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.

Report from the Chair: Sept./Oct. 2022

In addition to my role as Lackawanna Coalition chairperson, I am a member of SCDRTAC, the Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee of NJ Transit, and I find more and more common concerns. At the last SCDRTAC meeting, member Sara Thompson gave a presentation on issues that affect riders with hearing limitations, and they are some of the same issues that have been discussed recently on our informal e-mail list: quality of PA announcements on trains and in stations; use of the visual station announcement system on railcars, and even the translucency, rather than transparency, of train windows, especially on the newer dual-level cars.

Continue Reading Report from the Chair: Sept./Oct. 2022

Report from the Chair: July/August 2022

It has been a hectic month, including a wildcat strike that disrupted service for Juneteenth/Father’s Day weekend, with almost 500 engineers calling out, some 300 trains cancelled, and thousands of passengers scrambling to make alternate plans. NJ Transit filed a request for an injunction (on Friday) but did little to help passengers caught up in the mobility disaster. Shutting down all cross-Hudson trains for hours—virtually the entire system, and not even opening phone lines to assist routine rail riders with alternative options—shows a lack of concern for customers that is simply not acceptable.

Continue Reading Report from the Chair: July/August 2022

Report from the Chair

For the first time in 2 years, the NJ Transit board met in person on April 13, 2022. Much was the same: security check-in, label, escort to the 9th floor—yet there were changes: speaker check-in was done online before the meeting, for both phone and in-person speakers; in person, there was not the usual 2 sign-in sheets, speakers and attendees, but only an attendance sign-in sheet. No stacks of paper; similar reliance on the online agenda. The conduct of the meeting was familiar, and it was nice to see more than the portraits of board members, but to actually see them in person. Joyce Zuczek was missing, but Meghan Umukoro did an excellent job of conducting the meeting. During the public comment period, the main difference came after the in-person speakers: there were a number of people calling in via telephone—a welcome addition.

Continue Reading Report from the Chair

Report from the Chair, Jan./Feb. 2022

The Lackawanna Coalition and the N.J. Rail Passengers’ Association have both argued that the proposed “Customer Advocate” position in the NJ Transit reform bill is erroneously and misleadingly named, and our position has itself caused some confusion.

Take a look at the dictionary definition of the word advocate (from dictionary.com)

Advocate, noun:

  • a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. (usually followed by of): an advocate of peace.
  • a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor.
  • a person who pleads the cause of another in a court of law
Continue Reading Report from the Chair, Jan./Feb. 2022

Report from the Chair, Nov./Dec. 2021

At the October NJ Transit board meeting, I commented on the difficulty of finding information on agenda items in order to make meaningful comments. In previous administrations, the final written agenda included a lot more detail on action items.

As I looked over the packed agenda, there were items on which I had questions. I called our former technical director, current member Joe Clift, to get some answers. He also had questions, so together we hit the website. We looked for details on such items as the 8-electric-bus purchase for the Camden pilot project, and realized that we had seen some of these before—NJ Transit’s Capital Plan would have details. We found the documents: many pages, with no index or page numbers, but background material on action items to help us evaluate the projects.

Continue Reading Report from the Chair, Nov./Dec. 2021

Report from the Chair: Sept./Oct. 2021

On August 23rd we once again met in person at Millburn Town Hall, where we had an informative presentation from Josh Crandall of Clever Commute. Josh, who had given us a presentation a few years ago, reminded us of the project’s start when a group of 6 friend started sharing updates in 2006, just helping each other get to and from work with less stress. Since that time, Josh used his IT skills to transform the project into a full-fledged “app”, with a free and premium version. It had taken off successfully through February 2020—and then SARS-CoV-2 arrived, bringing a drop in rail ridership of 90%. Lots of Clever Commuters allowed their subscriptions to expire, not knowing what the future might hold.

