11-Day Service Disruption Affects M&E Riders in Morris County

An 11-day service disruption severely affected travel for many Morris & Essex (M&E) Line riders in December. All service between Morristown and Denville Junction was suspended, and there was only limited train service to Denville, Dover, and points west. Morris Plains and Mount Tabor had none.

The outage was blamed on an incident on Sunday night, December 3, when a work train pulled down some overhead wire and damaged supporting structure for the wire near Mount Tabor. It took until Thursday, December 14 to restore service. In the meantime, the regular schedule between Penn Station New York and Morristown ran, although some of the weekday trains to and from Hoboken were annulled. Midday train 854 from Hackettstown on the 14th was the first train to run on the M&E after repairs were completed. It ran non-stop to Newark as had been planned during the outage, skipping all of the stops between there and Newark that it would have made under normal operation.

Weekday trains served Denville from the Boonton Line platform and all other stops as far west as Hackettstown on roughly the regular weekday schedule. Those trains detoured over the Montclair-Boonton Line between Newark’s Broad Street Station and Denville Junction, ran express to Denville, stopping on the Boonton Line platform. That schedule served Denville and Dover with few trains outside the peak-commuting period, but mostly during commuting times, when they are also served by trains scheduled on the Montclair-Boonton Line, which was not affected.

Train 851, which normally leaves Newark at 9:31 A.M. was rescheduled to leave at 9:59; just 4 minutes ahead of Train 6231 on the Montclair line to Montclair State Station. Riders who got on the wrong train (and there were some when I rode) had to go to Dover, wait until 12:32 to leave, bypass their Montclair-area stop, arrive at Newark at 1:54, and wait until 2:16 for a train that would take them to their destinations. An unscheduled stop to drop them off at Montclair State would have allowed them to take Train 6226 back toward their destinations at 10:51, saving hours of passenger time.

One unusual feature of the weekday operation was the vastly increased use of the Montclair-Boonton Line west of Bay Street, Montclair, including the rarely used passing track at Lincoln Park. On the occasion when I took a scheduled train to Dover in the afternoon and an early-evening train on the detour, we waited there while 2 westbound trains went by. I took several rides on rerouted trains during the disruption, and ridership was light on all of them: less than 25 passengers per train.

The only service available in the affected area was provided by local buses in Morris County, and that service is always limited. The 875 and 880 lines run between Morristown and Dover on different routes, but service runs infrequently and ends early in the evening. That gave passengers going to Morris Plains or Mount Tabor limited options, and without timed connections at Morristown.

The weekend situation was even more dire for riders who would have gone west of Morristown if the trains had been running there. There is no weekend service on the Boonton Line west of Montclair State, so there
were no trains at all in the affected area. Only the 880 bus runs on Saturdays (including December 9). It runs 8 times a day in each direction, but only 4 of those arrivals or departures at Morristown represented convenient connections to or from points west to Dover. Morris County buses do not run on Sundays, so there was no transit at all west of Morristown on the Sunday during the outage.

The weekend situation was different on the Gladstone Branch. NJ Transit had contracted with the Lakeland Bus Company to run hourly shuttles between Summit and Gladstone, due to track work. A similar operation between Morristown and Dover would have provided full service between those points and intermediate stations, and it would have required only 2 buses to make the required trips.

For decades, the Lackawanna Coalition has called for better preparedness for disruptions at NJ Transit. In this case, the agency had 5 days to place shuttle buses into operation on the weekend. It also seems possible that they could have gotten a shuttle operation going by Monday, December 4, or at least by Tuesday. We continue to wonder how they will do during the next outage.

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