NEWARK, N.J. — The man who has led New Jersey’s embattled transit agency for the last 15 months is stepping down.
A person with direct knowledge of the announcement who wasn’t authorized to comment publicly said Thursday that New Jersey Transit Executive Director Steven Santoro will announce he’s leaving the agency in April.
Santoro, an 18-year agency employee, was named executive director of the nation’s second-largest commuter railroad in October 2016, two weeks after an NJ Transit train crashed at Hoboken Terminal, killing one person and injuring more than 100 others.
His tenure has been marked by criticism over safety and on-time performance. Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy recently called the agency “a national disgrace.” Murphy is expected to name a new executive director in coming weeks.
Santoro also oversaw last summer’s schedule cutbacks due to Amtrak repairs at Penn Station, a plan many considered to have minimized disruptions and avoided what Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had said would be a “summer of hell” for commuters.
“We are deeply grateful for his stewardship and proud of the many strides we made as an agency during his tenure,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Richard Hammer said.
Santoro had been NJ Transit’s assistant executive director of capital planning and projects for nine years when he took over as executive director.
The Hoboken crash spotlighted NJ Transit’s poor safety record: The Associated Press found that NJ Transit had more accidents and paid more in fines for safety violations than any other commuter railroad in the country over the previous five years.
The engineer in the crash was found to have undiagnosed sleep apnea. Before the crash, NJ Transit had allowed engineers with the disorder to keep working as long as they were being treated.
Santoro changed that policy to require engineers and conductors who show indications of potential fatigue symptoms to be removed until they can document they’ve controlled or corrected their conditions.
NJ Transit and other passenger and freight railroads are under a federal mandate to install an automatic braking system, called positive train control, by the end of this year. In a recent filing to federal regulators, NJ Transit reported that through September, the braking system had only been fully installed in 25 of 440 locomotives and none of 11 track segments.
Santoro has said the agency will meet the deadline.