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Possible N.J. Transit Train Strike Raises Anxiety Among Commuters

Friday, March 4, 2016   (0 Comments)
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NYtimes.com 03/02/2016

Faced with the possibility of a rail strike starting next weekend, New Jersey commuters are increasingly worried about a shutdown that could paralyze the region and send them scrambling to find a way into New York City. New Jersey Transit’s rail workers could go on strike if they do not reach an agreement with the agency over wages and benefits. After months of tense negotiations, both sides are meeting again with federal officials in Washington on Friday to try to secure a deal. A closing could force hordes of commuters onto buses and roads that are already packed. Officials in New Jersey and New York City are working on contingency plans for the more than 150,000 people who use the railroad each weekday.

For Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who rattled the Republican presidential race last week when he endorsed Donald J. Trump, the looming strike presents an urgent challenge back home. In a radio interview this week, Mr. Christie said that “intense negotiations” were underway. But Mr. Christie took a swipe at the rail unions before leaving the state to join Mr. Trump on the campaign trail on Tuesday, calling some of their demands “outrageous.” The governor emphasized that “every extra dollar I give them” would come from taxpayers and commuter fares. A strike could begin as early as March 13, which is a Sunday. New Jersey Transit, the nation’s third-busiest commuter system, may rely on buses and ferries to get commuters to New York City, as it did after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But the contingency plans are not likely to accommodate all of the regular train riders and could worsen the already snarled traffic between the states. Senator Cory A. Booker of New Jersey, a Democrat, said the strike could be “a complete catastrophe for New Jersey commuters and the regional economy.”

New Jersey Transit officials said they would release details of an “alternative service plan” on Thursday. The agency plans to set up five park-and-ride locations where people can catch a bus to New York City or to ferry and PATH stops in New Jersey, according to a person familiar with the plans who was not authorized to discuss them publicly. The pickup locations, which would have free parking, include MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford and PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel. The agency’s more than 4,200 rail workers have been working without a new contract since 2011. The dispute has centered on wages and health care costs. The unions have proposed wage increases of about 17 percent over six and a half years, and workers would contribute a portion of their pay, up to 2.5 percent, toward health coverage. Officials at New Jersey Transit have said the unions’ demands would amount to increased costs of about $183 million and could require additional fare increases. The agency raised fares by about 9 percent last year after a fare increase in 2010 of about 22 percent.


 


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