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.

Rail Users’ Conference Calls for More “Southern Comfort” in Travel

RAILGRAM Nov-Dec 2022v3

The Rail Users’ Network (RUN) held an online conference on Saturday, October 29. The event focused on Amtrak, private-sector passenger rail, and rail transit in the South. It was the latest in a series of semi-annual conferences that placed the spotlight on rail in different regions across the country. Presenters included advocates in the South and managers there who are developing new rail services.

Topics included expansion of Amtrak services in Virginia, construction of a new line by Brightline (a new private-sector passenger railroad) to expand service to Orlando Airport and later to Tampa, the ongoing battle to establish Amtrak trains between New Orleans and Mobile, and expanding rail in Texas.

I delivered the closing remarks, stressing the importance of the role of politics regarding both local transit and the way a state (or in-state region) deals with Amtrak. Both Amtrak and rail transit are weak in the South, which can be explained in large part by politics. Virginia is the only truly “purple state” in the region, with Republicans dominant elsewhere. Although RUN is a nonpartisan organization, effective advocacy requires knowledge of state and national political scenes and how politics can affect trains and transit.

RUN hopes to return to in-person conferences soon; maybe even next spring in Newark, to focus on rail–transit connectivity in the area. Before SARS-CoV-2 struck, RUN was planning such a conference for the spring of 2020, with help from the Lackawanna Coalition and NJ Transit.

If you would like to learn more or to join RUN, they are online at www.railusers.net. RUN advocates for more rail transit, an improved Amtrak, and better connectivity between the two. The Lackawanna Coalition is an organizational member of RUN.

Report from the Chair

RAILGRAM Nov-Dec 2022v3

Our Website update had the unexpected consequence of knocking our forum offline temporarily—we are getting that restored to its old spot on the original Website, as connecting it to the new site will take some creativity and technical magic (we do have someone working on the latter option; watch for updates as we figure out what is possible). What is working well on the new site is our updated Station Inspection form. The Lackawanna Coalition is reviving our 1990s practice of checking on station conditions and reporting our findings. Members will be watching their local stations, and we hope all our readers will take advantage of the form to let us know what is good or bad at their local station and at others that they visit, so that we can compile information for NJ Transit. We and NJ-ARP have been advocating for riders for a long time, and with your help in documenting station conditions, we can make our case—and yours—at NJ Transit.

Earlier this month, I attended a virtual meeting held by our host municipality, Millburn Township, about planned improvements around the Short Hills train station. Although I looked for the video recording on the town website, it has apparently not yet been posted, so my thoughts later in this article are from my participation late in the program. What was clear is that community suggestions are being accepted and given due consideration.

Short Hills Station Traffic Improvements Planned

Checking on room availability for our October meeting, I noticed two information-gathering sessions by the Millburn town council: one in person, on October 26, and one virtual, on November 1. The sessions were listed as discussions of the concept plan for proposed pedestrian and circulation improvements in the vicinity of the Short Hills train station. Consideration is being given to traffic and parking patterns at busy intersections near the station. Residents are being asked for their perspectives on the plans that are being developed, as well as their own suggestions and concerns. Although I could attend only the last half of the online presentation, it was clear that residents were engaged and informed, with questions raised about pedestrian safety, congestion, and pick-up locations. Both automobile routes and pedestrian pathways are being considered to ensure the optimum decisions are reached. Residents provided information based on their experience with the Short Hills station and its surrounding roads and intersections.

The portion of the meeting that I attended covered the western side of the station, and a possible one-way traffic pattern was discussed. Questions were raised about possible unintended consequences of drivers finding short-cuts to avoid a longer one-way trip. One resident suggested that an additional, onsite session at the Boxcar at the station would be helpful, and that suggestion was well-received. It is clear that the planners are putting a lot of thought into the options to make arrival, departure, and movement through the area as efficient as possible for pedestrians, rail passengers, and motorists alike.