Continue Reading Report from the Chair: Sept./Oct. 2021

Report from the Chair—July/Aug. 2021

Our June meeting was unique—a throwback to prepandemic times, as we met in person for the first time since our hybrid meting in December 2020, itself an anomaly in our string of phone meetings since March of that year. Millburn was gracious enough to allow us to have that December meeting to honor Chairperson Emeritus David Peter Alan as he retired and I took over the chair; we had not been together as a group since then until last month’s meeting, held at the Panera Bread café in Montclair, just a quick walk over the bridge from the Bay Street Station. Though it is not on our heritage Morris & Essex line, it was convenient, with good WiFi for our “Maestro members”—those from South Jersey or Philadelphia, or who for whatever reason preferred not to meet in person—night driving, vaccination status, we did not ask. We hope to do even better with hybrid meetings moving forward—perhaps a few cell phones in the room, so that those at a distance can hear and be heard better. It is a work in progress, and we enjoyed being together in person while retaining the freedom to call in as desired. Watch for upcoming meeting announcements, and join us on Facebook and Twitter, for updates.

Continue Reading Report from the Chair—July/Aug. 2021

Report From The Chair, March/April 2014

The past four years were controversial and often difficult under Jim Weinstein’s leadership at NJT. We praised him, Commissioner Simpson and Governor Chris Christie for terminating the dead-end tunnel and deep-cavern terminal that the ARC (“Access to the Region’s Core”) Project had become by 2010. We criticized Weinstein for starting his tenure at NJT by implementing the agency’s largest fare increase ever, including the elimination of any discount for customers who ride trains at times other than peak-commuting hours — a 47% fare increase. We also criticized him for leaving nearly 400 locomotives and cars in low-lying yards in the Meadowlands and at Hoboken to flood during Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012. We are also aware of NJT’s poor performance in getting fans to and from the stadium for the Super Bowl game in February. It was Weinstein’s last chance to leave NJT on a positive note, and we consider it unfortunate that the event went so badly for him, for NJT and for the fans who were stuck at the stadium for hours after the game.

Continue Reading Report From The Chair, March/April 2014

Sept./Oct. Report from the Chair

From our September/October 2010 Railgram newsletter 
Every major decision New Jersey Transit makes affects transit riders everywhere in New Jersey.  That will be our topic of discussion as the New Jersey Transit Board and the Lackawanna Coalition “take our shows on the road” to Atlantic City on Sept. 10.
There are a number of projects under discussion that would expand NJT’s rail network, so it can serve riders better.  One is in South Jersey: a transfer station between the Atlantic City Rail Line (which goes to Philadelphia) and the River Line, a light rail line between Trenton and Camden.  Funding has been approved for the new station, but a colleague of ours in South Jersey reports that construction has not yet gotten under way.  Also, NJT reportedly will not kick in its share of funds on new light rail service between Camden and Glassboro,
which is being funded largely by the Delaware River Port Authority.
New projects around the state are not going forward.  The extension of light rail in Bayonne to Eighth Street, one stop from the current terminal at Twenty-Second Street, is not progressing, either.  The Lackawanna Cutoff Project to restore service to the Pocono Region and Scranton, which the Lackawanna Coalition strongly supports, still appears to be 6 years off, just as it has been for the past 10 years.  Extension of the Raritan Valley Line to Phillipsburg, West Trenton, and Flemington are stalled at the talking stage.  So is rail service to inland Ocean County.  So is the Northern Branch Light Rail extension in northern Bergen County.  There are other projects, too.
The reason is simple. The proposed deep-cavern terminal far below 34th Street in Manhattan is sucking up all available capital funding, including the purchase of rail cars and locomotives that NJT management claims will be necessary to operate into the proposed deep cavern.  This is not a temporary situation; it would be well into the decade of the 2020s before NJT has the money to build anything else of any consequence that would improve transportation for New Jersey’s transit riders, especially on rail.
That is why it is so critical that NJT change direction and work with New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak to build an enhanced Moynihan/Penn Station First.  Between New Jersey, New York and Amtrak, there is enough money available to build a station that would have enough train capacity that a second terminal (NJT deep-cavern proposal) and a third one (Amtrak “780” proposal) would be needed.  NJT rail riders would benefit from easy connections with other lines, and expansion to the East Side of Midtown Manhattan is feasible in the foreseeable future. New Jersey would also save $3 billion by scrapping the deep-cavern terminal plan.
We are aware that New Jersey does not have money for its share of the cost of the proposed deep cavern.  This means that New Jersey certainly does not have enough money to build anything else.  If you use transit anywhere in New Jersey, you will not see any capital improvements for many years if the proposed deep-cavern terminal is built.  We urge you to make your voice heard now.  Join us in calling for an enhanced Moynihan/Penn Station First, so NJT will have money to build projects we all need and your transit can be improved in the future.