Coalition Says Information Flow Lacking

Although most rail transit services in the Northeast have been restored after Superstorm Sandy, in New Jersey most NJT commuter rail services remain severely curtailed or totally suspended.  As the outage nears its third week, many users of the service find little information available as to when it might resume, or even what is being done to restore service.  NJ Transit has established a network of emergency bus and ferry services to substitute for rail service, but these are largely targeted toward peak-hour riders with Manhattan as their destination; riders seeking to travel elsewhere find few or no alternatives.  The Lackawanna Coalition has received many comments on the situation, and has written the following communication to NJ Transit executives:

 Dear Messrs. Simpson and Weinstein,

I am the treasurer of the Lackawanna Coalition.  In the absence of our Chair, who is out of town, I am writing on behalf of the Coalition.  In regard to the damage from Hurricane Sandy, I have questions on behalf of myself, of the Lackawanna Coalition, of the counties and municipalities we represent along the former Erie-Lackawanna lines and especially the riders of the lines we represent.  I am not writing this letter to complain about the effort that NJ Transit is making towards the restoration of rail service.  I hope, like the other operations, that you are working with all possible speed to restore your physical plant to working order.  I further understand why NJT is not specifying the details of damage to the general public, as those are details they will not understand.  However, for us (members of which Mr. Simpson has previously addressed as personal advisors) that is information we will understand fully, and appreciate the knowledge of.  We know and understand, for instance, why the North Jersey Coast Line is not yet operating.  The damage to the Raritan Draw Bridge is there for us to see in vivid color.  It  makes no sense to operate trains on the line just to Avenel and Woodbridge when capacity on the Corridor is so constrained.

However, while we do not expect the public to be informed of the minutiae of damages along the lines, the amount of information being offered is too limited.  All our riders know is that the trains aren’t running, and that you do not mention when they will be.  The riders knowing that the line is damaged, that your rolling stock is constrained, as we understand it to be, and that the time frame for partial and then full restoration is days or weeks or months would help ease their minds, or at least let them make longer term temporary plans for substitute mobility if need be.  It has been two weeks almost since the service was ceased.  With this much time, at least a ballpark timeframe is a reasonable expectation.

In our capacity as a representative of the riders of NJ Transit’s M&E and M-B lines, we want to be able to honestly give our personal assurances to our constituents that NJ Transit is working towards service restoration as quickly as humanly possible, and that all effort is being made to provide as much mobility as possible.  The details listed on your website are not enough to allow us to report that to our constituents.  It is our mission to provide representation for all riders of our lines, and that not only includes the riders that ride MidTown Direct into Manhattan, and those that ride trains into Hoboken Terminal, but also those who do not.  The Morris and Essex line, as you know, has the highest level of intra-line travel of any American commuter rail line.  We applaud your efforts to provide shuttle service from several park-and-ride locations along the route.  We are, however, disturbed that you are not providing at least some bus service directly and fully paralleling the rail line to provide mobility for those riders that travel to destinations along the line.  It is a serious problem, one which our members are demanding explanations for.  Several of our members are unable to get to work because of the lack of connectivity along the line.  Many commuters can take advantage of the park and rides.  But other riders cannot, because they do not or cannot operate a car.  This is not small, this is people’s livelihood.  They can’t get to work, they can get fired, they are not being paid, and they can’t feed their families.  Our non-New York-bound constituents need that intra-line service desperately.

As such, we request the following.  First of all, we would like to have an open discussion about the condition of the lines that are presently not operating.  Secondly, we would like to have your assurance that as soon as bus equipment is available, frequent and effective service will be operated along the line servicing stations as a temporary replacement for trains to provide mobility for intra-line riders.  Thirdly, we would like you to provide us, in the strictest of confidence, your estimates of when service will be restored, to where, and at what level of frequency.  With this information, we can assure our riders of the best possible service given the dire circumstance the state finds itself in.  Thusly, we help our riders by providing  them with the best information we can.  And we can help you by assuring our riders that you, NJ Transit and the NJDOT, are doing the absolute best you can, from a source they can trust to be objective.  Finally, some of our associate members have connections and friends within the national rail and transit communities.  Our chair, David Peter Alan, has authorized me on behalf of the Coalition to offer our good offices to help with whatever we can in terms of procuring assistance.

Jesse S. Gribin,
Lackawanna Coalition