Essex County Transportation Plan 2045 Comes to Lackawanna Coalition

On October 24, David Antonio, Director of Planning for Essex County, came to the Lackawanna Coalition meeting to present Essex County’s “Essex 2045” transportation project. The project is to create a plan for all aspects of transportation in Essex County and to have a vision for what Essex Country transportation will be like in the next 20 years. A grant for this project came from North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. The previous plan was the Essex County Comprehensive Plan of June 2013.

Input on improving public transportation was, of course, the reason for Mr. Antonio’s invitation. Gathering of public input comes through a web-based application via survey questions and a mapping tool. A major point of the presentation was pedestrian safety. Bloomfield Avenue is one of the busiest and most dangerous streets in New Jersey. Although upgraded infrastructure has been installed on Bloomfield Avenue in recent years, more work needs to be done to ensure pedestrian safety.

After the presentation, Lackawanna Coalition members gave comments. Some highlights: improving bus service on Bloomfield Avenue; pedestrian crossings working properly, including audio and visual countdown clocks; more weekend service on Montclair-Boonton line, Newark light rail, and various New Jersey Transit bus routes.

Essex County can be a leader in improving public transportation in New Jersey. Essex County is second densest and third most populated county in New Jersey. Multiple rail lines run through the county. Newark is a hub for multiple transportation modes, and two-fifths of residents do not own an automobile.

Submit your input on Essex 2045 by the end of the year. To do so, you can send e-mail messages to essex2045@gmail.com. Also, all are welcome to use the county’s survey and mapping tool: https://bit.ly/Essex- Survey

For more information on the program, go to the Essex County Department of Public Works site: http://www.ecdpw.org/essex-2045.php.

Ten Years Ago: Hurricane Sandy Devastated Our Transit and More

It has been 10 years since Hurricane Sandy pounded this part of the country, bringing transit in New York City and New Jersey to a standstill. Sandy was one of the worst storms in history, causing $70 billion in damage and killing 233 people in eight countries, from the Caribbean to Canada. Sandy has often been compared to Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005.

Even though Sandy hit the region on Monday, October 29, with barely hurricane strength, the unique configuration and the extreme extent of the region’s damage led local media and even the National Weather Service to dub the extra-tropical cyclone “Superstorm Sandy.” Low-lying areas were particularly hard-hit; among these were the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, the Jersey Shore, and Hoboken, and unexpectedly, some inland areas across the region. Millions were left without power, and millions were left without transit.

Transit Hit Hard

Transit came back in the Philadelphia area within a few days, and the New York subways came back over the course of a week, as did Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road. It took longer in New Jersey, as New Jersey Transit (NJT) chronicled in a number of press releases, which can still be found on the NJT website.

Amtrak trains began to return to the Northeast Corridor late in the first week after the storm, and NJT trains to Trenton and on the Raritan Line returned shortly thereafter. The North Jersey Coast Line (NJCL) was devastated, as was much of the Shore. Photos of the line showed small boats and even a freight container washed up onto its track. River Draw, the bridge between Perth Amboy and South Amboy, was damaged and a replacement bridge is now under construction. The region’s damage was so extensive that county transportation agencies did what they could to provide food and mobility to the seniors and persons with disabilities who needed those services.

During the first few weeks, NJT ran shuttle buses during peak commuting hours from emergency park-and-ride locations to points where riders could get to Manhattan on ferries and PATH trains that had started running again. Later, the buses ran to and from NJT’s train stations.

The Morris & Essex (M&E) line was out of service for two weeks, returning on Monday, November 14. Limited service on the Main/Bergen, Port Jarvis, and Pascack Valley Lines also returned that day. The Montclair-Boonton Line came back two days later. The last line to return to service was the Gladstone Branch, which came back on December 1, after a five-week absence. Full pre-Sandy service did not return until January 14.

Sandy’s Aftermath Still Brings Controversy

One of the most-lasting parts of Sandy’s legacy was the flooding of about 400 pieces of rolling stock (locomotives and railcars) that were left in low-lying yards in Hoboken and the Meadowlands. Some of

that equipment was flooded beyond repair. Today, NJT’s “Sandy Resiliency Program” plans to build new yards for emergency purposes. Advocates question the cost-effectiveness of such projects, claiming that preparedness and good practices could have prevented the loss, noting that losses on the New York side were minimal.

