Idyll in Jersey (Avenue, Main)

Last Thursday Lynn and I had a leisurely lunch with an old friend at the Sakura Japanese buffet in North Brunswick.  It was a beautiful day with cloudless blue skies, and since the NJT Jersey Avenue station is only a 10 minute trip, we decided to check it out.
 
Jersey Avenue is, basically, an enormous park-and-ride facility; it attracts riders from a wide area, since the next stop west is Princeton Junction, a whopping 14 miles away.  In the days when the area was nothing but farms, PRR had at least three intermediate stops; now, it’s wall-to-wall condos, but no stations.  NJT wants to build a new one, but even advocates can’t agree that it would be a wise investment.
 
Since we’d have to park the car, we had to watch out for parking cops looking to see if we’d paid, but none appeared. I hadn’t been to Jersey Avenue in a long time, and was unfamiliar with the layout.  We drove through the large lot, looking for spaces; then something appeared I had forgotten about, a railroad grade crossing—which leads to a separate parking lot immediately adjacent to the Trenton-bound platform (“Jersey Avenue Main”) on the outbound NEC main line. The somewhat decrepit single track we crossed is the famous, or infamous, Delco Lead, a track used for switching industrial freight customers; it begins at this point and extends for miles. NJT plans to convert it into a refuge for NEC equipment in case Superstorm Sandy returns and floods the Meadows Maintenance Facility again.  They also plan a loop to turn trains without fouling the NEC, and an inspection facility; all of  this is controversial in the advocate community—some think they have better uses for the money, or maybe they’re just protecting the interests of taxpayers in Iowa.
 
The train-watching was pretty good: the first westbound to come along was Amtrak’s Crescent, just starting out on its long trip to New Orleans. A westbound Keystone, a westbound Regional, and finally an Acela, running at blinding speed, (150 mph? What is the track speed here?) followed.  Eastbound, several  NJT trains came along on the inside track, Track 2, and crossed over to Track 1 (more usual) at County interlocking, just up the track.  Perhaps there was track work in progress on Track 1 farther west? Eventually a third NJT train ran through normally on the outside track, Track 1, followed by an eastbound Amtrak Regional on inside track 2.

How do you get to New Brunswick?

While all this was going on we noticed a youngish gentleman wandering about the station, carrying some bags, and looking confused. He came to the platform, then turned around and headed to the station building again, which is on the diverging branch line (at one time the Millstone Branch) on which all trains to New York board. Around this time a Trenton-bound NJT train made its stop at our platform, and a few boarded, and another was due less than half an hour later.
 
We were preparing to leave after observing an arriving train on the branch platform (Arrows, which soon reversed and headed back to New York, empty), but the wandering traveler then returned to our Trenton-bound platform, and I decided to see if he needed any help.  He turned out to be a recent arrival from the Czech Republic, who had business at the nearby Social Security office, he said. He wanted to get back to downtown New Brunswick, just 1.7 miles away.  He had already bought his ticket, he said.
 
I had the honor to inform him that the next train to New Brunswick, sadly, would not be until tomorrow morning, and explained the purpose of the station was mainly for commuters to New York. Somewhat bewildered, he asked if there are many station like this in New Jersey—I assured him that no, this was the only one, just his luck. He wondered how people get to the Social Security office; I said, well, most of them drive. As the Acela thundered by, I said that this is the best railroad in the US—he replied that they have nothing like it in the Czech Republic.
 
He figured out a solution to his problem: he would board the next westbound train, due in about 10 minutes, ride to the next station, and take a train back to New Brunswick.  I said that should work, but he’d better buy a ticket to Princeton Junction (PJ), because they’d charge him five dollars extra on the train.  There is no TVM on the main line platform, so he had a 500-foot walk to the branch station building and back.  I suggested he show both tickets to the conductor and explain his predicament, and they’re probably let him ride to PJ for free, and he could use the two tickets to get back to New Brunswick.  He asked and I told him that service is fairly frequent coming back from PJ; there was no timetable posted for eastbound service on the westbound platform, only a westbound version.
 
As we left, his train arrived; I hope he made it: a 30-mile ride to travel 1.7 miles. Several other riders boarded the train too, and I wonder how they get to Jersey Avenue from points south, as there are no trains at all that provide service; maybe they ride to New Brunswick and return west!

The Future

Long-range plans are to build a platform for eastbound trains there, but with the ADA requirements and whatnot, this will not be a simple, or cheap, solution.  Jersey Avenue Main is, I believe, the only NJT NEC station remaining with a low-level platform. (I assume the branch platform is also low level, but did not go over there to inspect it.)

Train #6674, Oct. 24, 2022

Last night, I attended a meeting of the Lackawanna Coalition in Millburn.  David Antonio of Essex 2045, a planning initiative for transportation in Essex County, was the invited guest, and most of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of bus and rail transportation in Essex County.

