Checking the state legislature’s home page as this issue goes to press, we found that the annual Senate and Assembly budget hearings have been announced; the first on March 14th, the final on April 25th. Each year the legislature spends much of this season hearing from constituents about particular budget concerns, suggestions for more, less, or redirected spending, all based on the governor’s February budget address (this year presented on Tuesday, February 28th—the last possible legal date). As usual, we will be testifying at both an Assembly and a Senate hearing, looking to ensure that transportation dollars are spent less on widening highways and more on improving public transportation across the state, particularly our particular focus, NJT rail service.
RUN to Newark at the End of April!
The RAIL Users’ Network (RUN) will be coming to Newark on Friday, April 28, for its first “in person” conference since the COVID-19 pandemic sent RUN, the Lackawanna Coalition, and most of society into “virtual space” for the past few years.
The conference itself will take place from 8:30 A.M. until 4:50 P.M. at the offices of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), located at One Newark Center, one block from Penn Station on McCarter Highway. The Lackawanna Coalition, an organizational member of RUN, is the “advocacy host” for the event, and Chairperson Sally Jane Gellert will be on hand to welcome attendees.
The theme for the conference will be “Good Connections: Why the Northeastern Rail Network is Important to the Entire U.S.” William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief of Railway Age, will give the keynote address. Also featured will be Arthur S. Guzzetti, Vice-President for Policy and Mobility at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and an original employee at NJ Transit when it was founded in 1979. He will focus on infrastructure and how it affects the Northeast Region. Two Coalition members who are also Contributing Editors at Railway Age will also present on a panel about “Making the Case: Presenting Your Ideas to Managers, Politicians, and Journalists”. RUN Board member and former Coalition chair David Peter Alan will moderate. The panel will include Jim Blaze, a transportation economist and Railway Age contributing editor; RUN Vice-Chair Andrew Albert, who is also Chair of the NYC Transit Riders’ Council; and longtime journalist and legislative staffer Mark Magyar, who is now Director of the Sweeney Center at Rowan University.Continue Reading RUN to Newark at the End of April!
Report from the Chair, March/April 2023
The biggest train-related story since our last issue of the Railgram has to be the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. We note that the problem was compounded by a slow EPA response that allowed the corporation’s request to burn off toxic chemicals—possibly necessary to avoid an uncontrolled explosion, but done in such a way that the burn was incomplete and unknown chemicals, possibly dioxins, were released. Worse, the rather delayed air-quality monitoring did not include testing for the deadly dioxins, but only for their precursors.
Sadly, this just further damages the public image of railroads, building on railroad workers’ almost-strike of early December of last year. The president shut down the strike, in the interest of avoiding supply-chain issues, but it was surely a controversy that damaged the public image of rail.Continue Reading Report from the Chair, March/April 2023
Residents of the Ampere Neighborhood Want Their Station Back
Three members of the Ampere Alliance appeared at the Lackawanna Coalition meeting on February 27 and described their efforts to persuade New Jersey Transit to restore service at the Ampere Station, for the first time after it was discontinued almost 32 years ago.Continue Reading Residents of the Ampere Neighborhood Want Their Station Back
Essex2045 Plan Moves Forward
On December 15th, I attended a virtual meeting of a Stakeholder Advisory Committee on the Essex2045 plan for the next 20 years of transportation in Essex County. In a study funded by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Association, Mercer Planning Associates, the consultants running the program, had conducted surveys and hosted 2 pop-up kiosks and participated in 2 safety fairs with University Hospital. The events were held in October and early November in Orange, West Orange, Irvington, and Newark. In West Orange and Irvington, a complex intersection was chosen and a demo “parklet” was outlined as a feature to gauge the reactions of passers-by. Study personnel were on the scene to explain the project and gather reactions on sticky notes. Overall, those reactions were positive, with more than half wanting to keep the demonstration projects installed permanently. Many people were pleased to see attention paid to underserved locations, emphasizing the need to make interventions in these areas a priority.Continue Reading Essex2045 Plan Moves Forward
Report from the Chair: Jan./Feb. 2023
A new year starts this month: my 3rd as Lackawanna Coalition chairperson, and NJ Transit Rail’s 41st. The Coalition has a new Web site, the forum is back in operation, and we are looking forward to being the advocate host of the Rail Users’ Network’s in-person conference in the spring. Our resolution supporting the expansion of weekend service on the Montclair-Boonton line caught the attention of Board Member James Adams, who asked Kevin Corbett to look into the possibilities and interest of local communities. We continue to look for more transparency from NJ Transit, something for which we have advocated for years, if not decades.
