After years of petitioning NJ Transit, riders on the Raritan Valley Line will finally get a one-seat ride into Manhattan, starting March 3. Sort of. According to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (Feb. 19), the new service will be limited, featuring only 5 round trips each weekday, and only in midday hours, not in the peak hours that commuters have demanded. Raritan Valley Rail Coalition Chairman Peter Palmer says it’s the first step in a 4-step process that eventually may lead to more comprehensive service. Today, Raritan passengers headed for midtown Manhattan have to transfer at Newark Penn Station, either taking the relatively slow PATH service or hoping for a seat on already-packed NJT trains from other lines.
Even though Raritan line riders constitute about 10% of NJT’s overall weekday train ridership, they haven’t gotten a single one-seat ride into New York’s Penn Station. For years, the excuse was that the RVL is not electrified, and the diesels used there are not allowed into the Hudson River tunnels and Penn Station itself. However, now NJT has “dual-powered” locomotives that can work as diesels out on the Raritan line but switch to electric mode to reach Penn Station. Why not more than 5 round trips a day? NJT has plenty of the new locomotives, which were planned for use in the now-cancelled ARC trans-Hudson tunnel—but capacity restrictions on the hundred-year-old existing tunnels makes it impossible to add any trains in the peak hours, so some other line would have to give up trains to allow Raritan passengers to get even a single seat into the Big Apple. This, apparently, is a political can of worms that NJT is reluctant to open.