One component of the program is the proposed NJ Transitgrid, which would be fired by natural gas, despite Gov. Murphy’s campaign promise that the state would not build new facilities powered by fossil fuels. Coalition Chairperson Sally Jane Gellert is a member of the Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition, which opposes the project. The controversial Transitgrid is outside the Lackawanna Coalition’s core purview area.

For more-extensive coverage of Sandy’s impact on our region and its transit, see my article, Hurricane Sandy, Ten Years Later , posted on October 27 on the Railway Age website.

Idyll in Jersey (Avenue, Main)

Last Thursday Lynn and I had a leisurely lunch with an old friend at the Sakura Japanese buffet in North Brunswick.  It was a beautiful day with cloudless blue skies, and since the NJT Jersey Avenue station is only a 10 minute trip, we decided to check it out.
 
Jersey Avenue is, basically, an enormous park-and-ride facility; it attracts riders from a wide area, since the next stop west is Princeton Junction, a whopping 14 miles away.  In the days when the area was nothing but farms, PRR had at least three intermediate stops; now, it’s wall-to-wall condos, but no stations.  NJT wants to build a new one, but even advocates can’t agree that it would be a wise investment.
 
Since we’d have to park the car, we had to watch out for parking cops looking to see if we’d paid, but none appeared. I hadn’t been to Jersey Avenue in a long time, and was unfamiliar with the layout.  We drove through the large lot, looking for spaces; then something appeared I had forgotten about, a railroad grade crossing—which leads to a separate parking lot immediately adjacent to the Trenton-bound platform (“Jersey Avenue Main”) on the outbound NEC main line. The somewhat decrepit single track we crossed is the famous, or infamous, Delco Lead, a track used for switching industrial freight customers; it begins at this point and extends for miles. NJT plans to convert it into a refuge for NEC equipment in case Superstorm Sandy returns and floods the Meadows Maintenance Facility again.  They also plan a loop to turn trains without fouling the NEC, and an inspection facility; all of  this is controversial in the advocate community—some think they have better uses for the money, or maybe they’re just protecting the interests of taxpayers in Iowa.
 
The train-watching was pretty good: the first westbound to come along was Amtrak’s Crescent, just starting out on its long trip to New Orleans. A westbound Keystone, a westbound Regional, and finally an Acela, running at blinding speed, (150 mph? What is the track speed here?) followed.  Eastbound, several  NJT trains came along on the inside track, Track 2, and crossed over to Track 1 (more usual) at County interlocking, just up the track.  Perhaps there was track work in progress on Track 1 farther west? Eventually a third NJT train ran through normally on the outside track, Track 1, followed by an eastbound Amtrak Regional on inside track 2.

How do you get to New Brunswick?

While all this was going on we noticed a youngish gentleman wandering about the station, carrying some bags, and looking confused. He came to the platform, then turned around and headed to the station building again, which is on the diverging branch line (at one time the Millstone Branch) on which all trains to New York board. Around this time a Trenton-bound NJT train made its stop at our platform, and a few boarded, and another was due less than half an hour later.
 
We were preparing to leave after observing an arriving train on the branch platform (Arrows, which soon reversed and headed back to New York, empty), but the wandering traveler then returned to our Trenton-bound platform, and I decided to see if he needed any help.  He turned out to be a recent arrival from the Czech Republic, who had business at the nearby Social Security office, he said. He wanted to get back to downtown New Brunswick, just 1.7 miles away.  He had already bought his ticket, he said.
 
I had the honor to inform him that the next train to New Brunswick, sadly, would not be until tomorrow morning, and explained the purpose of the station was mainly for commuters to New York. Somewhat bewildered, he asked if there are many station like this in New Jersey—I assured him that no, this was the only one, just his luck. He wondered how people get to the Social Security office; I said, well, most of them drive. As the Acela thundered by, I said that this is the best railroad in the US—he replied that they have nothing like it in the Czech Republic.
 