The lack of a so-called Customer Advocate has become almost absurd; every meeting, there are at least a few members of the public asking about it, yet no progress—possibly because they have written a job description impossible to fill. How about just expanding telephone support hours? 6 a.m. to midnight would be great; we’d settle for a 10 p.m. closing, instead of the current 5 p.m.—actually earlier, as I have had the switchboard shut off at 4:50 when I was holding. Wouldn’t you expect that operators would answer the questions of those on hold before leaving? We all like to leave our office on time, but providing the best customer service means giving just a little extra. However, that should only rarely be a consideration: one would expect that shift schedules would allow workers to answer all waiting calls and still clock out on time.
Officer Elections Held at December Meeting
At its Dec. 19th meeting, held a week early because of the Christmas holiday on Monday, Dec. 26th, the Lackawanna Coalition elected officers for 2023. The slate of officers was accepted by acclimation: Chairperson, Sally Jane Gellert, Woodcliff Lake (Pascack Valley line); Vice Chairperson, Robert Hingel, Short Hills (Morris & Essex line); Treasurer, Brad Payeur, Gillette (Gladstone Branch); Secretary, Daniel Chazin, Teaneck (Pascack Valley line); Legislative Director, Vito Havrilla, Bloomfield (Montclair-Boonton line), Technical Director, David Anderson, Newark (multiple lines). The speaker for the evening was Chairperson Emeritus David Peter Alan with a presentation on the early years of NJ Transit Rail. We thank member Elaine Becker for her traditional hospitality.
Lackawanna Coalition membership is open to all interested in rail service, with the group’s focus primarily on NJ Transit’s Morris & Essex line. The Coalition was started in April 1979, a few months before NJ Transit itself was formed, by Millburn commuters concerned with the quality of their rail service. We still meet in Millburn Town Hall. Membership in the Coalition is open to Counties ($250), Communities ($150), and Individuals ($15). Meetings are accessible online through Maestro Conference (phone) or Jitsi (video). For information, e-mail email@example.com.
Coalition Calls for Hourly Weekend Service for Montclair and Hoboken
At its November meeting, the Lackawanna Coalition passed a resolution calling on NJ Transit to start running hourly service between Montclair and Hoboken on Saturdays and Sundays, no later than the beginning of the next fiscal year this coming July 1.
The principal “Resolved” clause says: “the Lackawanna Coalition calls for New Jersey Transit to implement hourly weekend passenger-rail service between Hoboken and Montclair State University stations, scheduled for connections with Morris & Essex Line trains at Broad Street Station in Newark, as the trains that run on the current schedule are scheduled for such connections. . .”Continue Reading Coalition Calls for Hourly Weekend Service for Montclair and Hoboken
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.Continue Reading NJ Transit Rail Celebrates 40th Anniversary
Former LC Chair Is Closing Speaker at Boston Conference
Lackawanna Coalition Chairperson Emeritus David Peter Alan will be speaking at the Light Rail 2022 conference, presented by Railway Age and RT&S in Boston, November 16 and 17. His talk will be the wrap-up closing presentation, on the topic of “The Future of Light Rail”. Since stepping down as Lackawanna Coalition chairperson in December 2020, Dave has focused on journalism, reporting on transit for publications including Railway Age, for which he is a contributing editor. New Jersey will be well represented at the conference; also speaking at the conference will be NJ Transit President/CEO Kevin Corbett and Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono. This is a return to an in-person conference after being all virtual since 2020.