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
Mostly Fighting with Ticket Vending Machine
We planned a fairly complicated agenda yesterday, around a visit to the N.Y. Botanical Garden holiday train show in the Bronx. Read on.
We needed to catch an early train, so we aimed for the 7:06 a.m. from Basking Ridge. With resurging ridership, the 30 or so free parking spots are at a premium (the much larger number of permit-only spots remain largely empty, another example of government interference with the free market). We arrived 15 minutes early just in case; fortunately there were a number of empty spaces. (The alternative is to drive to the Lyons station, where daily parking costs only $2 and in fact leads to an overall lower total cost, since it’s in a lower NJT fare zone. However, when school is in session, all the roads that lead there are blocked by the hundreds of students driving their own cars to the local high school, and this peak is from 7 to 7:30 a.m., so that’s another crapshoot.
The First Ticket Purchase
Next step is to buy tickets. The TVM again and again refused to accept any of the credit cards we had, so in frustration we fed it a $10 bill, which worked fine.
Continue Reading Report on Yesterday’s Adventures
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.
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.
Continue Reading Rail Users’ Conference Calls for More “Southern Comfort” in Travel
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.
Continue Reading Report from the Chair
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.
Continue Reading Essex County Transportation Plan 2045 Comes to Lackawanna Coalition
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.
Continue Reading Ten Years Ago: Hurricane Sandy Devastated Our Transit and More
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.
Continue Reading Idyll in Jersey (Avenue, Main)
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.
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.
Continue Reading Less Is More?