By David Madden

TRENTON, NJ (CBS) — A joint legislative committee in Trenton has begun hearings into the operations of New Jersey Transit, in light of this month’s train accident in Hoboken that left a rail rider dead and scores of others injured.

Committee members were none too pleased when they heard, at the last minute, that newly hired NJT Executive Director Steven Santoro would not appear. He was at a meeting with the Federal Railway Administration, a meeting we later learned could have been put off so he could attend the Trenton hearing.

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But his boss, NJT chair and state Transportation Commissioner Richard Hammer, told the group that the rail carrier’s working on federally mandated Positive Train Control systems that could have prevented the Hoboken accident.

“We will meet that challenge of PTC installation and full implementation by 2018,” Hammer told the committee.

He also disputed federal data suggesting that NJT’s rail accident and breakdown rates exceed regional and national averages.

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But committee members also expressed displeasure with complaints that the carrier has been less than cooperative even in dealing with those injured in the accident. Hammer said he’d look into those concerns.

The investigation is being handled by two separate committees meeting in joint session. The Assembly Judiciary Committee has been given subpoena power while the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee has not. That could change as these proceedings play out over the next several months.

Hammer also said NJT cannot discuss what happened at the Hoboken Station until after the National Transportation Safety Board concludes its probe, a process that is likely to take about a year.

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He also testified that, contrary to media reports, NJT maintenance budgets have consistently gone up over the last several years and insists that “safety is job number one.”