Fixing NJ Transit has to start with finding strong, professional leadership

How to sum up NJ Transit’s woes?

You could point to the recent Federal Transportation Administration report that ranked it worst-in-the-nation when it comes to commuter-rail train breakdowns.

Or you could look at last week’s flap over an official NJ Transit tweet that attacked a Bergen Record article about nepotistic hiring at the agency.

The tweet slammed “personal attacks” on “highly qualified employees changing NJ Transit for the better.” Daniel Bryan, a top adviser to Gov. Phil Murphy, in turn slapped the tweet as “outrageous” and “wholly unfair,” and NJ Transit removed it.

On Thursday, the New Jersey Globe IDed the tweet’s author as Stewart Mader — whose job title is customer advocate and chief customer experience officer — while other sources fingered the agency’s chief administrative officer, Jeannie Kwon, as ordering Mader to do it.

Mader, by the way, got that job after applying for a post described as handling PR for NJ Transit — not any kind of customer advocate. (That position was created a month after he applied.)

NJ Transit’s woebegone trains saw nearly 1,000 cancelations in March 2018 alone, many thanks to mechanical failures. Add in a shortage of engineers, delays caused by work on Positive Train Control (an automated safety system) and endless problems with Amtrak, which shares key tracks with NJT — and you’ve got a commuting nightmare.

Just last month, the state auditor ripped a $200 million cost overrun, work delays and poor oversight tied to the PTC project.

What a way to run a railroad. (Heck, you can’t get any more incompetent than storing trains in low-lying areas just before Superstorm Sandy, as NJT brass did despite forecasters’ warnings about flooding.)

As a consultant wrote in 2018, the agency was once a “model of commuter rail service” but has seen “performance declines” in “critical” areas. That report cited “precipitous” cuts in state subsidies and a “substantial” jump in ridership, which sparked “fare increases, minimal capital investment, mechanical failures, safety concerns and overall customer dissatisfaction.”

The consultant blasted NJT’s lack of a “strategic plan” with detailed long- and short-term goals and steps to achieve them, and advised a total revamp of the system’s “organizational structure.”

On taking office in 2016, Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to get the agency on track, but the Mader affair shows his new team is as bad as the old one.

Meanwhile, key pols like state Senate President Steve Sweeney are pushing for new “dedicated funding” streams for it. Huh? Before socking already tax-saddled Jerseyans with new levies, how about fixing those management failures first?

For starters, why not hire Andy Byford, who stepped down Friday as NYC Transit boss after leading a huge turnaround for the MTA’s trains?

Congress has a role here, too: Under federal law dating to 1926, NJT employees can legally strike — a threat that has forced management to make concessions to unions that have, well . . . crippled the agency.

NJT’s woes affect more than just the Garden State: Its trains supply 200,000 workers daily to city businesses. They take folks off roads, easing traffic and pollution. And by enabling folks to commute, they help free up desperately sought-after city housing.

It’s beyond shameful that a major metropolis must suffer transit as abysmal as NJ Transit. Fixing it should be a top priority.

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