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.

A Hoboken Cure for the Midtown Woes

Does it seem like almost every other day that there is a delay on trains to New York?  Based on data from NJ Transit’s e-mail alerts, there have been delays, more often than every third day, reported to this rider, whose home station is Mount Tabor, on the M&E Line west of Morristown!  In the 92 days from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, I received 49 delay alerts on 33 different days.  The vast majority, 41 alerts on 27 days, affected Midtown Direct service.  I believe this is due to the sheer number of trains going through the two Midtown tunnels.  At least three times, the Midtown tunnels were so jammed that all Midtown trains on the M&E were redirected to Hoboken.

Continue Reading A Hoboken Cure for the Midtown Woes

NJT On-Time Performance Declines

Delays to NJ Transit trains are increasing, and commuters are not happy, according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (March 14).  In all but one of the last 9 months, Frassinelli writes, NJT fared worse than in the previous year.  February, in fact, was the worst month for train delays in 18 years, even worse than January’s experience, which was the worst month in 9 years. In February, just 87.4% of trains received an “on time” rating—but the standard used for determining whether a train is late allows arrival at the destination of 6 minutes later than the time printed in timetables, so trains can be behind schedule but not counted as ”late.”  Of the 15,565 trains were operated in February, 2088 were late.  Trains on the Morris & Essex Lines and the North Jersey Coast Line seemed to fare the worst, with only 74.6% of trains arriving within the 6-minute window.  February was one of the worst months for weather-related events, which may explain why the overall performance was so bad.

Continue Reading NJT On-Time Performance Declines

Train Delays Top Priority for NJT: Riders

Even as Veronique Hakim waited to be appointed NJ Transit’s new Executive Director, users of the state’s vast public transit system had some early advice for her, according to Larry Higgs, reporting in the Asbury Park Press and other Gannett newspapers: make the trains run on time, and stop the delays that have plagued riders through this winter.  Higgs quoted riders as saying they are “constantly late to my office,” and that service has “gotten worse and worse with the congestion and delays”.

Bus riders echoed similar complaints, and focused on conditions at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, where many NJT buses operate.  Veronica Vanderpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, faulted NJT for not adequately representing its customers with the New Jersey government, both the Legislature and the Governor, in order to obtain adequate funding.  “NJ Transit has credibility problems,” she said.  Some transit advocates welcomed Hakim’s appointment; Vanderpool said Hakim’s experience with New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority gives her transit credibility, but “she needs to understand that New Jersey needs different things than New York.” said Phillip Craig, NJ Association of Railroad Passengers vice president.  He is acquainted with Hakim’s work through his prior consulting activities with the MTA.  “I have a great deal of respect for her professional capabilities.  She needs to be an advocate for her passengers and employees.  I liked (outgoing NJT executive director) Jim Weinstein as an individual, but it seems he was caught in a vise between policy coming down from Trenton and the desires of his staff,” Craig said, according to Higgs’ article.

The complete article was formerly at

Winter Woes Ad Nausuem

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.

M-N, NJT Snarled on Successive Days

Outbound New York commuters in the evening rush were seriously affected by problems on successive days.  First, on Thursday, January 23, Metro-North’s entire system ground to a halt for about 2 hours, starting at 7:45 p.m., according to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer and Emma G. Fitzsimmons in The New York Times (Jan. 24). The railroad’s computerized traffic control system failed after technicians attempted to replace a power supply, an operation that the railroad’s president later said was ill-advised and normally conducted only when traffic is sparse.  All trains were advised by radio to proceed only to the next station, and some were unable even to get that far: one train was stranded on the railroad’s Harlem River bridge, unable to proceed; the passengers were unable to leave the crowded train.

Then, on Friday, January 24, a smoke condition and apparently a disabled train in the East River tunnels (which connect Penn Station with the Long Island Rail Road and are Amtrak’s route to New England and the Sunnyside yard in Queens used by Amtrak, the LIRR, and NJ Transit) led to a cascading series of delays.  The LIRR, the heaviest user of the tunnels, managed to escape with only a few trains cancelled and modest delays reported to be only 10 minutes.  In contrast, NJ Transit was the worst affected, reporting major delays generally of 45 to 60 minutes, starting at about 6 p.m. and not clearing up until about 9:30.  One train to Trenton was reported as being up to 2 hours behind schedule; an opening of the Portal drawbridge in the Jersey Meadows may also have contributed to the snafu.  The LIRR was likely spared the worst of the delays because there are 4 tracks in the East River tunnels; NJ Transit on the other hand, must squeeze all its trains into the 2 tracks under the Hudson River.  At peak times, the Hudson tubes operate at full capacity, so even a minor delay can affect many trains and requires hours to get back to normal.

