NJT Plans Safety Review

In part reacting to the recent fatal train wreck on Metro-North Railroad, NJ Transit announced on April 8 that they would spend half a million dollars on an outside consultant to review NJT’s safety practices, according to media reports.  The railroad also plans a 17-member internal committee to monitor safety.  Investigations of Metro-North’s safety practices after the wreck yielded multiple criticisms of Metro-North, including assertions that Metro-North lacked a “safety culture” and placed on-time performance ahead of safety.  NJ Transit has had a good record on train operations safety; a head-on collision of two trains in 1996 on NJT caused the death of two locomotive engineers and one passenger and led to installation of advanced safety systems on a number of NJT’s rail lines. That accident was eventually attributed to color blindness in one engineer; advanced train control systems might have prevented his train from passing the red signal that he apparently failed to perceive.

NJT On-Time Performance Declines

Delays to NJ Transit trains are increasing, and commuters are not happy, according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (March 14).  In all but one of the last 9 months, Frassinelli writes, NJT fared worse than in the previous year.  February, in fact, was the worst month for train delays in 18 years, even worse than January’s experience, which was the worst month in 9 years. In February, just 87.4% of trains received an “on time” rating—but the standard used for determining whether a train is late allows arrival at the destination of 6 minutes later than the time printed in timetables, so trains can be behind schedule but not counted as ”late.”  Of the 15,565 trains were operated in February, 2088 were late.  Trains on the Morris & Essex Lines and the North Jersey Coast Line seemed to fare the worst, with only 74.6% of trains arriving within the 6-minute window.  February was one of the worst months for weather-related events, which may explain why the overall performance was so bad.

Continue Reading NJT On-Time Performance Declines

NJT, NFL Skip Dems’ Super Bowl Hearing

Attempts by NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski to investigate possible transportation failures at the February 2 Super Bowl were stymied on March 10 when both NJ Transit and National Football League representatives failed to appear at a meeting of the Assembly Transportation Committee, which Wisniewski, a Democrat, chairs, according to reporting in the Wall Street Journal by Andrew Tangel (March 11). Wisniewski said that the main target of his investigation was the NFL: “It was their plan that failed,” he said, saying the onus was on the NFL to defend itself.  He said that NJT also might share part of the blame, saying “I don’t think NJ Transit is entirely blameless.”  Newly appointed NJT executive director Veronique (Ronnie) Hakim had written to Wisniewski, asking for additional time to evaluate NJT’s controversial actions during the Super Bowl, which required hours to transport all the fans away from the stadium by train, and then also by bus, after the event ended.

Continue Reading NJT, NFL Skip Dems’ Super Bowl Hearing

Panel to Investigate NJT Super Bowl Performance

New Jersey Transit’s performance on Super Bowl Sunday remains controversial, after it took hours longer than expected for thousands of fans to be transported after the game.  NJT has congratulated itself on handling far more customers than expected, but that hasn’t placated riders who couldn’t leave the stadium station for hours after the final play.  NJT executive director James Weinstein subsequently announced his resignation, and at a special meeting on February 24, the NJT board of directors confirmed Veronique Hakim as Weinstein’s replacement.  At the same meeting, state Transportation Commissioner James Simpson announced that the Super Bowl situation would be investigated by an “independent panel” headed by retired U.S. District Court Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh, according to reporting by Larry Higgs in the Asbury Park Press; NJT board vice-president Bruce Meisel and member Jamie Finkel also sit on the panel.  Meisel said that the evaluation would be done by the independent committee and not NJT staff, so that “we can understand what we did well and what we did not so well or did poorly”.  Meisel characterized the Super Bowl transportation as “a very complicated process”, involving not just NJ Transit but also the National Football League, NJ State Police, and even the Secret Service.  Meisel did not take questions after the meeting.

At the meeting, Lackawanna Coalition chairman David Peter Alan submitted a letter suggesting five areas of the Super Bowl transit operation that should be investigated, including methods used to estimate the ridership demand, why apparently many more fans left the game by train than had arrived that way, and how buses were used to alleviate the crush on the train service.