He figured out a solution to his problem: he would board the next westbound train, due in about 10 minutes, ride to the next station, and take a train back to New Brunswick.  I said that should work, but he’d better buy a ticket to Princeton Junction (PJ), because they’d charge him five dollars extra on the train.  There is no TVM on the main line platform, so he had a 500-foot walk to the branch station building and back.  I suggested he show both tickets to the conductor and explain his predicament, and they’re probably let him ride to PJ for free, and he could use the two tickets to get back to New Brunswick.  He asked and I told him that service is fairly frequent coming back from PJ; there was no timetable posted for eastbound service on the westbound platform, only a westbound version.
 
As we left, his train arrived; I hope he made it: a 30-mile ride to travel 1.7 miles. Several other riders boarded the train too, and I wonder how they get to Jersey Avenue from points south, as there are no trains at all that provide service; maybe they ride to New Brunswick and return west!

The Future

Long-range plans are to build a platform for eastbound trains there, but with the ADA requirements and whatnot, this will not be a simple, or cheap, solution.  Jersey Avenue Main is, I believe, the only NJT NEC station remaining with a low-level platform. (I assume the branch platform is also low level, but did not go over there to inspect it.)

Train #6674, Oct. 24, 2022

Last night, I attended a meeting of the Lackawanna Coalition in Millburn.  David Antonio of Essex 2045, a planning initiative for transportation in Essex County, was the invited guest, and most of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of bus and rail transportation in Essex County.

As usual, I left the meeting about 9:10 p.m. so that I could catch Midtown Direct Train #6674 to Secaucus, where I would transfer to Bergen County Line Train #1281 to Radburn.  Train #6674 arrived in Millburn on time at 9:23 p.m. and departed one minute later.  It consisted of nine multi-level cars, of which three were open to passengers (and these three cars were far from full).  Everything went smoothly until after we departed Brick Church, our last stop before Newark, at 9:39 p.m.  We proceeded for some distance, then came to a stop.  The stop lasted for at least five minutes, after which we started backing up.

During the backup move, one of the conductors made an announcement about the reason for the delay, which I could not understand.  So I walked back two cars to find the three conductors seated at the front end of the third open car.  I mentioned to one of the conductors that I could not understand the announcement, whereupon another conductor commented that he could not understand it, either.  I was then informed that there was some problem with the signal at the interlocking, so we had to back up and then move forward again.  I didn’t fully understand the explanation, but we did soon start moving forward, and we arrived at the Newark Broad Street station at 9:56 p.m.  Our ride from Newark to Secaucus proceeded expeditiously, and we pulled into Track 2 at Secaucus at 10:06 p.m., 12 minutes late.  Even though we were significantly late, my Bergen County Line train is not scheduled to depart until 10:28 p.m., so I had plenty of time to make my connection.

I’m still not quite sure what happened that required us to make the backup move between Brick Church and Newark.

Less Is More?

A visit to the LIRR’s main concourse at NYP reveals that the LIRR’s only restrooms, and the dingy waiting room between them, have vanished behind a wall of plywood. (Not noticed: did we also lose that famous overhead structure said to be one of the last pieces of the old Penn Station?). A sign only says, “Rest rooms available on the upper level.” (Those would be those of NJT and NJT/Amtrak; there was no signage pointing the way.) What’s going to replace them?  Dunno; perhaps they are building new facilities and a waiting room, possibly expanding into the space of the now-gone Tracks bar, which should be right behind the closed restrooms.  Or maybe instead it will be something that makes money for the MTA, like a pot dispensary maybe?
 
I have to say that a lot of the vaunted “improvements” that MTA and NY State in general have been making to NYP have not produced much for the actual riders who are supposed to benefit.  Within the last year, they opened what looks like a magnificent set of escalators to a new LIRR entrance at 7 Av and 33 St.  It looks great in the politicians’ photo ops, but the foot of the new escalators is smack in the way of the great number of riders who arrive or depart the station via the 7th Ave. subway, and also those who rely on the corridor to the years-ago-added entrance on 34 St just west of 7th Ave. (For those who haven’t been to the city in a few decades, this was all directly in front of the old LIRR ticket windows, and roughly where the octagonal information booth once stood—all gone now.)  All of these crowds collide with the folks using the new 33 St entrance.  At peak hours, like when I was there yesterday at 5:10 p.m., it becomes downright dangerous, with lemmings headed for their trains colliding with arriving passengers and themselves.  Many of these “dashing commuters” are running full-tilt to make their trains.  It’s a real zoo.
 
