Weekend Trains Return to the Gladstone Branch

After an absence of 2 years and 8 months, weekend train service returned to the Gladstone Branch on June 6. Trains run hourly as shuttles between Gladstone and Summit, connecting there with Morris & Essex Line trains between Dover and New York Penn Station. For Hoboken or Montclair passengers, there is a train connecting at Broad Street Station in Newark approximately every other hour. The schedule is similar to the one in effect until October 2018, when substitute bus operation began. Running time is 44 minutes eastbound and 54 minutes westbound, compared with 57 minutes eastbound and 62 minutes westbound for the bus operation.

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Weekend PATH World Trade Service to Be Suspended

Weekend service on the PATH transit system to World Trade Center and Exchange Place, Jersey City, will be suspended entirely for most weekends in 2014, starting February 14.  The suspensions will begin around midnight Friday night; service will resume at approximately 4:45 a.m. on Mondays.  Additional trains will run on the 33rd St.—Journal Square (via Hoboken) route; Newark service will operate only as far as Journal Square. Exceptions to the suspension may be made on major holiday weekends.  The service suspension, PATH says, is necessary for work on the signal system, and security enhancement, and for post-Sandy flood resilience improvements.

More information can be found at:


Winter Woes Ad Nausuem

New York area transit operations have suffered through a difficult week. On the evening of Tuesday, January 28, an NJ Transit train inbound to New York got stuck in the tunnel, and it took hours to pull the train into Penn Station, where it arrived after 1 a.m. Fortunately, only 23 riders were aboard the middle-of-the-night run. But just hours later, in Wednesday’s morning rush, an inbound train from Dover became disabled in the Jersey Meadows.  This time, 800 riders were aboard, and it was hours before the train was finally dragged by a “rescue engine” to Hoboken, not to its original Manhattan destination. Delays persisted for hours, with the system back to normal at about 10 a.m., only to be followed in midday with several hours of delays as “ice patrols” occupied the Hudson River tunnels, delaying regular service. But travel woes weren’t over; for the day; in the evening rush, gremlins returned as a Long Island Rail Road train encountered smoke and lost power in the East RIver tunnel to Penn Station; NJ Transit also uses the tunnels to store some trains in Sunnyside Yard in Queens, east of Manhattan. The LIRR suffered the most dramatic impact, cancelling 19 outbound trains and suspending inbound service completely for a period. But NJT was also affected, and things got worse when NJT’s 5:43 departure to Dover had mechanical problems and was delayed, apparently in Penn Station, for about 45 minutes. Since every track in Penn Station is used continuously at peak periods, any disruption causes cascading delays that can continue for hours. Unfortunately, this reporter got caught up in the mess; read on . . .

David Peter Alan and I met up today at South Orange aboard a Gladstone train for the express purpose of touring the entirety of the Morris & Essex, Montclair-Boonton, and Gladstone branch. Including a fine lunch at an Indian restaurant in Montclair, this went off without hitch or problem, from my leaving my doorstep in Roebling on NJT’s RIver Line light rail between Trenton and Camden, through the trip to Gladstone, back to Newark Broad St. station, out to Montclair, on to Hackettstown on the the Montclair/Boonton Line via Dover, and back to Newark Broad via the M&E. Even the trip from Broad St. Station to Newark Penn on the Newark Light Rail was timed perfectly . . . to deliver me into the depths of hell.

Upon arrival at Newark Penn, I encountered a scene the likes of which I have not encountered before. Despite the fact that this was 7 p.m. and I have been to Newark before, for people- and train-watching in the depths of rush hour. This time, thousands of people were crowded throughout the concourse. Police with dogs were everywhere, complete with signs claiming an intent to search anyone with bags beyond a certain point, although they were set up so haphazardly, what that point was was unclear. Avoiding the signs, intending to avoid the hassle of a police search, I got on the Platform 3-4 escalator and rode it up. The waiting room was so crowded, I literally had to push the clueless lady in front of me out of the way, lest I and the people behind me on the escalator get fouled and disaster occur. Why the escalator had not been stopped due to this overcrowding is beyond me.

I moved through the crowd to the exit door for that waiting room to see literally thousands more standing on the platform.

