Service was suspended on most of the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line, along with the Gladstone Branch, for an entire week, beginning on Monday evening, March 7. A strong storm blew a large tree onto the elevated M&E right-of-way near Jefferson Avenue in Maplewood, between the Maplewood and South Orange stations. It pulled down the overhead wires (“catenary”) that power the trains running on the line and damaged the wires’ supporting structure. On Tuesday, nothing ran anywhere on either the M&E or the Gladstone Branch. By Wednesday, hourly service (different from and slower than normal) had been established between South Orange and New York Penn Station. However, there was no service at all—not even limited diesel service—past South Orange.
After an absence of 2 years and 8 months, weekend train service returned to the Gladstone Branch on June 6. Trains run hourly as shuttles between Gladstone and Summit, connecting there with Morris & Essex Line trains between Dover and New York Penn Station. For Hoboken or Montclair passengers, there is a train connecting at Broad Street Station in Newark approximately every other hour. The schedule is similar to the one in effect until October 2018, when substitute bus operation began. Running time is 44 minutes eastbound and 54 minutes westbound, compared with 57 minutes eastbound and 62 minutes westbound for the bus operation.
Less than 10 months after Hurricane Sandy devastated NJ Transit’s rail operations, the railroad received a sharp reminder of the power of nature on Thursday, August 22, as intense local storms struck northern Somerset County and wiped out the roadbed on the line’s Gladstone Branch in multiple places, disrupting train service for days. Local weather observers recorded 4″ or more of rain in downpours over several midday hours, causing rapid flooding of the North Branch of the Raritan River and tributary streams—the hilly rail line runs in the upper Raritan watershed in its westernmost section, from Bernardsville to the Gladstone terminus. According to a staff report in the Courier News regional newspaper the next day, there were 4 to 6 significant washouts, each 10′-15′ wide by 50′-60′ long; the damage was generally in the area between the Far Hills, Peapack, and Gladstone stations, with major washouts reported on both sides of the Far Hills station. A “washout” is a condition in which powerful water current undermines the track, often leaving the track suspended in midair. The condition can occur suddenly and can be highly dangerous to train operations, as the track often remains connected and the damage cannot be detected by the signal systems; in this case, fortunately no damage to train movements was reported.
NJT’s planning for storm damage includes avoiding equipment stranded at outlying points; after Hurricane Sandy, emphasis on flood-proof storage yards has increased. Had the August 22 event occurred at night or on a weekend, many trainsets would have been stranded in the Gladstone yard; but at midday on weekdays, the yard is typically empty, so stranded equipment was not a serious problem. However, with the line out of service in the area, normal service could not be provided. By 1 p.m. on Aug. 22, NJT had announced suspension of all service between Bernardsville and Gladstone. By 4 p.m., all inbound service on the entire Gladstone branch had been cancelled and evening outbound commuters were being accommodated by bus service west of Bernardsville, through the damaged area. NJT’s inability to offer inbound service was likely caused by the erratic outbound service (delays of 30-45 minutes were reported), and the consequent inability to schedule inbound trains on the single-track line.
Service disruptions continued on Friday, Aug. 23, as repair crews struggled to repair the railroad. For some reason, NJT chose not to provide any substitute bus service through the affected area; instead, riders were advised to find their own transportation to Bernardsville, where 5 trains departed between 6 and 9 a.m. (normal service would be 8 trains in that period, plus 2 runs even earlier). After 9 a.m., only bus service was available between Bernardsville and Stirling, where trains were available. In the evening, again trains ran only as far as Bernardsville and a number of trains were cancelled or truncated, with passengers sometimes asked to transfer at Summit, the eastern end of the Gladstone branch.
Weekend service on the branch was provided on normal schedules, but only as far as Bernardsville, as repairs continued. Normal service had been predicted for Monday morning, but in fact NJT was able to resume service between Bernardsville and Gladstone at about 8 p.m. Sunday evening, August 25. However, further repair work was needed, so buses again provided midday service on Monday.
The destruction of track structure by rampaging water has always been a serious event for any railroad, and NJT is to be commended for the rapid restoration of the line, in contrast to the experience after Hurricane Sandy, when service on the Gladstone line was suspended completely for an astounding 5 weeks. However, the inability for more than 3 days to provide bus service to the outermost 3 stations is troubling, particularly on the weekend, when hundreds of buses stand idle throughout the state and could easily have been pressed into service.
NJT Repairs Line Quickly, But Substitute Bus Service Was Questionable
Less than 10 months after Hurricane Sandy devastated NJ Transit’s rail operations, the railroad received a sharp reminder of the power of nature. On Thursday, August 22, intense local storms struck northern Somerset County and wiped out the roadbed on the line’s Gladstone Branch in multiple places, disrupting train service for days.
Local weather observers recorded 4 inches or more of rain in downpours over several midday hours, causing rapid flooding of the North Branch of the Raritan River and tributary streams. The hilly rail line runs in the upper Raritan watershed in its westernmost section, from Bernardsville to the Gladstone terminus. According to a staff report in the next day’s Courier News, the regional newspaper, there were four to six significant washouts, each 10–15 feet to 50–60 feet long. The damage was generally in the area between the Far Hills, Peapack, and Gladstone stations, with major washouts reported on both sides of the Far Hills station.
A “washout” is a condition in which powerful water current undermines the track, often leaving the track suspended in midair. The condition can occur suddenly, and can be highly dangerous to train operations as the track often remains connected and the damage cannot be detected by the signal systems. In this case, fortunately, no damage to train movements was reported.
