Report from the Chair, Sept./Oct. 2013

Cooperation is a wonderful thing, whether between people, institutions or the two.  On August 24, this writer had the pleasure of riding a special train to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: the first such excursion in over a decade.  The special train was led by locomotives from the Morristown & Erie Railway, Norfolk Southern (NS), and New Jersey Transit.  The train used equipment from all three railroads, and ran on lines owned by NS and NJT.

The Morristown & Erie took the lead in organizing the train to celebrate its 110th anniversary.  For the first time in many years, riders could traverse some of the former Lehigh Valley Railroad on a train.  The trip returned on the Washington Secondary, the line of Lackawanna Railroad heritage between Phillipsburg and Hackettstown, where NJT ownership begins.  The last scheduled passenger train from “P’burg” and onto the Morris & Essex Line ran in 1939. The last such train from Washington ran in 1966.

The Lackawanna Coalition and some local officials from Warren County have called for the restoration of passenger service from west of Hackettstown.  Coalition member Jack MacDougall and other members of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition have joined local business leaders in Flemington in advocating for service to that town over a segment of the historic Lehigh Line from Bound Brook.  Others want to restore service to Phillipsburg, and further to Bethlehem or Allentown, Penn.  All of these proposals would entail the use of some NS-owned track.

It is a step in the right direction that the three railroads cooperated in planning and running the special train.  The sort of cooperation required to plan, implement, and operate scheduled service is another matter, but cooperation for a special event can lead to the sort of regular cooperation that would eventually expand everybody’s rail mobility network.

A similar level of cooperation between NJT management and the representatives of NJT’s riders (including the Lackawanna Coalition) would also go a long way in improving mobility for everyone.  Even if it would not expand our rail network physically, it could lead to better connectivity among trains, light rail, and buses.  It could also help foster a climate in which management decisions are made with the customer foremost in mind.  It requires that NJT management and the advocacy community resolve their differences, since those differences will impede mobility for New Jersey’s residents and visitors for as long as they are not resolved.

We know that it takes some time for a true spirit of cooperation and a desire to work together to replace adversarial relationships or indifferent attitudes.  Still, a special train is a single step in the right direction and, when it happens, more steps in the right direction can follow.