By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff
When you walk into the PATH Control Center, a short drive from the Journal Square station in Jersey City, you see lights. Lots of them. Light coming from the dozens of wall screens displaying a diagram of every track and live feeds from overhead cameras of station activity, and computer screens where employees track train movements across the system.
Assistant Trainmaster Monica Lam sits in the middle of this frenetic activity, arriving for work at 1:30 p.m to start her shift. Once seated, the action begins. As she puts it, “Our jobs are to move trains.” PATH has three trainmasters; Lam is one of nine assistant trainmasters on 8-hour shifts dedicated to this pivotal task.
“As trainmasters, we’re the eyes and ears for the whole PATH system,” Lam said. “We have a lot of responsibility, but I like that it’s exciting and different every day. It’s rewarding, too. I take pride in all the things I do behind the scenes to keep the trains moving and keep our passengers safe.”
The give and take of a trainmaster’s job is ensuring the trains keep running on time, and stepping up when a problem arises. Even then, the pressure to resolve it quickly is constant, particularly during PATH’s busy afternoon rush hour period.
If someone gets sick on the train, it’s Lam who coordinates with Port Authority police on the fastest and safest way to proceed. If an unattended bag is spotted, she’ll try to reroute trains and coordinate a police response, with as little passenger impact as possible. Should a child be separated from his or her parents, it’s Lam and her fellow trainmaster colleagues who scan video footage and contact PATH personnel on the ground to reunite them.
Her shift is rarely uneventful. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the first call came in at 1:45 pm. An employee whose job is greasing tracks needed access to the rail bed. So Lam granted “foul time,” PATH-speak for clearing a worker for an area otherwise in use by trains or other equipment. She checked the map and gave him the go-ahead. A tower operator working with her in the control center puts the train in automatic, assuring it wouldn’t strike the worker.
Many of Lam’s calls cover similar territory. At 3:50 p.m., a conductor at Journal Square notifies her someone fell asleep on the train, in case it takes extra time to awaken the sleeper and remove them from the train, possibly affecting the train schedule. A switchman in the Harrison train yard asks permission for a train to travel past a stop signal — the signal appears not to be displaying. Lam and her colleague determined the coast was clear, and the conductor got the green light. Soon after, a passenger dropped an item on the track. Lam stopped the incoming train for a PATH worker to retrieve it.
“There are so many ways to solve a problem, but it’s all about keeping the passengers in mind,” she said. “Now that I’ve been doing this for over two years, moving the trains is the easy part for me. But the challenge is being able to think ahead and come up with the best solution that will cause the least delays.”
Even when the job can feel stressful or tiring, Lam is always learning and welcomes the challenge of figuring out how to keep such a massive and complex system running.
“We’re all on the same team here, striving to keep the trains moving and get you where you need to go,” she said. “There are real people behind PATH. In the end, we’re all on the same team, and we all want to help each other.”