Read about the Metro-North problems at

1000 Stranded by Downed Wire

On the coldest night of the year, 1000 riders on a packed rush-hour NJ Transit train from New York to New Brunswick got no farther than a little beyond Newark on Tuesday evening, January 7, after an overhead wire fell on the train.  Heat and main lighting immediately failed, and the train sat from 6:15 p.m. until shortly after 8 p.m., according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli and Richard Havkine in the Star-Ledger (Jan. 8).  Published photos suggest that the downed wire was part of the overhead catenary system that supplies electricity to electrically-operated trains.  The long delay in pulling the disabled train back to Newark was apparently caused by the need to investigate the problem and deenergize any live wires.  Commuters were cheered by frequent announcements by train crew, who tried their best to keep the riders informed.  However, with only one working toilet for 1000 customers, patience wore thin as the evening progressed.  Once passengers left the train, some reported a chaotic situation without clear instructions as to how to continue their journey.  According to NJ Transit, passengers were transferred to another train to continue their travel—about 2 hours late.

Read the complete story at:

Train Late? MTA Writes Excuse Notes

If your subway train is late in New York, your boss may not understand, and a note from Mom may not further your career.  However, in New York City, there’s an alternative: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will be happy to write the excuse note, and Mom won’t have to after all.

Over the last 3 years, the MTA has written more than 250,000 such notes, according to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times (Dec. 10). The notes, called a Subway Delay Verification, won’t just be provided on a rider’s say-so; to get one, you have to provide the times and locations of your entry and exit in the subway system.  The Authority takes its time researching riders’ claims, and it may take hours or even days to verify them.  Sometimes the notes quote a large list of trains that may have been delayed at the time in question, and a potential maximum delay (in one case, hopefully extreme, the maximum delay was quoted at over 6 hours!  Some feel that the quoted delay times are over-generous.)  The system can be accessed online at the Authority’s website.

To read the complete story, go to (limited access)

Aging Infrastructure Blamed for NJT Delays

Aging infrastructure, and the lack of cash to fix it, particularly on the Northeast Corridor, are cited as a main cause of service delays on NJ Transit, according to reporting by Karen Rouse and Dave Sheingold of The Record (reported in the Star-Ledger,  August 8).  An NEC commuter is quoted as saying that conductors frequently blame signal problems, and Amtrak (which owns and maintains the Northeast Corridor track) as the cause of delays.

The Record (newspaper) analyzed operating records from 2002 to 2012 in the study, which showed that the NEC had the worst on-time performance, 91.7%.  In contrast, the Main/Bergen and Pascack Valley Lines, which do not connect physically with the Northeast Corridor, posted the best performance: about 97.5% for both.  Morning rush hour is the worst time to ride the trains, with 1 in 12 delayed; the evening is better, with 1 in 18, and off-peak best of all, with 1 in 24 delayed.  The study noted the difference between operating and capital funding: NJT sends Amtrak about $70 million a year for operating costs, but its contribution to capital projects remains stuck near 1996 levels: $55 million was spent in the past year; $50 million in 1996.  Amtrak notes that there has not been significant funding increases from Congress since 1976.

Also, while track and signal problems are a significant cause of delays, bad rolling stuck (locomotives and rail cars) are actually the leading cause of delays.  Dispatching delays, when Amtrak and NJT trains compete for scarce track space, also are significant.  Key infrastructure components at risk include the power system that supplies the signals, and the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, over which all NJT trains to Manhattan must pass; the bridge is 100 years old, dating from the original Penn Station, and Portal failures accounted for roughly 75 NJT train delays last year.  Additional delays occur when the bridge must be opened for marine traffic, and trains must travel at reduced speeds over the span at all times.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that infrastructure conditions have reached a critical point, especially on the Northeast Corridor, and must be addressed immediately; replacement of the Portal Bridge is an essential component of any plan going forward.

NJDOT Chief Wants to Work on Reliability

This article was published in the Asbury Park Press. It is quoted here as a matter of interest, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Lackawanna Coalition.

If it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a transportation commissioner riding the trains to make them run on time?

New Jersey Transportation Commissioner James Simpson, fresh from a Northeast Corridor Line ride to Wednesday’s NJ Transit board meeting, ordered the agency to do a study of what it would take to bring the corridor’s state of good repair to the same level as the rail lines NJ Transit owns and to meet with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Amtrak President Joseph Broadman to find a way to make those upgrades happen.

About 80% of NJ Transit’s commuters either use the corridor or, in the case of North Jersey Coast, Morris & Essex, and Raritan Valley Line riders, have their trains use the corridor for the sprint to and from New York, officials said.

Simpson said he got a taste of the commuting life when he took the train to Wednesday’s NJ Transit board meeting and left 30 to 40 minutes earlier to ensure he’d make the 9 a.m. meeting.

This article was formerly available at