Metro-North Boosts Off-Peak, Weekend Schedules

On NJ Transit, schedules have been largely unchanged for years, with minor changes from time to time, and elimination of many off-peak trains to Hoboken the major event.  However, on many off-peak trains, particularly on weekends, traffic continues to build, often threatening to reach train capacity.  On New York’s Metro-North Railroad, off-peak traffic is also building, but Metro-North has the spare capacity into Grand Central Terminal to do something about it: substantial increases in off-peak service have been announced by M-N, with the first round coming on October 14, when 79 new trains per week will begin to operate: all off-peak weekdays and on weekends.  A further increase of 151 trains per weeks is slated for April 2013.  The new trains focus on the New Haven and Harlem lines of Metro-North; on the New Haven line, there will be 15 additional trains on weekdays, and 30 trains on weekends, and on the Harlem, 24 additional weekend trains.  In addition, on the NJT-operated Pascack Valley line, which originates in Spring Valley, N.Y., there will be a new round trip each weekday, plus a new Friday-afternoon-only pre-rush-hour “getaway” train.  Finally, existing trains that are overcrowded on the Grand Central lines will get additional cars to address the problem.

MTA says the new schedules will provide half-hourly service at weekend key-ridership hours at many stations on the Harlem and New Haven lines.  The railroad also announced a substantial schedule of holiday shoppers’ trains to reduce crowding during the preholiday period.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that off-peak and weekend service on the Morris & Essex lines needs study and improvement.  Many trains are close to capacity, with hapless riders forced to take long treks through the train in search of seats.  Service is hourly at best; as Metro-North has learned, such infrequent service discourages ridership.  NJ Transit’s policy of discouraging off-peak and weekend travel via the Hoboken Gateway has exacerbated the situation; weekend service to Hoboken runs on an unacceptable 2-hour headway (with an astonishing gap from 8 to 11 p.m. returning from Hoboken, just when those out for a “night on the town” need to return).  There seems to be an NJT unwritten policy to favor service at peak hours, when most riders travel at the lowest rates, and ignoring all others; new trains are seldom added, following the idea that “since we lose money overall, every new train will just increase our deficit.”   A more business-oriented approach is needed.