The Board of Directors of New Jersey Transit approved $1.15 Billion in contracts for the “ARC” (Access to the Region’s Core, also known as Mass Transit Tunnel) and Portal Bridge Projects on December 9th, the last Board meeting before incumbent Governor Jon Corzine leaves office. The contracts call for construction under Manhattan to build a tunnel alignment that would lead to the proposed “deep cavern” terminal to be located 175′ below 34th Street. The Lackawanna Coalition and other rail advocates have objected to the deep-cavern terminal, claiming that the terminal itself would be inconvenient and unsafe, and that the $3 billion price tag for the terminal alone represents a waste of taxpayer money. The Coalition called the issue a “litmus test” for the incoming Christie administration, claiming that saving the cost of the deep-cavern terminal would also improve convenience and connections for New Jersey’s rail riders. Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Line riders are slated to be evicted from the existing Penn Station when their trains are moved into the deep-cavern terminal under the current NJT plan.
An alliance of passenger rail advocates in the region has proposed and endorsed a plan to connect any proposed new rail tunnels and the tracks they contain to the existing Penn Station, rather than building the deep-cavern terminal proposed by New Jersey Transit. The plan, known as the “Penn Station First” plan, also calls for construction of new track to the Grand Central Terminal area on Manhattan’s East Side and for eventual through-running between New Jersey and Long Island or Westchester and Connecticut. According to the proposal, through-running would use train sets more efficiently than the current in-and-out operation, saving money and allowing more service. The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP), the Empire State Passengers Association (ESPA,) and the Regional Rail Working Group (RRWG) have joined the Lackawanna Coalition in proposing the Penn Station First Plan.
The railroad lines operated today by NJ Transit as the Morris & Essex and the Montclair-Boonton Lines have a fascinating history, dating from the earliest days of American railroading in the middle of the Nineteenth Century. This page gives a brief history of the construction, improvement, and operation of these lines, which today form vital transportation links for the north-central New Jersey region.
NJT Executive Director Richard Sarles said at the corporation’s board meeting in July that the 2009–2010 budget called for no “major” service reductions, despite a cut in aid from the State. The Lackawanna Coalition remains skeptical of this claim, since the 2008 elimination of more than 40% of off-peak service on the Morris & Essex Line, including essentially all through service to Hoboken on weekends, was deemed a mere “service adjustment” by NJT. We continue to express our concern that the upcoming year can still bring service cuts that NJT will not consider major, but will result in serious inconvenience to riders.
NJT announced that the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit (HBLRT) line will be extended to Tenafly on the former Northern Branch. The line will be extended from its current northern terminus at Tonnelle Avenue, allowing through service to and from Hoboken. The other alternative under consideration had been a diesel-powered shuttle. Local rail advocates, including several from the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) had pushed for the light-rail choice.
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.
Service to Scranton came a step closer when the Federal Transit Administration issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Scranton project. This clears the way for further engineering work, before construction contracts are awarded. Political leaders and rail advocates in New York State are also expressing interest in the extension of service to Binghamton and beyond. The affected lines were once part of the Lackawanna Railroad, and the Lackawanna Coalition supports the proposed extension of 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.
The Lackawanna Coalition supports additional tunnel capacity to Manhattan, but opposes the proposed “deep cavern” terminal that is planned to accompany the proposed additional tunnels. We continue to question the affordability of the deep-cavern terminal portion of the project, and we object to the planned eviction of Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Line riders from the existing Penn Station. NJT says the groundbreaking ensures the eventual completion of the project as planned, but we know that ground has been broken for the Second Avenue Subway four times at last count. The line was planned in the 1920s, when a subway was built in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati tunnel and stations were never used in transit service.
New Jersey Transit has announced that fares will not increase this fiscal year. Since the State budget has cut funding for NJT, it is likely that service will be reduced. The Lackawanna Coalition is deeply concerned about impending service cuts, especially since off-peak rail service on the Morris & Essex Line was slashed in May, 2008, without advance notice to the public.