NJ Transit leads nation in mechanical railway failures, but does much better on per-mile basis

NJ Transit commuter rail trains had more total mechanical failures than other agencies nationwide, but the system ranks in the middle of the pack when evaluating the number of breakdowns based on passenger car miles.

According to commuter rail data from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), NJ Transit saw 351 total mechanical failures in 2019 while operating more than 61.6 million passenger car miles.

A passenger car mile measures the number of miles rail passenger cars travel while in revenue service, including deadhead miles. In NJ Transit’s case, that equates to a breakdown every 175,535 miles.

Based on FTA data, the Connecticut Department of Transportation experienced 163 total mechanical failures while operating more than 1.7 million passenger car miles. That equates to a breakdown every 10,684 miles.

“NJ TRANSIT considers Mean Distance Between Failure (MDBF) as a fairer and more standard measure of performance, which also alters the rankings,” Jim Smith, director of media relations for NJ Transit, said in a statement. “MDBF accounts for failures per mile as opposed to simply taking the absolute number of failures where larger agencies like NJ TRANSIT would statistically have more based on the far greater annual number of miles our equipment travels when compared to smaller agencies throughout the country.”

“Since 2018, NJ TRANSIT has made great strides to make up for the decade of disinvestment prior to that time,” Smith said. “Hundreds of new cruiser buses and longer articulated buses continue to arrive, which bring improved mechanical reliability, increased capacity and customer amenities – and we actually expanded our bus fleet for the first time in a decade in 2020.”

The agency has ordered 25 new dual-powered locomotives, and the first engines will arrive “in the coming weeks,” Smith said.

“We have 113 new multilevel rail cars on order that will replace the aging 40-plus-year-old Arrow fleet beginning in 2023,” Smith said. “They have a Mean Distance Between Failure that is ten times that of the Arrow III cars.”

Arrow III cars debuted more than 40 years ago. The data analyzed does not include other modes of transport, such as light rail or buses.

Failure data by state railway agency

Agency State Total Mechanical Failures Vehicle/ Passenger Car Miles Vehicle/ Passenger Car Miles per Mechanical Failure Train Miles Train Miles per Mechanical Failure
Altamont Corridor Express CA 7 1,170,229 167,176 171,468 24,495
Central Florida Commuter Rail FL 22 992,258 45,103 490,625 22,301
Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, dba: Sound Transit WA 24 2,293,248 95,552 373,664 15,569
Connecticut Department of Transportation CT 163 1,741,549 10,684 493,399 3,027
Dallas Area Rapid Transit TX 35 1,661,550 47,473 591,229 16,892
Denver Regional Transportation District CO 314 5,557,528 17,699 1,611,366 5,132
Fort Worth Transportation Authority, dba: Trinity Metro TX 0 1,352,689 N/A 338,172 N/A
Maryland Transit Administration MD 94 7,080,191 75,321 1,282,904 13,648
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority MA 317 25,460,595 80,317 4,699,665 14,825
Metro Transit MN 5 603,692 120,738 147,892 29,578
Metro-North Commuter Railroad Company, dba: MTA Metro-North Railroad NY 78 76,079,498 975,378 10,573,379 135,556
MTA Long Island Rail Road NY 177 75,728,346 427,844 8,798,445 49,709
New Jersey Transit Corporation NJ 351 61,612,840 175,535 8,809,500 25,098
North County Transit District CA 39 1,365,523 35,013 286,692 7,351
Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation, dba: Metra IL 115 46,714,807 406,216 7,163,476 62,291
Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District IN 9 4,478,204 497,578 780,136 86,682
Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority ME 1 2,429,265 2,429,265 485,796 485,796
Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, dba: Caltrain CA 36 7,386,734 205,187 1,337,439 37,151
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation PA 7 4,175,912 596,559 835,182 119,312
Regional Transportation Authority TN 2 223,435 111,718 87,304 43,652
Rio Metro Regional Transit District NM 11 1,363,631 123,966 458,841 41,713
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District CA 2 929,589 464,795 431,022 215,511
South Florida Regional Transportation Authority FL 83 3,795,371 45,727 1,189,678 14,333
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority PA 137 21,290,301 155,404 5,378,225 39,257
Southern California Regional Rail Authority, dba: Metrolink CA 76 13,879,151 182,620 2,862,981 37,671
Utah Transit Authority UT 106 5,422,880 51,159 1,355,720 12,790
Virginia Railway Express VA 4 2,555,148 638,787 385,577 96,394

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