No Bus Service Offered West of Bernardsville
Service on the western end of the Gladstone Branch was disrupted Thursday by a washout between Bernardsville and Far Hills. Trains were delayed and terminated at Bernardsville. On Thursday, substitute bus service was provided so customers could get to Far Hills, Pepack, and Gladstone.
NJTransit has said that trains will run to Gladstone again on Monday, but there was no service beyond Bernardsville on Friday, and there will be none over the weekend.
New timetables effective March 24 for all NJ Transit heavy-rail services restored most service that was still reduced after Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Some trains are still missing, notably 3 daily round trips between Bay Head and Hoboken on the North Jersey Coast Line and some runs to Waldwick on the Main/Bergen lines. On the Morris & Essex Lines, a number of Gladstone and Dover trains to and from Hoboken have not resumed. (Schedules were reissued on June 2; some changes may have been made, but we have not yet analyzed the new schedules.) Weekend service on all lines is back to normal, with the exception of an early-morning round trip between Dover and Hoboken on the M&E.
The resumption of service was made possible by restoration of electric traction power into the Hoboken terminal; damage to a substation had restricted Hoboken to diesel-powered trains since the storm. Most customers will find their pre-Sandy service restored, although there are notable exceptions because of the still-missing trains. North Jersey Coast Line riders from beyond Long Branch will continue to find fewer trains and longer gaps. On the M&E, the lack of an early-morning weekend train from Hoboken will affect commuters to jobs from the New York area; and there remain unacceptable gaps in service on the Gladstone Branch, including no outbound trains (beyond Murray Hill) between 2:40 and 4:27 p.m. on weekdays. Returning, the 8:50 p.m. departure from Gladstone for Hoboken is also missing; since the preceding train does not take passengers at Gladstone, there is an astounding gap at Gladstone station (only) of nearly 5 hours, roughly from 5 to 10 p.m.
PATH resumed full normal service on March 1; this restores service to World Trade Center and Exchange Place on weekends. Since all lines were operating on weekdays, full service has been restored.
NYC Transit resumed through train service to the Rockaways (A Train) on May 30, after an absence of 7 months since Hurricane Sandy. However, they also announced a plan for an extensive closing of the Montague Street Tunnel (R Train) to complete repairs and strengthen defenses against future flooding.
NJ Transit reopened the Hoboken terminal building late on Monday, January 28. The building had been closed for some time after contamination due to the Hurricane Sandy flooding was discovered. Karen Rouse of The Record of Bergen County reported on Friday evening (Jan. 25) that Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) pressured NJT to provide temporary shelter, toilets, and running water for customers within 3 business days, or he would call a legislative hearing. The report was formerly to be found at http://www.northjersey.com/news/NJ_Transit_to_reopen_Hoboken_Terminal_on_Tuesday.html. NJT announced Tuesday’s re-opening at 5:34 on Friday afternoon, according to Rouse.
The waiting room bears little resemblance to the pre-Sandy facilities, as much of the room is still walled off, the rest rooms are closed, and a limited amount of plastic seating is provided. For restrooms, use the train parked on Track 8 for that purpose, which is also warm and comfortable.
The Coalition has called on New Jersey Transit to overhaul the 230 electrically-powered Arrow III Electric Multiple-Unit (EMU) cars it owns and to cut back on on its purchase of multilevel cars from Bombardier. The “Arrows” were manufactured in 1978 and were once the primary cars used on the M&E and other electrified lines at NJT. Until Hurricane Sandy, they were used mainly on Gladstone trains. The Coalition believes that overhauling and modernizing the fleet would be a good investment, since they provided faster schedules and greater operational flexibility than locomotive-hauled trains. The issue is covered extensively in the January-February issue of the Railgram.
Why do NJ Transit rail services remain substantially reduced nearly 4 months after Hurricane Sandy? A shortage of wheels for rail rolling stock is a major factor, according to NJT Executive Director Jim Weinstein, reported by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (Feb. 14). According to operations manager Kevin O’Connor, “There’s only so many people producing wheels. We need wheels for every single vehicle that was damaged, as well as bearings for the locomotives that were damaged. Wheels is a big, big, tough issue.” Many cars and locomotives were damaged when two major storage yards were flooded, in Hoboken and in Kearny. Low-slung “multilevel” passenger cars, the railroad’s newest equipment, were turned into “aquariums” by the saltwater flood.
NJT officials have taken fire for the decision to move the cars into the low-lying yards, relying on forecasts that the yards had never flooded and wouldn’t this time; other forecasts accurately predicted the flood that did indeed materialize. In the event, 70 locomotives and 272 train cars were reported damaged, and an electrical substation supplying train power to the Hoboken area was also taken out by the storm. Electric-powered trains have not yet been able to operate into Hoboken, a restriction that has crippled service on the Morris & Essex lines, particularly the Gladstone Branch, where most of the regularly-scheduled trains operate by electricity into Hoboken. Lackawanna Coalition chair David Peter Alan commented that the Gladstone has “the worst service outside of peak commuting hours since 1984”, citing gaps between trains of 2, 3, and even 4 hours. Alan called the situation on the Gladstone “absolutely unacceptable”. The Hoboken situation will improve with installation of a temporary substation in March, but Weinstein hedged his bets, saying that delays in getting wheels and other parts for the rolling stock might further push back a full restoration of service, saying full restoration might take “the better part of the year”. Meanwhile, to avoid future flooding damage, the railroad is investigating the possibility of developing new storage yards in Linden and New Brunswick on unused property.