The complete story was formerly available at http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014302240076

Editorial: NJ Transit and the Super Bowl: We are Concerned and We Want Answers (Updated)

There have been a number of significant developments concerning NJ Transit’s performance in getting fans to and from the Super Bowl game last Sunday.  At first we reported that NJT had done an “incredible” job of moving everybody.  There were no wrecks or injuries, so they deserve credit for that.  Still, as we found out late Sunday night, thousands of fans were left at the Meadowlands Stadium, and it took hours to bring them out on the shuttle trains NJT was running between the stadium and Secaucus Station.

We have presented some updates since the game, but we have learned more since the last update.  Transportation Commissioner James Simpson told Karen Rouse of the Bergen Record that there were 60 to 80 buses ready to help evacuate fans from the stadium after the game, but they were not deployed for the purpose.  A report in the New York Daily News on Thursday placed the number of buses at 100 and called NJT “bus boneheads.”  If these reports are true, this is a massive service and planning failure, costing fans up to an extra hour of waiting time after the game.  Martin Robins, the original Executive Director of NJT, who spent most of his career at the Voorhees Transportation Institute at Rutgers University, told NJTV that NJT’s capacity was limited to bringing about 13,000 fans/hour to the game and back to Secaucus, and that NJT should have insisted to the NFL that its capacity was limited to that number.  Joseph Clift, our technical director, believes that the actual crowd could have been accommodated, but it would have taken better planning, more rapid transit-oriented rail operation, and extensive use of buses to supplement the rail service.  NJT reported that almost 28,000 fans used the trains to get to the stadium, and that over 33,000 used them to leave after the game.  We do not understand how so many more fans could have used the train to leave than to arrive at the stadium, given the security restrictions in place for the event.

As an organization representing NJT’s rail riders, the Lackawanna Coalition is deeply concerned about NJT’s apparently substandard performance.  Our mission is to represent the riders who use the Morris & Essex (M&E), Montclair-Boonton and Gladstone Lines, and connecting transportation.  All M&E trains outside peak commuting hours stop at Secaucus, and Montclair-Boonton and Gladstone Line riders can get to Secaucus by changing trains at Broad Street Station (Newark) or Summit.  Therefore, any trains that operate to or from Secaucus are within our purview, and lie within our area of concern.

Essentially all media reports indicate that the “Mass Transit Super Bowl” was a fiasco.  The Sporting News, which has no reason to cover a transit story on any other occasion, called it an “apocalypse.”  Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine, who attended the game, called for the ouster of NJT Executive Director James Weinstein.  So did the Bergen Record in an editorial.  We believe that it would be fair to give NJT management an opportunity to tell their side of the story.  Therefore, we have prepared a list of questions and concerns to present to them.  We will tell you what they say, if they respond.  We will tell you what they have to say, so you can draw your own conclusions about NJT’s performance concerning this big event.

Continue Reading Editorial: NJ Transit and the Super Bowl: We are Concerned and We Want Answers (Updated)

Super Bowl Drumbeat Continues

Days after thousands of riders waiting in long lines to ride trains to and from the Super Bowl, the media drumbeat about their experience continued, with NJ Transit officials on the defensive even as they proclaimed success in getting fans to and from the big game.  NJT’s estimates are that 28,000 riders traveled via train to the event and 33,000 left the stadium on the rails, far larger numbers than NJT had planned for.  A lot of the ongoing discussion focuses on why the numbers were so big, and unexpected. According to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times and Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (both Feb. 4), NJT Executive Director James Weinstein speculated that the good weather might have resulted in a bigger turnout for the event.  This seems a bit unlikely, since the all tickets for the event were long sold out and many resold on the secondary market for prices in the $3000 range—would someone holding such a valuable ticket make a last-minute decision about attending based on the weather?  Weinstein said that 22,000 of 32,000 riders bought their tickets on the way to the game, saying that that reflected last-minute decisions; but observers wondered how many fans, many from outside the New York area, would have been expected to make a separate visit to NJT stations to invest in the nonrefundable tickets in advance.  NJT had said that the National Football League organizers had given them lower numbers; afterwards, NFL executive Eric Grubman described the transportation experience as “a good lesson learned for all of us,” while Weinstein declared success, saying it was “a very significant accomplishment,” noting that the railroad had never moved so many people to and from an event.

