NJ Transit Rail Celebrates 40th Anniversary

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.

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Remembering Maureen Ogden

From the early 1970s, Maureen Ogden was greatly interested in environmental issues. She was a member of the Citizens League for Environmental Action Now as well as the Millburn Environmental Commission, of which she became chairperson.

Maureen Ogden was elected to a 3-year term on the Millburn Township Committee in 1975 and to a second term in 1978. In 1979, she was elected Mayor of Millburn (the town’s first female mayor) and her attention turned to the deterioration of service on the Morris and Essex (M&E) line and the need for reëlectrification of the M&E. Mayor Ogden initiated a meeting of counties and municipalities along the M&E to develop a consensus to make improvements in rail service, to promote safety of service, and to expedite reëlectrification of the M&E line.

This was the impetus for the formation of the Lackawanna Coalition, which was incorporated shortly before NJ Transit’s own incorporation in July 1979.

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Falling Tree Pulls Wire Down—
No Service on M&E Lines for Seven Days

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.

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No Service on M&E Lines for Seven Days

NJ Transit to the Hicks Tract in Millington

One of the few parks in Morris County that is accessible by public transportation is the Hicks Tract in Millington, which is less than half a mile from the Millington station on the Gladstone Branch of NJ Transit. It’s a rather small park, and hardly worth the long train trip to get there — if hiking is the only purpose of the trip. But if you view the trip as a day-long excursion, in which the train ride and the hike have equal significance, it becomes a great opportunity to spend a day riding trains and taking a hike.

Today (Wednesday, March 16) was an ideal day for taking this excursion. It was a beautiful, warm day — perfect for hiking — but it also was the second day in which a special schedule was in effect for the Morristown Line and Gladstone Branch, following significant storm damage last week, which resulted in a week-long suspension of service on both lines. Under this special schedule, all Gladstone Branch trains terminated in Summit, with the result that I would have the opportunity to take three separate trains each way! (As it turned out, this special schedule would be in effect for only two days, with close-to-normal service resuming on Thursday.)

I began the trip by driving to the New Bridge Landing station on the Pascack Valley Line, where I boarded Train #1625, scheduled to depart at 10:24 a.m. This train is unique, as it is the only train that originates at the New Bridge Landing station. The trainset arrives as Train #1651 at 10:01 a.m. and remains in the station for the next 23 minutes, with passengers welcome to board whenever they arrive.

We departed on time at 10:24 a.m. but lost three minutes waiting on the siding for northbound Train #1607. We lost another four minutes due to restrictive signals between Wood-Ridge and Secaucus, and we arrived at the Secaucus Junction station at 10:56 a.m., seven minutes late. This was a problem, as I was hoping to connect with Morristown Line Train #6621, scheduled to depart Secaucus at 10:56 a.m. It takes at least two minutes to get from lower level tracks at Secaucus to upper level tracks via the rotunda, and if my connecting train had departed on time, I would have missed it. But there is always the chance that the train might be a few minutes late.

I quickly made my way up to the rotunda, where I noticed that Train #6621 was still displayed on the Solari board — a hopeful sign that the train had not yet departed. I then went through the fare gates and down the escalator, and just as I reached the platform at 10:58 a.m., my train was pulling into the station on Track B. I had lucked out! Train #6621 was pulled by dual-mode engine 4533 and consisted of six multi-level cars. I found an unoccupied four-seat group and sat down for my ride to Summit. Interestingly, although we were several minutes late and hardly anyone boarded or detrained at Secaucus, we spent two minutes at the station. Possibly, this time was used to lower the pantograph on the dual-mode engine.

West of Newark, we used the center express track. This was because there was track equipment on the westbound local track in the area of the damaged catenary between South Orange and Maplewood. There are platforms for the express track at Brick Church, South Orange and Maplewood, but for the stop at Orange, passengers had to detrain across the westbound track, and only the first two cars of the train opened at this stop.

We arrived on Track 1 in Summit at 11:38 a.m., four minutes late. The eastbound train to Hoboken, scheduled to depart at 11:42 a.m., was boarding passengers on Track 2, and my shuttle train to Gladstone would be departing from the Wall Track. I walked upstairs to the waiting room on the bridge over the tracks and then went down to the platform serving the Wall Track, where I boarded Gladstone Branch Train #415. The train consisted of three Arrow III cars, of which only the middle car was open to passengers (the first car served as a “hangout” for the four crew members who were on board). Sixteen people boarded the train, and we departed on time at 11:47 a.m. When we arrived at the Stirling station, we took the siding and stopped to detrain the one passenger who got off here. We then moved ahead before the opposing train proceeded into the station.

