't have enough engineers.

“In public statements, NJ Transit has made an issue out of engineers exercising their contractual right to take up to 48 hours to choose a work assignment after they have been displaced from their current assignment. However, this is not the root cause of the current manpower shortage. Even during normal traffic periods the railroad does not have enough locomotive engineers to cover all work assignments," Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen General Chairman James P. Brown said in a statement Wednesday.

Brown said that the BLET has warned NJ Transit for two years that engineer staffing levels were too low and the current staff is spread too thin.

"It should be noted that NJ Transit management did not consult with the BLET in any way to develop an improved engineer-scheduling plan prior to the start of Penn Station track work," Brown said. The chairman said that many engineers have worked on their days off, worked early and stayed late to help with the summer schedule in place during Amtrak's infrastructure work at Penn Station.

Brown's statement did not address why members chose to exercise the clause of their contract this week.

NJ Transit has said they had enough engineers to cover all assignments.

Brown said the union wants to work with NJ Transit to solve staffing issues and suggested in the short term combining eight-hour work assignments into 10-11 hour shifts. Brown said this would allow more trains to run with the current engineer staff.

In the long term, Brown said NJ Transit needs to hire an additional 30 engineers. It also involves a two-year training process.

During a joint legislative hearing on the Penn Station project on Wednesday, NJ Transit Executive Director Steven Santoro said he is meeting Friday with Brown to ensure the crew shortages don't happen when the schedule changes on Sept. 1.

"We are looking at all absences on those days, whether they be excused absence, whether they be unexcused absence, or would they be in the position to pick additional positions," Santoro told legislators.

Santos said disciplinary action could also be taken against engineers who stayed home.

"We're really taking about people not showing up to work and screwing the passengers of New Jersey Transit in the process," state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, said.

Michael Symons contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at

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