By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff
PATH Assistant Operations Analyst Gretchin Noel spent a recent morning on the phone with electricians, signal repairmen, and structural and track maintainers, laying out the week’s assignments for the 100 or so people dedicated to performing crucial infrastructure work. Under normal circumstances, the task would be busy and fast-paced. But these aren’t normal circumstances.
During the pandemic, the maintenance and construction crews have kept PATH running on schedule day in and day out. Track and signal repairs, upgrading security systems, and maintaining high tension electrical systems continue 24/7 across the system, rain or shine, to ensure that essential workers and commuters get to their destinations safely.
Organizing the “track rights,” as PATH refers to it – who can go out to what track at what time – is an essential task, and Noel is a key part of the process. The scheduling takes into account the Port Authority’s long-term goals for the railroad, such as increasing capacity and reducing delays as detailed in the ongoing PATH Improvement Plan, as well as solving day-to-day issues and performing regular maintenance work.
Noel’s Wednesday mornings used to involve gathering staff in a conference room at PATH’s headquarters in Jersey City, where they would use an intricate magnetic board to visualize where workers, their vehicles, and the trains would be at any given moment. All that changed when social distancing and working from home became the norm. Noel had to figure out how to conduct her meetings remotely.
“You have to be adaptable in this job. It can be stressful at times, but I love it,” she said.
Noel added that she never thought she’d be in this position, facilitating complicated logistics for one of the nation’s most critical rail systems – and commanding a room of mostly men to do it. Over time, she’s had to learn how to speak up and put her foot down when required. “I credit my mother with teaching me how to be tough. I know my voice matters just as much as anyone else’s in that room,” she said.
Regular maintenance and improving the customer experience go hand in hand. The PATH Improvement Plan, unveiled in June 2019, calls for measures like extending 8-car trains to 9-car trains on the Newark-WTC line and decreasing headways between trains. Without Noel and her team’s attention to detail and unwavering diligence, tasks like extending the platforms at Grove Street to accommodate these longer trains and maintaining a new signal system so that trains can run closer together, would not happen.
“We strive for reliability and quality every day,” PATH Transportation Superintendent Kevin Lejda said. “As long as our customers get where they need to go safely and efficiently, then we’ve done our jobs right. The less the public sees or is impacted by our work behind the scenes, the better.”