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.