As usual, I left the meeting about 9:10 p.m. so that I could catch Midtown Direct Train #6674 to Secaucus, where I would transfer to Bergen County Line Train #1281 to Radburn.  Train #6674 arrived in Millburn on time at 9:23 p.m. and departed one minute later.  It consisted of nine multi-level cars, of which three were open to passengers (and these three cars were far from full).  Everything went smoothly until after we departed Brick Church, our last stop before Newark, at 9:39 p.m.  We proceeded for some distance, then came to a stop.  The stop lasted for at least five minutes, after which we started backing up.

During the backup move, one of the conductors made an announcement about the reason for the delay, which I could not understand.  So I walked back two cars to find the three conductors seated at the front end of the third open car.  I mentioned to one of the conductors that I could not understand the announcement, whereupon another conductor commented that he could not understand it, either.  I was then informed that there was some problem with the signal at the interlocking, so we had to back up and then move forward again.  I didn’t fully understand the explanation, but we did soon start moving forward, and we arrived at the Newark Broad Street station at 9:56 p.m.  Our ride from Newark to Secaucus proceeded expeditiously, and we pulled into Track 2 at Secaucus at 10:06 p.m., 12 minutes late.  Even though we were significantly late, my Bergen County Line train is not scheduled to depart until 10:28 p.m., so I had plenty of time to make my connection.

I’m still not quite sure what happened that required us to make the backup move between Brick Church and Newark.

Less Is More?

A visit to the LIRR’s main concourse at NYP reveals that the LIRR’s only restrooms, and the dingy waiting room between them, have vanished behind a wall of plywood. (Not noticed: did we also lose that famous overhead structure said to be one of the last pieces of the old Penn Station?). A sign only says, “Rest rooms available on the upper level.” (Those would be those of NJT and NJT/Amtrak; there was no signage pointing the way.) What’s going to replace them?  Dunno; perhaps they are building new facilities and a waiting room, possibly expanding into the space of the now-gone Tracks bar, which should be right behind the closed restrooms.  Or maybe instead it will be something that makes money for the MTA, like a pot dispensary maybe?
 
I have to say that a lot of the vaunted “improvements” that MTA and NY State in general have been making to NYP have not produced much for the actual riders who are supposed to benefit.  Within the last year, they opened what looks like a magnificent set of escalators to a new LIRR entrance at 7 Av and 33 St.  It looks great in the politicians’ photo ops, but the foot of the new escalators is smack in the way of the great number of riders who arrive or depart the station via the 7th Ave. subway, and also those who rely on the corridor to the years-ago-added entrance on 34 St just west of 7th Ave. (For those who haven’t been to the city in a few decades, this was all directly in front of the old LIRR ticket windows, and roughly where the octagonal information booth once stood—all gone now.)  All of these crowds collide with the folks using the new 33 St entrance.  At peak hours, like when I was there yesterday at 5:10 p.m., it becomes downright dangerous, with lemmings headed for their trains colliding with arriving passengers and themselves.  Many of these “dashing commuters” are running full-tilt to make their trains.  It’s a real zoo.
 
Also noted was the crowding, under what seemed to be normal rush-hour conditions, of the area in front of the LIRR’s track gates.  Getting through that area was not easy.  I am starting to believe that what NYP needs most is expanded areas where people can just stand and wait for trains. 
 
The best thing that’s ever happened to NJT customers is the one thing they can’t use: Moynihan. As I predicted for years, it has cleared out the 8th Ave. concourse of Amtrak and particularly Amtrak’s conga lines of waiting passengers—and it has secured for NJT riders the best waiting room anywhere, although it could use more power plugs, as the ones at the white tables are always in use for laptops and cellphone charging.  Maybe the NJT IT department could reprogram the departure monitors—there are two of them in the waiting room, stacked—so the top one shows the first set of departing trains, and the bottom one shows the second set.  As it is now, both monitors show the same display, alternating between the two sets—infuriating when you have to wait 10 seconds to find out the track of the train you hope to board in the next 2 minutes.

Side Issues

Side issue, uptown: Lincoln Center.  The new Geffen Hall has opened to rave reviews, and its glass wall opening to the Lincoln Center Plaza is truly beautiful.  Lost in all the hoopla is the underground passage under Geffen Hall that allows access to the Metropolitan Opera House from the subway without braving the weather.  Closed for the Geffen rebuilt, it’s still closed.  A peek around the barriers revealed it is, like the NJT passageway between upper levels at the 7th Ave end of NYP, still full of construction-type trash.  So opera-goers still have to cross the Plaza to get to the subway, which is longer and no fun at all in foul weather.  (A long underground detour all around the Plaza via the basement of the Koch Theater may still work—and fear not: users of the underground parking garage still can get into the Met without having to mix with the weather . . . or, of course, the lowlife that uses the subway.)
 
Side side note: On the 10:13 local to Dover last night, train ran on track 1 (center track) Newark to Millburn, necessitating delays and confusion at the 3 stops (Orange, Highland Av, Mountain Station) that lack track 1 platforms.  Work equipment was sighted on track 3, the normal (westbound “local”) track.  Dunno how long this persisted . . . and there are weekend travel alerts posted that track 2 at Newark Broad will be out of service, expect delays “in addition to the Amtrak track work delays.”