Also noted was the crowding, under what seemed to be normal rush-hour conditions, of the area in front of the LIRR’s track gates.  Getting through that area was not easy.  I am starting to believe that what NYP needs most is expanded areas where people can just stand and wait for trains. 
 
The best thing that’s ever happened to NJT customers is the one thing they can’t use: Moynihan. As I predicted for years, it has cleared out the 8th Ave. concourse of Amtrak and particularly Amtrak’s conga lines of waiting passengers—and it has secured for NJT riders the best waiting room anywhere, although it could use more power plugs, as the ones at the white tables are always in use for laptops and cellphone charging.  Maybe the NJT IT department could reprogram the departure monitors—there are two of them in the waiting room, stacked—so the top one shows the first set of departing trains, and the bottom one shows the second set.  As it is now, both monitors show the same display, alternating between the two sets—infuriating when you have to wait 10 seconds to find out the track of the train you hope to board in the next 2 minutes.

Side Issues

Side issue, uptown: Lincoln Center.  The new Geffen Hall has opened to rave reviews, and its glass wall opening to the Lincoln Center Plaza is truly beautiful.  Lost in all the hoopla is the underground passage under Geffen Hall that allows access to the Metropolitan Opera House from the subway without braving the weather.  Closed for the Geffen rebuilt, it’s still closed.  A peek around the barriers revealed it is, like the NJT passageway between upper levels at the 7th Ave end of NYP, still full of construction-type trash.  So opera-goers still have to cross the Plaza to get to the subway, which is longer and no fun at all in foul weather.  (A long underground detour all around the Plaza via the basement of the Koch Theater may still work—and fear not: users of the underground parking garage still can get into the Met without having to mix with the weather . . . or, of course, the lowlife that uses the subway.)
 
Side side note: On the 10:13 local to Dover last night, train ran on track 1 (center track) Newark to Millburn, necessitating delays and confusion at the 3 stops (Orange, Highland Av, Mountain Station) that lack track 1 platforms.  Work equipment was sighted on track 3, the normal (westbound “local”) track.  Dunno how long this persisted . . . and there are weekend travel alerts posted that track 2 at Newark Broad will be out of service, expect delays “in addition to the Amtrak track work delays.”

Remembering Maureen Ogden

From the early 1970s, Maureen Ogden was greatly interested in environmental issues. She was a member of the Citizens League for Environmental Action Now as well as the Millburn Environmental Commission, of which she became chairperson.

Maureen Ogden was elected to a 3-year term on the Millburn Township Committee in 1975 and to a second term in 1978. In 1979, she was elected Mayor of Millburn (the town’s first female mayor) and her attention turned to the deterioration of service on the Morris and Essex (M&E) line and the need for reëlectrification of the M&E. Mayor Ogden initiated a meeting of counties and municipalities along the M&E to develop a consensus to make improvements in rail service, to promote safety of service, and to expedite reëlectrification of the M&E line.

This was the impetus for the formation of the Lackawanna Coalition, which was incorporated shortly before NJ Transit’s own incorporation in July 1979.

Continue Reading Remembering Maureen Ogden

RUN South on Saturday, October 29!

The Rail Users’ Network (RUN) will hold an on-line “virtual” conference on Saturday afternoon, October 29, from 12:30 until 5:30. RUN conferences have been featuring efforts by rail managers and advocates to bring more trains and better rail transit to various regions of the country for the past two years, and the theme for the October event will be “Southern Comfort – how new and expanded rail service will improve the lives of everyone in the Southern U.S.”

Continue Reading RUN South on Saturday, October 29!