Five days after the Super Bowl, the drumbeat continued.  Some of the congestion may have resulted from NJT’s decision to require all Super Bowl travellers to transfer at the Secaucus Junction transfer station, which NJT said was necessary so that stadium-bound travellers could undergo a security inspection.  Yet did the security check have to be done at Secaucus, risking making the station a choke point?  Reporting by WNYC on February 7 suggested that nobody would take responsibility for the inspect-at-Secaucus procedure; the decision may have involved NJT, the NFL, and/or the US Transportation Security Administration, but none of the three would admit responsibility, WNYC said.  NJT said it wasn’t their decision; the TSA said they would never tell local authorities how to organize the inspection; and the NFL wasn’t commenting.

If fans were not required to change at Secaucus, NJT could have run trains from and to other destinations on its sprawling system, including the large Hoboken terminal, largely unused on a Sunday, and even direct to New York’s Penn Station. But NJT insisted in a letter to the Lackawanna Coalition well before Super Bowl Sunday that all riders would have to transfer at Secaucus “for security reasons.”  Some news reports after the event noted that in the crush of riders jamming Secaucus, the security inspection was actually abandoned in order to get riders onto the trains and to the Super Bowl.

State Transportation Commissioner James Simpson said that the railroad never planned to handle such a crush of riders, according to reporting by Karen Rouse in The Record (Feb. 3).  “The management of NJ Transit and the NFL never dreamed they would have to move 33,000 people out of the stadium. Somebody blew the estimates.”  Simpson said that in discussions with NFL, NJT was told that a passenger count of 8000 was likely, but never more than 16,000.  “They said there’s no way there’s going to be more than 16,000 people, and look what happened. You have a limitation of how many people you can get on a train and how many people you can get out of Secaucus.”

Why so many people unexpectedly took the train remained a mystery.  Grubam opined that bus services run by the NFL, at $51 round trip more than twice the rail fare, might not have drawn as many riders as expected; but the bus tickets had to be reserved in advance, and were sold out days before the event.  Most bus riders found their trips to be uneventful, although congestion at the Lincoln Tunnel early in the afternoon might have delayed some inbound bus riders. Grubman called the transportation problems just “one part among a very big picture that was terrific.”

Arrival by private cars was another consideration; parking at the stadium was severely restricted, and limited numbers of car passes were sold for $150 online, and resold for higher prices after those sold out; there was no access by taxis or limousines not holding the special passes.  Yet the parking lots never seemed to fill, according to Tony Vitrano of the company SP+ Gameday, a contractor to the NFL.  Vitrano speculated that some drivers had bought the passes as insurance and decided to take the train instead.

Hours after the Super Bowl ended, NJT helped clear the remaining backlog of riders by pressing into service buses to take some of the remaining crowd directly to Manhattan.  At least 20 buses were apparently used to ferry about 1000 fans through the Lincoln Tunnel.  Karen Rouse’s Record article quotes Commissioner Simpson as saying that 60–80 buses were positioned between the stadium and Secaucus for use if needed, but that the plan fell apart because there was no way to get them into position to pick up riders; spots were already taken by cars, vans, and other buses parked inside the stadium property. “The plan was not workable,” Simpson said; “You just can»t pull the buses up and say ‘Get on the bus.’ ”

Could NJT have done better? Most executives and spokespersons for NJT maintained that they did a great job in handling an unexpected load.  Commissioner Simpson said, with warning of the 33,000 passenger load, NJT could’ve made alternate plans, or at least notified the fans that they faced waits of two hours or more.  Some people, Simpson said, would have been fine with that; “It’s all about managing expectations.”

The Monday-morning quarterbacking continued in Trenton, as Assembly Transportation Committee chair John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex County) called for a review of NJT’s performance at the Super Bowl. “The problems that ensued for people trying to get to and from the game raise a lot of questions about the preparedness level leading up to the big day,” Wisniewski  said.  However, hearings seemed unlikely to uncover any magical solution: NJT officials said the capacity of the rail line is about 12,000 riders an hour, and they used it to capacity—success, from their vantage point.  They also noted that the event carried  a “Level One” security designation, requiring special security inspections, which took place at the Secaucus transfer station. Still, riders who had to wait as long as three hours after the game to get a train seem to have other opinions about the service.