We arrived at the Millington station at 12:09 p.m., two minutes late. Three passengers detrained and one boarded. I walked up Long Hill Road and then over to the Hicks Tract, where I spent close to an hour hiking around this small but delightful park. I then returned to the station, where I arrived about 1:45 p.m., leaving me with about 20 minutes to wait for my eastbound Train #426. The Millington station is now the location of a café, and there are very nice round tables between the station building and the tracks, which are available both to patrons of the café and to people waiting for trains. This proved to be a very delightful place to wait for my train. While waiting for the train, I asked an employee of the café whether commuters accounted for a significant percentage of the café’s customers. She replied that that used to be the case prior to the pandemic, but that few commuters now patronize the café, although many local residents still do.

Train #426, also a three-car set of Arrow III equipment, arrived four minutes late at 2:06 p.m. The conductor greeted me and jokingly told me that he had reserved a seat for me. In fact, I was the first passenger to board this train since it departed from the Gladstone station. The middle car of the train, where I sat, was entirely empty, and the conductor assured me that no passengers had boarded between Gladstone and Millington. Passengers did board the train at each of the stops between Millington and Summit (except for Gillette), and by the time we arrived at Summit, there were nine passengers onboard. When we pulled into the Stirling station, a man wanted to board the train but didn’t have a mask. The conductor told him to sit in the back of the car, away from everyone else, and let him board.

We arrived on the Wall Track at Summit at 2:25 p.m. My train to Hoboken was not scheduled to depart until 2:45 p.m., so this gave me some time to explore the station. Summit features an historic brick station, built by the Lackawanna Railroad in 1905, but the station building has been completely reconfigured, and the waiting room moved to the bridge that spans the tracks. I walked upstairs to the waiting room, where I noticed that the departures board indicated that both the 2:45 p.m. train to Hoboken and the 2:47 p.m. train to Gladstone would be departing from the Wall Track. This didn’t make any sense, as it’s not feasible for two trains heading in opposite directions to depart from the same track only two minutes apart. I looked around the waiting room and noticed that there was a sign stating that the maximum occupancy of this area is 700 people. I cannot imagine trying to get even half that number of people into this relatively small space!

I went back down to the platform, where the crew of the Gladstone train told me that notwithstanding what the electronic message board said, my Hoboken train would be departing from Track 2. That is indeed what happened. At about 2:45 p.m., westbound Midtown Direct Train #6631 pulled into the station on Track 2. When that train moved on, the equipment set that had been parked beyond the station on Track 1 (that was the consist of Hoboken-Summit Train #321 that had arrived at Summit on Track 1 at 2:30 p.m.) moved onto Track 2, and a verbal announcement was made that Train #326 to Hoboken would be departing from Track 2. Train #326 was pulled by a dual-mode engine and consisted of seven Comet cars, of which three were open to passengers.

My train departed Summit at 2:51 p.m., six minutes late. We lost another three minutes between East Orange and Newark. As we approached Newark, we switched onto the center track and passed a train that was apparently stopped on the eastbound local track. That was presumably Montclair-Boonton Line Train #6242 that was scheduled to arrive at Newark at 3:18 p.m. but was being held so that our train could stop at Newark ahead of it. Interestingly, we pulled into the Newark station on Track 1, which is normally used for westbound trains.

When we arrived on Track 14 of the Hoboken Terminal at 3:40 p.m., nine minutes late, I detrained and walked over to Track 5, where my Pascack Valley Line Train #1623 was boarding. The train consisted of four Comet V cars, all of which were open to passengers, and I took a seat in the front car. Relatively few people boarded the train in Hoboken, but when we departed the Secaucus station, nearly every seat group in my car was occupied by at least one person. This amounts to about 50% occupancy on this shoulder rush-hour train, which indicates that rush-hour ridership is beginning to rebound somewhat. Our ride was uneventful, and we arrived at the New Bridge Landing station one minute late at 4:36 p.m., thus concluding a very enjoyable day of train riding and hiking.