Breakdown at Radburn

Today, I had a ticket to an New Jersey Symphony 1:30 p.m. concert at NJPAC in Newark.  I always try to go by train, and usually would take the Pascack Valley Line.  But midday service on the Pascack Valley Line is currently being bustituted, so I decided to drive to Radburn and take the Bergen County Line instead.  

Train #1166 arrived three minutes late at 11:37 a.m.  It was pushed by Engine 4028 and included cars 6017, 6759, 6573, 6762 and 6501. 

Continue Reading Breakdown at Radburn

A Trip to the Symphony: NJPAC

This past Saturday night, I had a ticket for a performance of the New Jersey Symphony at NJPAC in Newark. The concert started at 8:00 p.m., and I decided to take NJ Transit to the concert.

My Pascack Valley Line train was scheduled to leave the Anderson Street station in Hackensack at 6:56 p.m. (Interestingly, I would be taking Train #2122 on 1/22/22!) I left my home in Teaneck at 6:47 p.m. and arrived at the station six minutes later, at 6:53 p.m. On weekends, you can park in the station parking lot right across the tracks from the station, and I did so. As I was crossing the tracks to the station, I could hear the bells from a distant grade crossing, and my train pulled into the station at 6:55 p.m. It consisted of four Comet V cars, of which only one was open to passengers. That car, though, was adequate to accommodate the 35 or so passengers on the train.

Continue Reading A Trip to the Symphony: NJPAC

Vintage Lackawanna Parlor Car

A vintage 1912 Lackawanna parlor car, previously used by a subscription “commuting club” will run on the Whippany Railway Museum’s Sunday excursion trains in September and October this year.

Tickets for that car are $22 per person, and museum admission is included. Trains leave from the museum at 1, 2, 3 and 4:00 p.m. The dates are September 12 and 19, and October 3, 10 and 17.

Unfortunately, Whippany is not transit-accessible; at least not on weekends.<br><br>Who is interested in getting a group together to ride?

Details at the museum’s site.

1912 Lackawanna Rail subscription car
Photo from the Whippany Railway Museum Web site.

Which Train Is This?

For some time, Coalition Secretary Daniel Chazin has been reporting on confused passengers on the 12:45 Pascack Valley train to Spring Valley.  Because a 12:49 Bergen line train to Middletown is scheduled on Track H at 12:49, only 4 minutes later, the automatic announcement that a “train is expected in 8 minutes” can cause inexperienced passengers, or those rushing to board one of the trains, to mistake the Pascack Valley train, arriving first, for the Middletown train right behind it.

Continue Reading Which Train Is This?

Transit Use Hits Record

Use of public transit in the United States hit a new high in 2013, marking the greatest use since 1956, according to a report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and reported in The New York Times by Jon Hurdle (March 10).  The report covers trips by buses, trains, and subways; 10.65 billion individual trips were taken on public transit during 2013, the report said.   This was a slight increase over the previous recent record of 10.59 billion trips, set in 2008.

Continue Reading Transit Use Hits Record

All NY Commuter Lines Overtaxed

Having a hard job finding a seat on  your train to Manhattan?  You’re not alone; all of the railroads serving the metropolitan area are having trouble coping with increasing ridership, according to an article on radio station WNYC’s Transportation Nation website by Jim O’Grady, and also reported on the air on February 25.  Ridership on all lines is at or close to record levels, boosted by a recovering economy and congested  highways with ever-increasing tolls.  There are various ways to cope with the ridership, but each of the 3 railroads serving New York’s suburbs has unique challenges.  For NJ Transit, the main problem is capacity of the two-track Hudson River tunnels through which all of its trains must enter Manhattan.  It’s impossible to add more trains in peak hours, so the railroad has invested in “multilevel” equipment that provides more seats, but also makes it difficult for riders to find standing space when all the seats are full, as they often are.  NJT spokesperson Nancy Snyder said the railroad would buy still more multilevel cars, and would also emphasize NJT’s light-rail system, which, she said, siphons riders off the rail system and onto the PATH rapid-transit system, thus providing an alternate route into Manhattan.  The Long Island Rail Road, also suffering from capacity problems, would like to make its trains longer, but many platforms won’t accommodate longer trains; riders might have to walk through several cars to reach an open door.  In addition, the LIRR says that it has insufficient yard capacity to store longer or additional trains. Metro-North Railroad, the region’s third major operator, says that extra-high equipment with 2 levels of seating is not an option: the tunnels leading to the railroad’s Grand Central Terminal are too low to allow higher equipment.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that crowding on NJ Transit might be alleviated if the railroad would emphasize service to its Hoboken gateway, from which passengers can reach Manhattan via PATH and ferry services.  This could be done by adding trains to Hoboken and reducing the relative cost of travel via Hoboken compared to Penn Station in Manhattan.

Read the complete story at

http://www.wnyc.org/story/why-commuter-trains-are-crowded-and-here-stay/