Read the complete stories at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/04/nyregion/flocking-to-trains-super-bowl-fans-overwhelmed-transit-system.html (paywall)

http://www.nj.com/super-bowl/index.ssf/2014/02/outrage_calls_for_reviews_after_super_bowl_mass_transit_mess.html

http://www.northjersey.com/news/Angry_riders_say_NJ_Transit_and_NFL_fumbled_Super_Bowl_plans.html (link not working as of May 2021)

Our Super Bowl Coverage Continues: Developments after Midnight

From our vantage point at Secaucus Station, it appeared that the rail operation was going smoothly.  The rotunda was not jammed with people and, as trains from the stadium emptied their loads of fans at Secaucus, they were being directed appropriately to the proper platform and sent to their trains, mostly to Penn Station, New York.  There was one mistake that caused some inconvenience: a train to the North Jersey Coast Line was announced for Track 3, but actually left from Track B, on the New York-bound platform.  Most passengers had time to make the transfer from one platform to the other, although a few riders missed their train.

We were not in a position to observe the severe bottleneck at the stadium, where thousands of fans were still waiting to board trains that would eventually take them home, or at least to their destinations.  None of our members had tickets to the game, and our request to NJT to go to the stadium to observe the departure of the fans was met with the response that there were no trains going there.  We were told that the trains coming back from there were being stored on the Meadowlands Rail Link, so they could get to the Meadowlands Station quickly.

The Secaucus operation, which we observed, seemed to go well as midnight approached.  We learned this morning, along with everybody else, that the problem was located in a different place.

The NFL and NJT again proved the great sports maxim attributed by baseball great Yogi Berra: “It’s not over til it’s over!”

Super Bowl post mortem – NJT Did Decently, Got Raw Deal

THIS REPORT IS OUT OF DATE. FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS HAVE REVEALED THAT THE SITUATION HAD CHANGED SIGNIFICANTLY SINCE THAT REPORT WAS ISSUED. UPDATED COVERAGE HERE.

Last night’s game was a total disaster.  It was utterly awful.  I feel terribly sorry for the people who bought tickets to go to the game—but that’s primarily the fault of the Denver Broncos, and out of our purview.  There’s a word for losing 43-8, but its not fit to print.

Certain issues notwithstanding, NJ Transit did an incredible job last night.  They managed to move nearly 30,000 people through Secaucus to the Meadowlands, more than twice the 12,000 originally estimated.  Despite the enormous over crowding, despite the blockages and back ups, this operation was conducted safely, and nobody was hurt.  I applaud NJ Transit’s management and the 4500 employees who volunteered to help out. I especially applaud the private citizens who also volunteered to help out, too.

Despite all that, there were issues.  I could justify it—and point out in truth—that it took only 4 hours to clear the stadium.  That means that 30,000 people were moved on about 25 trains, or about a train leaving every 10 minutes.  One of the issues, which greatly exacerbated this problem, was that NJ Transit was only using one platform to load trains of the available three.  The only reason I could think of for this was overzealous security concerns.  If they were permitted to use only one platform for loading, they did it about as fast as it can be done with the equipment chosen.

Still, just because NJ Transit did the best they could under the circumstances put in front of them does not mean that it couldn’t have been done better with more of an intelligent overall approach.

NJ Transit was told to expect 12,000 people on the line.  Doing the math, long before the Super Bowl, we at the Lackawanna Coalition predicted very different numbers, and didn’t understand the ones the NFL had given.  We predicted 25–30,000 people would take the train—and we were right.  Had more accurate numbers been predicted, perhaps arrangements at the stadium could have been better configured to handle the actual number of people present leaving the game.

An unconfirmed and likely erroneous report of people passing out at Secaucus hours prior to the game, and hours prior to the first game train, surfaced through the vaunted reporting of the Associated Press.  While the situation was likely not as bad as presented by them, the station was uncomfortably hot, and had NJ Transit been preparing for the actual numbers of people present, perhaps that could have been fixed.