“Midtown Direct” at 25: A Remembrance

On Monday morning, June 10, 1996, trains on the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line rolled directly into New York’s Penn Station for the first time, and travel on the line changed forever. No longer would it be necessary to go to Hoboken and take a PATH train or a bus to get to Manhattan. Although some riders still go to Hoboken and some now take a ferry to the Financial District, many more take the M&E straight to Penn Station. It was the Kearny Connection, which links the M&E and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) at Swift Interlocking in the Meadowlands that made the new “Midtown Direct” route possible.

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NJT Plans Track Improvements at Summit

On NJ Transit’s Morris & Essex lines, the busiest stations are Newark Broad Street and Summit; both have 3 station tracks and 2 platforms, and when several trains arrive at once, a traffic jam can ensue, particularly if 1 or more trains are running behind schedule.  Summit can be particularly bothersome, as some trains “turn back” to New York or Hoboken, so they must have some place to wait until it’s time to depart on their return trip.  However, there is no convenient place for these trains to wait, so they sit out on the main line; schedules are carefully constructed to allow for this, but if trains get behind schedule the whole house of cards can begin to collapse, as a waiting train then blocks through trains trying to find their way past Summit.

Compounding the problem is the set of “crossovers” at Summit, which allow trains to change tracks.  These have sharp curves and require low speeds, which makes everything take that much longer; even when there are no problems, riders will notice how slowly trains move through this trackwork, particularly to or from the Gladstone Branch, which begins at Summit.  Now NJT is planning to do something about the situation. According to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (May 9), NJT plans to construct a new siding or “pocket track” with a capacity for 12-car trains; this will allow trains reversing direction to be parked without blocking through trains.  The improvement should allow more flexible scheduling of the entire M&E system.  On May 8, the NJT Board approved a $2 million contract for engineering design work for the project; the contract went to Jacobs Engineering Group of Morristown.  The new siding is scheduled to be ready by 2017.  Unconfirmed reports suggested that the slow-speed crossover problem may be corrected as part of the same project.



LATEST: Near-Full Service March 24

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.htmlNJT 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.

Dual-Power Locomotives Run into Penn Station

New Jersey Transit’s ALP-45DP dual-power locomotives ran into Penn Station for the first time last weekend.  Because of maintenance on the wires that supply electric power to trains on the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line, the power was turned off between Maplewood and Morris Plains on Saturday and for some of the service day on Sunday.
Although Amtrak has expressed concern about allowing the units into Penn Station, the weekend service seemed to go smoothly, although with some delays.  The locomotives, made by Bombardier, cost approximately $7.9 million each; roughly 3 times the cost of a conventional diesel unit.  The use of these units to bring revenue trains into Penn Station could reopen the push by the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition and other advocates for a one-seat ride to New York City on nonelectrified lines such as the Raritan Valley Line or the southern part of the North Jersey Coast Line.

No Wheels Means No Trains

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.

M&E, Montclair Restored after Storm

 Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton lines are scheduled to restore service at noon, Saturday, Feb. 9; service had been suspended at 8 p.m. on Friday during  the snowstorm.  NJT attributed this action to the vulnerability of those lines to tree damage, citing the experience of Superstorm Sandy in October (which has resulted in continuing reduction of service on those lines).  It had originally been announced that service would remain suspended through Saturday.

 NJT’s action appears to conflict with weather forecasts that, at the time of the announcement, were actually becoming less severe; once the storm began to abate on Saturday morning, total snowfall reports did not exceed 12″ in the M&E territory, although wind gusts remained a threat on Saturday, especially with tree limbs already weighted with snow.  In general, however, the experience in the M&E territory was no more severe than elsewhere on the NJT system, which remained in operation.  Bus services north of Interstate 195 (that is, all of north Jersey) were also suspended at 8 p.m. on Friday, and restored at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

The short suspension may be attributed to an overabundance of caution, but the selection of the M&E and Boonton lines for suspension suggests that NJT may not have enough equipment to keep all lines running during an emergency.  Weather forecasts were equally severe or even worse for other lines, which were not suspended.  The NJT press release announcing the suspension noted a lack of “system redundancies”, which supports the notion that the system is stretched thin after Hurricane Sandy, and that the suspension of the M&E and Boonton lines was a question of priority-setting rather than prompted by unusual risk to those lines.