NJ Transit Rail Celebrates 40th Anniversary

It has now been slightly more than 40 years since NJ Transit started running its trains under its own flag. While the different lines were originally operated by historical railroads, such as the Morris & Essex (M&E), Gladstone, and Montclair lines by the Lackawanna Railroad until 1960, the statewide system was run by the Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail), with help from the Commuter Operating Agency (COA) at the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

According to Coalition member Jim Blaze, who worked as a manager for Conrail at the time, Congress mandated in 1981 that Conrail had to give up its local passenger operations by the end of 1982. In a hurry, and just in time for New Years’ Day1983, 3 regional railroads were born: Metro-North in New York State, NJ Transit Rail, and SEPTA Regional Rail in the Philadelphia area.

Service on several lines was discontinued during the Conrail period, and the Atlantic City Rail Line and service beyond High Bridge to Philipsburg on the Raritan Line ended in 1983 under NJT. The former returned to service in 1990; the latter never did. There have not been any new lines built since NJ Transit took over rail operations, but some Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Line trains now go beyond Netcong to Hackettstown, and there are more trains to Port Jervis and High Bridge than there were 40 years ago. Limited weekend service to Montclair came back in 2010 and, in 2007, service outside peak-commuting hours returned to the Pascack Valley Line for the first time since 1939.

There were 3 important events on lines of Lackawanna heritage during the NJT period. The modernization of the electrical system on the M&E and the Montclair and Gladstone Branches was started under Conrail, and completed in 1984. The Montclair Connection, which was first proposed in 1929, opened for service in 2002. Midtown Direct service on the M&E and Montclair lines directly to New York’s Penn Station began in June 1996. Prior to that time, Hoboken was the eastern terminal for all trains, and there is still Hoboken service today.

In addition, NJ Transit integrated the fare structure and operations of the predecessor railroads, which had not changed much during the Conrail era, into a more-unified system over time. There was a trauma during the early days in 1983, too. There were strikes against all 3 of the new railroads starting in March, and the NJ Transit rail strike lasted for 34 days. Transit managers chartered buses and ran special service during peak-commuting hours, much as they did in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy devastated the area, including local transit.

Through the years, NJ Transit has kept the railroad going, and has increased service on some of the lines that still run today. There is more to be done, concerning such issues as levels of service and scheduling connectivity between lines for riders making linked trips. Still, the Lackawanna Coalition salutes NJ Transit Rail on 40 years of keeping the trains going. That, in itself, is something to celebrate.

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