A final problem is the NFL itself.  The NFL—and other sports operations—are famous for setting up huge events for the ‘benefit’ of regions in which they take place.  Those regions are largely required to pay for the improvements needed—and the sports operator then collects most of the money that comes in from hosting the event, giving little benefit other than prestige to the area hosting the event.  This was especially egregious, since the event was hosted in and largely paid for in New Jersey, and the pregame events were hosted in and largely beneficial to New York City.

It was the NFL that largely commandeered the parking lot.  It was the NFL that charged outrageous amounts of money to park near the stadium.  It was the NFL that prevented rotating taxi, limo, and bus service from serving the game affordably.  It was the NFL that set up the pricing structure that so favored NJ Transit Rail as the way to go.  It was the NFL that largely organized this into what is being hashtagged by some as #TrainGate.  And it was New Jersey and NJ Transit that got the blasted with the blame for everything that went wrong because of it, and has to clean it up.

I feel sorry for the people who were stuck on line for four hours.  I feel sorry for the people who were uncomfortable at Secaucus and leaving the Meadowlands.  I feel sorry for the poor schnooks who paid to go to the game.  I feel really sorry for Denver Broncos fans. However, none of those things are really the fault of NJ Transit.

Super Bowl Transit Had Problems: Media

Although NJ Transit handled a record number of customers to Sunday’s Super  Bowl, most media reports focused on the problems fans encountered in getting to MetLife Stadium, and on leaving.  The railroad reported it handled about 28,000 riders each way, roughly a third of the total attendance at the event.  Its previous record of passengers to the event was about 22,000, NJT said.  Later, NJT would say that National Football League planners told NJT to expect only about half the number who eventually used the trains.

Problems with handling such a huge passenger load may have been inevitable, but began with congestion at ticket lines in New York’s Penn Station early in the afternoon.  The first train to the stadium was scheduled to leave at 1:41 p.m., but it appears that many fans wanted to get there even earlier, leading to overcrowding on the first trains.  NJT, working with police and other security organizations, had set up a security checkpoint at the Secaucus Junction transfer station only a few miles from the stadium; all riders had to transfer there and pass through the airport-like security checkpoint.  This rapidly became overcrowded and, in the warm weather, the riders found the temperature uncomfortable as they waited in checkpoint lines at Secaucus.

Customers stuck in the hot lines chanted “AC! AC!”, and The New York Times reported that a policeman, only half kidding, replied “Welcome to New Jersey.”  Riders began to complain on social media such as Twitter, leading to reports, later denied, that some riders had fainted in the heat; the Associated Press reported that “a handful of fans . . . collapsed in the chaos.” The AP quoted an NJT spokesperson, William Smith, as saying that “it was kind of a bottleneck; a number of trains arrived at once.”  Some trains were held back at New York’s Penn Station, Smith reportedly said, and one rider reported having sat in his train for half an hour in New York.  Navigating the complex Secaucus station proved a challenge for some; one fan, on crutches, said he had to climb stairs at the station because the escalator wasn’t working, the AP reported.  Eventually, the railroad caught up with the demand and all the passengers got to the stadium.

In contrast, those who used cars and buses to reach the stadium reportedly had fewer problems.  A lane was dedicated in the Lincoln Tunnel to the bus fleet, and congestion there was rapidly corrected.  Few could drive their own cars: the stadium parking was largely given over to media and security arrangements, and the limited number of parking passes sold at $150 quickly became available in the secondary market at higher prices.

If the trip to the stadium had problems, the trip home was predictably even more difficult.  Attendees arrive at major events over a period of hours, but once it’s over, everybody wants to leave at once.  In this Super Bowl, the blowout victory by Seattle over Denver caused some to leave even before the end, possibly easing the transportation challenge.  Nonetheless, congestion rapidly built up at the stadium rail terminal; media reported that information signs within the stadium and a New Jersey State Police Twitter feed  advised attendees to stay inside longer and “enjoy the stadium”.  Not all did, and a half an hour after the game ended about 10 p.m. there were reports of congestion, unruly lines, and security personnel forming human chains to direct the crowds.  For a brief period, only one train was reportedly allowed to load at a time at the station, which has track capacity for three trains.  NJT had assigned their newest equipment, the “multilevel” fleet, to the stadium-Secaucus shuttle operation; these cars are flashy, but critics said they are slow to load and unload, as most passengers have to climb or descend narrow stairways to reach seats.