Not long after, a train announced as the 6:32 New York to Trenton run arrived at the station; it was around 7:00. I bulled my way through the line and boarded the train: I justify this action because I was starting to reach the end of my tether to catch the last River Line train to Roebling; any further delay might strand me in Trenton. The train to Trenton was completely standing-room-only, and crowded to the gills. The train stopped at Newark Liberty Airport, then ran express to Metropark, where enough of the crowd had left so I was able to find myself a seat.
Upon leaving Metropark, the train then slowed to a crawl. It is scheduled to make the run from Metropark to Trenton in 50 minutes. It ran 15 minutes over. I made, through sprinting, the 8:28 River Line train, and got home around 9:00.

New Jersey Transit says it is ready for the Super Bowl. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. However, it does not seem to be ready to handle the fairly standard woes of the five-day-a-week evening commute (They’ve only done it approximately 7800 times during their history!) during the perils of a cold winter, which comes every year (They’ve only endured 90 months of it so far!) in a reasonable and flexible manner.

NJT to Extend MyBus Now to Port Authority Runs

For bus travellers on NJ Transit to or from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, it has been difficult to determine just when that next bus will arrive.  However, NJT’s MyBus Now program will be extended in June to the Port Authority routes, completing a rollout that first began in South Jersey, and later added non-Port Authority routes in North Jersey, according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (Jan. 25).  To use the service, access njtransit.com on smart phones or desktop computers, and access MyBus Now under “Rider Tools”.  Riders with ordinary cell phones can text MyBus at 69287 with the stop and route number.  The arrival estimates are only for buses expected in the next half hour, due to the uncertainties of buses in traffic; and the system won’t work for outbound buses in the evening rush from the Port Authority, again because jams can make arrivals unpredictable.

1000 Stranded by Downed Wire

On the coldest night of the year, 1000 riders on a packed rush-hour NJ Transit train from New York to New Brunswick got no farther than a little beyond Newark on Tuesday evening, January 7, after an overhead wire fell on the train.  Heat and main lighting immediately failed, and the train sat from 6:15 p.m. until shortly after 8 p.m., according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli and Richard Havkine in the Star-Ledger (Jan. 8).  Published photos suggest that the downed wire was part of the overhead catenary system that supplies electricity to electrically-operated trains.  The long delay in pulling the disabled train back to Newark was apparently caused by the need to investigate the problem and deenergize any live wires.  Commuters were cheered by frequent announcements by train crew, who tried their best to keep the riders informed.  However, with only one working toilet for 1000 customers, patience wore thin as the evening progressed.  Once passengers left the train, some reported a chaotic situation without clear instructions as to how to continue their journey.  According to NJ Transit, passengers were transferred to another train to continue their travel—about 2 hours late.

Read the complete story at:


Raritan–Manhattan Direct Service Begins March 2

NJ Transit will begin offering limited direct service from stations on the Raritan Valley Line to New York Penn Station beginning March 2, the first direct service to Manhattan ever offered to riders on the line.  However, the service will not be provided during peak commuter hours, because of the unavailability of timeslots to add additional trains to New York in peak hours.

According to reporting by Mike Deak on Gannett’s myCentralJersey.com (Dec. 16), the “pilot program” will offer the service for weekday trains arriving in New York between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and returning between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Specifics were not announced, but since service on the line is roughly hourly, it seems likely that there would be about 4 trains each way.  After the initial service, NJT is considering evening service for outbound trains between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.

The new service is made technically possible by NJT’s acquisition of 36 “dual-mode” locomotives for $340 million; these locomotives can operate both with diesel power, which the Raritan line requires, and electric power, required to operate into Manhattan.  Unfortunately, 21 of the 36 units were damaged by flooding in Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and only 5 of the damaged units have so far returned to service; all are expected back by July, 2014.

The announcement by NJ Transit follows extensive lobbying by the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, which sees direct service to Manhattan as essential to the several transit-oriented developments in progress along the Raritan Line corridor.

