NJT Board Members: Wake Up!

Portal North Bridge Is Out of Money Already!

Stop the presses, NJ Transit Board members, please wake up! The $1.56 billion Portal North Bridge construction contract you approved unanimously at a special meeting last Oct. 12 is a whopping $340 million (28%) over the $1.22 billion contract cost in the PNB Project capital budget! The entire Project Capital Cost is now higher than any amount anticipated by either NJT or the Federal Transit Administration, $32 million over the $1.96 billion identified as the worst case imaginable for which 20% cost overrun funds were identified. In effect, the PNB Project capital budget is out of money before the first spade is turned.

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Hakim Meeting NJT Customers, Employees

Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim welcomes the opportunities presented by her new job as NJ Transit Executive Director, a post she assumed March 1. Reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (March 12) highlights the problems faced by NJT: old infrastructure, balky drawbridges and the like; but Hakim sees opportunity in these challenges. The 54-year-old Hakim comes to NJT from a career as former general counsel of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, followed by 3-1/2 years as executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. She says she’ll spend the first 30 days on the job listening to employees, senior staff, and customers; she has been riding trains and seeking out customers on them, and in waiting rooms. When she worked at the MTA, she commuted on NJT from Livingston, so she already has some perspective on the plight of riders. Lackawanna Coalition chair David Peter Alan, quoted in the Star-Ledger article, said he’s looking forward to meeting with Hakim, and called morale among NJT riders and employees “the worst I’ve seen in almost 30 years on the transit scene.” Alan called for a “new culture” more oriented toward moving people, not just trains and buses. Hakim said that what riders want most of all is more information: “I know that some days are more frustrating than others for our commuters and what I wanted as a commuter was information,” she said.

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)

Reverse Kearny – A Step In The Right Direction Or A Waste of Money?

Among the so-called Sandy Mitigation/Recovery proposals is a project known as Reverse Kearny, known by New Jersey Transit as the “Westbound Waterfront Connection.” Between Newark and Secaucus Transfer, there is the point where eastbound trains on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) can either continue to Penn Station, New York or divert to Hoboken Terminal via the Waterfront Connection. At the present time, the Waterfront Connection is used by a few North Jersey Coast Line (NJCL) trains in revenue service, as well as to send equipment to the Meadowlands Maintenance Complex for service and repair.

While it is possible for equipment to come out of Hoboken and head west on the NEC, as a few NJCL trains do, each of those trains must cross over all tracks of the NEC, blocking trains heading to Penn Station from Trenton and Long Branch until it passes. That makes regular use of the Waterfront Connection impractical, especially at peak commuting hours. The proposed construction would create a flyover that would allow trains coming out of Hoboken to enter the NEC without fouling the tracks.

Such a project would be a waste of money, given the number of trains that currently use the connection. However, if the connection is used judiciously, it is a comparatively cheap and quickly-executable temporary solution to most of the system’s capacity problems. West of this connection, the Northeast Corridor has no real capacity issues; it is east of there—at Portal Bridge, the North River Tunnels and “A” Interlocking—that problems exist.

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No Wheels Means No Trains

Why do NJ Transit rail services remain substantially reduced nearly 4 months after Hurricane Sandy?  A shortage of wheels for rail rolling stock is a major factor, according to NJT Executive Director Jim Weinstein, reported by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (Feb. 14).  According to operations manager Kevin O’Connor, “There’s only so many people producing wheels.  We need wheels for every single vehicle that was damaged, as well as bearings for the locomotives that were damaged.  Wheels is a big, big, tough issue.” Many cars and locomotives were damaged when two major storage yards were flooded, in Hoboken and in Kearny.  Low-slung “multilevel” passenger cars, the railroad’s newest equipment, were turned into “aquariums” by the saltwater flood.

NJT officials have taken fire for the decision to move the cars into the low-lying yards, relying on forecasts that the yards had never flooded and wouldn’t this time; other forecasts accurately predicted the flood that did indeed materialize.  In the event, 70 locomotives and 272 train cars were reported damaged, and an electrical substation supplying train power to the Hoboken area was also taken out by the storm.  Electric-powered trains have not yet been able to operate into Hoboken, a restriction that has crippled service on the Morris & Essex lines, particularly the Gladstone Branch, where most of the regularly-scheduled trains operate by electricity into Hoboken.  Lackawanna Coalition chair David Peter Alan commented that the Gladstone has “the worst service outside of peak commuting hours since 1984”, citing gaps between trains of 2, 3, and even 4 hours.  Alan called the situation on the Gladstone “absolutely unacceptable”.  The Hoboken situation will improve with installation of a temporary substation in March, but Weinstein hedged his bets, saying that delays in getting wheels and other parts for the rolling stock might further push back a full restoration of service, saying full restoration might take “the better part of the year”.  Meanwhile, to avoid future flooding damage, the railroad is investigating the possibility of developing new storage yards in Linden and New Brunswick on unused property.

Gladstone Weekend Service Back By Oct

Weekend rail service between Summit and Gladstone will resume in October, according to New Jersey Transit rail chief William Duggan.  Duggan told the Coalition that the date is not definite, but weekend service will be restored on the line before the end of October.  Duggan said details must be worked out with Amtrak before the restoration date can be announced.  The Coalition had expressed concern that substitute busing on the line on weekends would become permanent, because no date for restoration of rail service had been mentioned in the timetable.

Montclair Pushes for Weekend Service

Montclair Mayor Jerry Fried and several residents from his town have called for weekend rail service on the Montclair-Boonton Line.  They call for service to be operated to and from Hoboken.  Passengers on these trains could easily connect at Newark’s Broad Street Station with Morris & Essex Line trains between New York City and Dover.  This marks a major change for Montclair, which originally objected to the Montclair Connection.