By 11:20 p.m., nearly 90 minutes after the game ended, NJT had handled 13,000 riders, but that left thousands more still waiting to leave the stadium; simple arithmetic would suggest that 15,000 riders were still waiting to get home or to their hotels.  Some reports suggest that even more riders tried to use the trains to return than had come via train—NJT has reported a return count of 32,900.  Trains continued to leave, but the Times reported that lines were still long at the stadium at midnight, about 2 hours after the game ended.  Around midnight, NJT summoned 20 buses to shuttle some riders to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan; about 1100 riders were put on the buses in addition to the 32,900 rail riders, according to NJT’s John Durso, Jr., quoted by WCBS-880 radio news.  (Statements by NJT Executive Director Jim Weinstein, reported days later by WNYC Radio, upped the bus count to 30 and the passenger count by bus to 2000.)  The vast majority, however, went by train to Secaucus, where riders still had to transfer; but without the need for security inspections on the return trip, things went relatively smoothly, with Lackawanna Coalition observers reporting no major problems as midnight approached.  NJ Transit reported that the lines at the stadium had largely disappeared by 12:45 a.m., nearly 3 hours after the game ended, according to the Times article.

Despite the problems and delays encountered by many of the riders, NJT was quick to declare success; NJT Executive Director James Weinstein said the railroad did “an excellent job,” and spokesperson Durso said, “the service plan did accommodate all of our customers; it was all done without incident. NJ Transit was able to set a record last night for ridership, and we would look at that as great success.”  NFL Executive VP Eric Grubman said that the lesson was that next time the NFL should pay as much attention to transportation contingencies as to weather contingencies.  Weinstein, Durso, and Grubman were all quoted by WCBS.

Read the New York Times article (paywall) at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/sports/football/mass-transit-super-bowl-hits-some-rough-patches-in-moving-fans.html

Super Bowl: Arrivals OK, Delays Leaving

As the Super Bowl got underway, NJ Transit managed to transport a reported 28,000 riders to the stadium with only brief problems.  At the start of service, a large crowd of fans apparently tried to get on the first few trains, resulting in a back-up that took some time to clear.  One fan reported a half-hour delay in departure from New York Penn Station en route to the Secaucus transfer point; trains began running from Secaucus to MetLife Stadium at 1:41 p.m., almost 5 hours before game time, but some fans apparently wanted to arrive even earlier than that.  At Secaucus, riders not only had to transfer but also undergo security screening.  The weather was milder than in past days and the temperatures rose in the Secaucus concourse, leading to reports that a few riders had to be treated for heat problems.  Initial media reports that some had fainted were later contradicted. Lackawanna Coalition observers at New York Penn and at Secaucus reported that things were going quite smoothly, although ticket sales lines at New York could perhaps have been better organized and supervised.

After the game ended about 10 p.m., the 28,000 riders headed for trains to return home.  The huge crowd could not be accommodated immediately, and lines backed up; The Record newspaper reported at 10:35 p.m. that “thousands” of fans were queued up at the train-station entrance, and that security guards had formed human chains to control the flow.  Some riders complained that there was no effective control, “no lines at all,” and took to Twitter to voice their displeasure. The newspaper reported that “patience was wearing thin.”  Radio station WCBS reported at 11:58 p.m. that there was still a considerable crowd waiting to board trains—nearly two hours after the game ended, but it’s not clear how up-to-date the station’s information was: David Alan of the Lackawanna Coalition reported from Secaucus that crowds were thinning out as of 11:45 p.m.  An extra train to Dover at about that time was packed with riders, he noted. The Meadowlands station should be capable of loading up to three trains at once, but for an unknown reason only one train was reportedly loaded at a time.