The complete article was formerly found at http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20131216/NJNEWS/312160026

The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition’s website is at: http://www.raritanvalleyrail.com

Penn Station: Managed Chaos

Managing train movements into and out of New York’s Penn Station is “ballet” that brings “Order Out of Chaos”, the title of a story by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (Nov. 24).  This behind-the-scenes visit to the Amtrak center where Penn Station train movements are controlled reveals a group of ice-calm dispatchers sitting before computer screens and seemingly ready to cope with any eventuality.  Commuters may wonder why their train doesn’t always arrive or leave from the same track.  There is a plan, called the “program” or “guide”, but, Dennis Hamby, Amtrak supervisor of Northeast Corridor operations, says, “it just takes one thing to happen, and there goes the apple cart.”  After a seemingly small but foreseen event, Hamby says, “you’re putting (trains) wherever you can.” In rush hours, which now extend from 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m., the station’s 21 tracks are fully utilized: “It’s all filled,” said Drew Galloway, Amtrak’s chief of planning for the Corridor.

When Penn Station went into service in 1911, its 21 tracks were enough for what traffic was foreseen by the Pennsylvania Railroad, its builder.  Now the station handles 1200 trains on a weekday, 332 of which are operated by NJ Transit.  The bulk of the rest are operated by the Long Island Rail Road, which enters the station through 4 tracks under the East River.  Amtrak trains constitute a smaller portion of the total, but Amtrak operates the station, which it inherited from the Pennsylvania Railroad and its corporate descendants. NJ Transit trains, and Amtrak trains to the south and west, have to share only two tracks under the Hudson River: a major choke point.  Amtrak has plans to build two more tunnels to relieve the bottleneck, but this will take at least 12 years to finish—if funding can be secured for the expansion.  Meanwhile, upgrades to the Northeast Corridor already in progress will allow Amtrak to run more trains—“to go from 2–3 trains an hour . . . to 10–12 trains an hour,” Galloway said.  However, those additional trains will still have to get through the Hudson River bottleneck.

Read the complete story at http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/11/how_to_squeeze_1200_trains_a_day_into_americas_busiest_transit_hub.html

London Subway Plans 24-Hour Service

Most lines on the New York subway system run continuously, except for planned work programs that sometimes reroute service.  Therefore, metropolitan area transit users may not realize that most urban rapid transit systems do not run all the time; this strategy reduces costs and allows needed maintenance to proceed unhindered by thundering trains.

In London, the Underground—London’s rapid transit system—has never run all night long. This may be changing, according to reporting by Katrin Bennhold in The New York Times (Nov. 22).  The Underground will begin running all night starting in 2015, a campaign promise of London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson.  The transition may not be easy, especially since Transport for London plans to cut costs at the same time, notably in closing ticket offices, eliminating about 750 jobs in the process.  Union leaders have forecast labor strife.  Ticketing and the present “smart” card, the Oyster card, will be phased out starting next year in favor of direct payments using bank debit cards.  Ten years ago, ticket windows sold 10% of the tickets used on the system; now that’s down to only 3%.  The nighttime service will begin first on Friday and Saturday nights on 5 lines in 2015 and will then expand to other lines and nights of the week.

See the complete story (limited access) at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/22/business/international/london-subway-system-plans-24-hour-service.html

In Spring: Off-Peak Raritan Trains to New York

After a long campaign, Raritan Valley Line riders on NJ Transit can expect the start of what they’ve been asking for: a single-seat ride to Manhattan, avoiding an annoying change of trains at Newark Penn Station.  The transfer usually involves stair-climbing, and can be daunting in the cavernous station at late-night hours.  NJT now has the equipment to run trains directly into the city from diesel-powered lines, and can do so where track connections exist, as they do for Raritan Line routings.  Some one-seat service has been promised, beginning in the spring of 2014, but off-peak only.  What the riders really want is peak-hour service, but here NJT is making no promises, saying that the tracks to New York are already full at those times.  According to reporting  by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (October 22), NJT spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said that NJT planners are looking for opportunities to offer RVL one-seat service on weekends, for starters.

New “dual-mode” engines, which operate as diesels where there are no electric overhead wires (as on the Raritan Line) and convert to electric operation to enter Manhattan (where diesel fumes are prohibited) make the new service possible.  The engines cost a total of $340 million, said expert Martin Robins, who noted that the best, and really only, use of the engines is on a line such as the Raritan Valley.  He said, “How can NJ Transit diddle around with this subject for so long, after having made an expenditure of $340 million, and not take advantage of it? To me, it’s unthinkable.”

