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.

Princeton Dinky Getting Dinkier

The Princeton Branch (otherwise known as the “Dinky”) will soon become Dinkier.  New Jersey Transit will begin to remove the tracks and the overhead wire that powers the trains on the portion of the line closest to downtown Princeton.  This marks a defeat for the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP), which had sought to prevent the removal of that section of the line.  NJ-ARP had joined with others in filing a petition with the Surface Transportation Board and an appeal from NJT’s decision to consummate a land deal with Priceton University that would allow the removal of the affected portion of the line.  A court hearing is set for October 13th, and the STB has not yet answered the petition.  By the time these events occur, the planned removal of the portion of the line at issue will have been completed.

The Lackawanna Coalition has commended NJ-ARP for its strong advocacy on this issue, and is concerned that NJT has begun to remove infrastructure at issue before legal processes have been completed.

Star-Ledger Columnist Pronounces ARC Dead

Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine, an outspoken opponent of New Jersey Transit’s proposed deep-cavern terminal for the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Project has pronounced the project dead, at least as NJT conceives it.  In a column appearing in the edition for Sunday, October 3d, Mulshine said: “The ARC is dead.  Long live the ARC.”  He also said that Republicans were confident that Gov. Christie would kill it.
Mulshine quoted Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Warren) as saying, “I think New Jersey should sit down with Amtrak and come up with a long-range plan to build tunnels and co-operate.”  Mulshine concluded, “That should solve a lot of problems and save a lot of money.  And unless the proponents of ARC have a few billion dollars hidden up their sleeves, they’d better start addressing those problems.”
In a separate article, Mulshine reprinted the statement made by Philip G. Craig, representing the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) at a hearing held by the Assembly Transportation Committee on September 20th.  The articles and Craig’s statement were published on the paper”s web site, www.nj.com.

“Christie wise to say whoa to rail tunnel, terminal” says Record columnist

Bob Ingle, writing in the Daily Record, Sunday, Sept. 26, says Governor Christie’s decision to put the trans-Hudson ARC rail tunnel on hold is a wise move.  Ingle calls the plan “the rail line from Monstrosity by the Turnpike” (his term for the failed Xanadu complex) to Macy’s basement.  It would be the “third Hudson tunnel”, after the “one we now use and a second Amtrak is planning”.  At 180′ deep, the new terminal “is so deep that one escalator can’t handle it . . . how’d you like to be caught down there in an emergency?”  Ingle goes on to lambaste Assembly Transportation, Public Works, and Independent Authority Committee Chairman John Wisniewski, who “went on blabbering about how awful it was that Gov. Christie called the 30-day halt . . .cost overruns could reach an estimated $2 billion to $5 billion . . . Who thinks it will be limited to just $5 billion?”

Ingle quotes NJ Association of Railroad Passengers’ Phillip Craig that the ARC project is “a compromised mediocre project that will not meet” the region’s train needs, and “is not affordable given the state’s . . . financial condition”.  Ingle says Craig went on to state that the claim that reexamining the ARC project might jeopardize Federal funding is “no more than a transparent scare tactic designed to protect the status quo”.  Craig recommends the project be “right-sized”, terminating the new line in Penn Station and reducing costs while preserving New Jersey jobs.  Ingle concludes that there are five transportation projects on the New York side, and ARC is “the only one that doesn’t tie in with the other four . . . Christie should bring together representatives of all five projects” to get the best deal for taxpayers’ money.  Ingle says the savings should allow us to “replenish the Transportation Trust Fund without a tax hike”.

Rail Advocates Propose “Penn Station First” 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.