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October 28, 2019 3:00 PM, EDT

NJ Transit’s Angry Riders Prompt Crew Training to Stem Assaults

New Jersey Transit train A New Jersey Transit train arrives at the station in Secaucus, N.J. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg News)

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A soaring number of physical assaults on New Jersey Transit employees have led the agency to step up anti-violence training as bus and train riders vent about crowding and cancellations.

Twenty-seven personnel have reported assaults either on board trains or on NJ Transit rail property from January through July, according to Federal Railroad Administration data. That’s four more than for calendar years 2016-2018 combined. Assault data for bus workers weren’t immediately available.

Bus and rail employees and NJ Transit police now will get “conflict de-escalation” training from Rutgers University’s National Transit Institute, to supplement existing coursework, according to an agency news release.

“The best way to help employees at risk of on-the-job assaults is to help them prevent the assault,” Michael Rubin, an NJ Transit employee court advocate, said in a statement. The training will give employees “additional tools at hand to de-escalate situations and protect themselves and their customers from possible assaults.”

NJ Transit didn’t immediately provide the training’s cost, or specify how many employees were expected to enroll.

Gov. Phil Murphy came to office in January 2018 promising to rebuild New Jersey Transit, the nation’s largest statewide mass-transportation operator, after years of budget cuts. The agency hit a December 2018 deadline on a rail-safety project that had dragged for years, resumed train-engineer classes to address a staffing shortage and hired its first customer advocate. Murphy also ordered an agencywide audit and boosted system funding.

Still, some lawmakers say improvements haven’t happened swiftly enough, and New Jersey residents are in danger of losing access to New York City jobs. State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford, has convened a legislative committee to examine the agency’s operations and propose reforms.

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