The Raritan riders may have a start at getting what they want, but there are many other NJT customers longing for a single-seat ride into Manhattan.  Riders from the Main, Bergen, and Pascack Valley lines have to endure a complicated transfer at the Secaucus station; riders south of Long Branch on the North Jersey Coast Line have to change trains, usually at Long Branch, where at least an across-the-platform transfer is available.  Riders on the Montclair-Boonton Line west of Montclair State University also have to change, and could benefit from dual-mode engine service just like the Raritan commuters.  Gladstone Branch customers already have electric service, but have to change for New York other outside of the 2 rush-hour trains that run each way every weekday.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that all riders should have a chance at a one-seat ride to their destination; and that the capacity problems plaguing train service to Manhattan could be relieved if better and cheaper service to Hoboken would take full advantage of the Hoboken gateway, encouraging riders to use that route and freeing up capacity at Penn Station in New York.

Gladstone Service Returns Aug. 25 after Storm Disruption

Less than 10 months after Hurricane Sandy devastated NJ Transit’s rail operations, the railroad received a sharp reminder of the power of nature on Thursday, August 22, as intense local storms struck northern Somerset County and wiped out the roadbed on the line’s Gladstone Branch in multiple places, disrupting train service for days.  Local weather observers recorded 4″ or more of rain in downpours over several midday hours, causing rapid flooding of the North Branch of the Raritan River and tributary streams—the hilly rail line runs in the upper Raritan watershed in its westernmost section, from Bernardsville to the Gladstone terminus. According to a staff report in the Courier News regional newspaper the next day, there were 4 to 6 significant washouts, each 10′-15′ wide by 50′-60′ long; the damage was generally in the area between the Far Hills, Peapack, and Gladstone stations, with major washouts reported on both sides of the Far Hills station.  A “washout” is a condition in which powerful water current undermines the track, often leaving the track suspended in midair.  The condition can occur suddenly and can be highly dangerous to train operations, as the track often remains connected and the damage cannot be detected by the signal systems; in this case, fortunately no damage to train movements was reported.

NJT’s planning for storm damage includes avoiding equipment stranded at outlying points; after Hurricane Sandy, emphasis on flood-proof storage yards has increased.  Had the August 22 event occurred at night or on a weekend, many trainsets would have been stranded in the Gladstone yard; but at midday on weekdays, the yard is typically empty, so stranded equipment was not a serious problem.  However, with the line out of service in the area, normal service could not be provided.  By 1 p.m. on Aug. 22, NJT had announced suspension of all service between Bernardsville and Gladstone.  By 4 p.m., all inbound service on the entire Gladstone branch had been cancelled and evening outbound commuters were being accommodated by bus service west of Bernardsville, through the damaged area.  NJT’s inability to offer inbound service was likely caused by the erratic outbound service (delays of 30-45 minutes were reported), and the consequent inability to schedule inbound trains on the single-track line.

Service disruptions continued on Friday, Aug. 23, as repair crews struggled to repair the railroad.  For some reason, NJT chose not to provide any substitute bus service through the affected area; instead, riders were advised to find their own transportation to Bernardsville, where 5 trains departed between 6 and 9 a.m. (normal service would be 8 trains in that period, plus 2 runs even earlier).  After 9 a.m., only bus service was available between Bernardsville and Stirling, where trains were available.  In the evening, again trains ran only as far as Bernardsville and a number of trains were cancelled or truncated, with passengers sometimes asked to transfer at Summit, the eastern end of the Gladstone branch.

Weekend service on the branch was provided on normal schedules, but only as far as Bernardsville, as repairs continued.  Normal service had been predicted for Monday morning, but in fact NJT was able to resume service between Bernardsville and Gladstone at about 8 p.m. Sunday evening, August 25.  However, further repair work was needed, so buses again provided midday service on Monday.

The destruction of track structure by rampaging water has always been a serious event for any railroad, and NJT is to be commended for the rapid restoration of the line, in contrast to the experience after Hurricane Sandy, when service on the Gladstone line was suspended completely for an astounding 5 weeks. However, the inability for more than 3 days to provide bus service to the outermost 3 stations is troubling, particularly on the weekend, when hundreds of buses stand idle throughout the state and could easily have been pressed into service.