On the Rails with the Coalition

On Friday, May 20, folks from the Lackawanna Coalition teamed up with some folks from the Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee (SCDRTAC) on an inspection trip on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton lines. We left from Newark Broad Street on the 2:16 P.M. Montclair-Boonton train and stopped in Dover for dinner at Ohh Que Rica, an informal Colombian restaurant a short walk from the station. A few of us turned back there, having early-evening appointments, while the rest went on to Hackettstown. There we had a half-hour layover; a few of us stayed at the station or on the train: others braved the oncoming rain to head downtown for a quick beer.

We returned on the Morris & Essex line, some of us peeling off at stops along the way, others going as far as Secaucus, where adventures ensued.

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Secaucus to Meadowlands Transitway

At the added August board meeting, a concept/design contract for this project, which began in April with an Innovation Challenge. The goal is to improve transit between Secaucus Junction and the Meadowlands complex. We question spending $3.5 million for the study—for that, we could surely have weekend service to Montclair State!—but given the approval, hope that they are actually investigating real needs, not unverified corporate allegations; that they consider using assets they already have—rail lines, primarily—and that the private entities that are looking for more options for employees and customers alike will be asked to contribute to the cost. We understand that there are contractual obligations, but they are very unclear, and we hope that the board insists on realistic cost projections and funding plans before going any further with this project.

Which Train Is This?

For some time, Coalition Secretary Daniel Chazin has been reporting on confused passengers on the 12:45 Pascack Valley train to Spring Valley.  Because a 12:49 Bergen line train to Middletown is scheduled on Track H at 12:49, only 4 minutes later, the automatic announcement that a “train is expected in 8 minutes” can cause inexperienced passengers, or those rushing to board one of the trains, to mistake the Pascack Valley train, arriving first, for the Middletown train right behind it.

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Subway to Secaucus Engineering Report Issued

Plans to extend the New York City Transit No. 7 subway line, which runs between Flushing and Times Square in Manhattan, onward to NJ Transit’s Secaucus Junction transfer station have surfaced again.  The idea was first proposed more than 2 years ago by Mayor Bloomberg’s administration; then-chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Joseph Lhota dismissed the idea about a year ago, saying the line was “not going to happen in anybody’s lifetime”.  However, now it’s back in the news, following a report prepared by the engineering consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, according to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in The New York Times (April 11).  The MTA continues to be skeptical, noting that the new report does not contain any cost estimates.  Plans for new trans-Hudson rail capacity have been in flux since Governor Christie of New Jersey scuttled plans for a new heavy-rail tunnel, called “access to the region’s core”, in October 2010.  More recently, Amtrak has proposed new tunnels that could be shared by Amtrak and NJ Transit.  Governor Christie’s office, reacting to the new study, noted that the Governor had been “intrigued” when the No. 7 extension had been originally proposed and that the Governor would continue to explore its viability.

Super Bowl Prompts Secaucus Upgrades

Since service to the Meadowlands Sports Complex begain in 2009, business has been booming.  This is according to NJ Transit, which operates rail service from Hoboken via Secaucus to the Meadowlands station, but only when major sports or other events are happening.  Enter the Super Bowl, scheduled for the Meadowlands in February 2014.  How many people will use the train to the Super Bowl?  It’s hard to predict, but about 10,000 people routinely use the service for Giants and Jets games; the record is 22,000 for a U2 concert.  Most of the customers (90% it turns out) are from New York; New Jerseyans seem to prefer their cars for some reason.  However, there’s a bottleneck: many of the Meadowlands patrons change trains at the Secaucus transfer station, most heading to or from Penn Station in New York—but while the Meadowlands station was built with capacity for 10-car trains, Secaucus can handle only 8-car trains.  According to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger  (March 10), NJT wants to lengthen the lower-level Secaucus platforms, which the Meadowlands trains use, to accommodate 10 cars.  The cost? Up to $2.5 million.  Fortunately, when Secaucus was built, foundations were included for the longer platforms, expediting the improvement project.

NJT Changes Weekend Bike Rules Again

New Jersey Transit has changed the rules for bicycles on weekend trains again.  The ban on bikes applies only between Secaucus and Penn Station, New York, so riders can take a bike on the train between points within New Jersey.  Riders cannot take bicycles to Penn Station on trains that leave Dover after 7:05 a.m. and before 11:05 a.m.  In the afternoon and evening, the 4:11 from Penn Station is the last train until 8:11 that can take bikes.
The newly-relaxed rule does not provide much help to riders on the Morris & Essex Line.  PATH allows bikes at all times on weekends, but the only connection between the M&E and PATH is at Hoboken, which is served by Montclair trains, which only run every 2 hours.  It is not practical for riders to use the train between Hoboken and Secaucus, because the waiting time between trains at Secaucus is at least 45 minutes.
The Lackawanna Coalition has called for hourly service between Montclair and Hoboken, to provide a Hoboken connection for all M&E trains on weekends.

New York Studies Extending No. 7 Subway to Secaucus

According to the New York Times, since the demise of the ARC tunnel project, New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s administration has been studying extending the No. 7 subway line under the Hudson to connect with NJ Transit at Secaucus.  This would expand the regional transportation system and alleviate much of the overcrowding expected on NJT trains in coming years.  It would also give NJT riders direct access to the East Side of Manhattan, Queens, and the entire New York subway system.  Writing in the Times on November 16, Charles Bagli and Nicholas Confessore report that the subway extension would be much simpler than the ARC tunnel, since the No. 7 subway extension to 34th Street and 11th Avenue is already planned, and further extension would not require condemnation proceedings or extensive tunneling under Manhattan; the already-planned extension will end just one block from the waterfront.  It is reported that New Jersey Gov. Christie’s office is interested to hear more about the plan.  Although the plan would face formidable hurdles, it is thought that some of the preliminary work done for the ARC tunnel, including environmental impact statements, could be used to expedite planning and approvals.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that regional planning for an integrated transportation system is essential, and welcomes proposals such as the No. 7 extension, which might well form a useful part of an integrated commuter, rapid transit, and intercity rail infrastructure.