Winter Woes Ad Nausuem

New York area transit operations have suffered through a difficult week. On the evening of Tuesday, January 28, an NJ Transit train inbound to New York got stuck in the tunnel, and it took hours to pull the train into Penn Station, where it arrived after 1 a.m. Fortunately, only 23 riders were aboard the middle-of-the-night run. But just hours later, in Wednesday’s morning rush, an inbound train from Dover became disabled in the Jersey Meadows.  This time, 800 riders were aboard, and it was hours before the train was finally dragged by a “rescue engine” to Hoboken, not to its original Manhattan destination. Delays persisted for hours, with the system back to normal at about 10 a.m., only to be followed in midday with several hours of delays as “ice patrols” occupied the Hudson River tunnels, delaying regular service. But travel woes weren’t over; for the day; in the evening rush, gremlins returned as a Long Island Rail Road train encountered smoke and lost power in the East RIver tunnel to Penn Station; NJ Transit also uses the tunnels to store some trains in Sunnyside Yard in Queens, east of Manhattan. The LIRR suffered the most dramatic impact, cancelling 19 outbound trains and suspending inbound service completely for a period. But NJT was also affected, and things got worse when NJT’s 5:43 departure to Dover had mechanical problems and was delayed, apparently in Penn Station, for about 45 minutes. Since every track in Penn Station is used continuously at peak periods, any disruption causes cascading delays that can continue for hours. Unfortunately, this reporter got caught up in the mess; read on . . .

David Peter Alan and I met up today at South Orange aboard a Gladstone train for the express purpose of touring the entirety of the Morris & Essex, Montclair-Boonton, and Gladstone branch. Including a fine lunch at an Indian restaurant in Montclair, this went off without hitch or problem, from my leaving my doorstep in Roebling on NJT’s RIver Line light rail between Trenton and Camden, through the trip to Gladstone, back to Newark Broad St. station, out to Montclair, on to Hackettstown on the the Montclair/Boonton Line via Dover, and back to Newark Broad via the M&E. Even the trip from Broad St. Station to Newark Penn on the Newark Light Rail was timed perfectly . . . to deliver me into the depths of hell.

Upon arrival at Newark Penn, I encountered a scene the likes of which I have not encountered before. Despite the fact that this was 7 p.m. and I have been to Newark before, for people- and train-watching in the depths of rush hour. This time, thousands of people were crowded throughout the concourse. Police with dogs were everywhere, complete with signs claiming an intent to search anyone with bags beyond a certain point, although they were set up so haphazardly, what that point was was unclear. Avoiding the signs, intending to avoid the hassle of a police search, I got on the Platform 3-4 escalator and rode it up. The waiting room was so crowded, I literally had to push the clueless lady in front of me out of the way, lest I and the people behind me on the escalator get fouled and disaster occur. Why the escalator had not been stopped due to this overcrowding is beyond me.

I moved through the crowd to the exit door for that waiting room to see literally thousands more standing on the platform.

Not long after, a train announced as the 6:32 New York to Trenton run arrived at the station; it was around 7:00. I bulled my way through the line and boarded the train: I justify this action because I was starting to reach the end of my tether to catch the last River Line train to Roebling; any further delay might strand me in Trenton. The train to Trenton was completely standing-room-only, and crowded to the gills. The train stopped at Newark Liberty Airport, then ran express to Metropark, where enough of the crowd had left so I was able to find myself a seat.
Upon leaving Metropark, the train then slowed to a crawl. It is scheduled to make the run from Metropark to Trenton in 50 minutes. It ran 15 minutes over. I made, through sprinting, the 8:28 River Line train, and got home around 9:00.

New Jersey Transit says it is ready for the Super Bowl. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. However, it does not seem to be ready to handle the fairly standard woes of the five-day-a-week evening commute (They’ve only done it approximately 7800 times during their history!) during the perils of a cold winter, which comes every year (They’ve only endured 90 months of it so far!) in a reasonable and flexible manner.

Report from the Chair, Mar./Apr. 2014

Everybody knows that New York’s Penn Station (NYP) is crowded with commuters during peak-commuting hours, and we have a way to reduce demand for those scarce seats that will not require any capital investment.  We call on New Jersey Transit to restore reduced “off-peak” rail fares, and to implement fare policies that will make it less expensive to go to New York through Hoboken Terminal.

Commissioner James S. Simpson has called for the restoration of off-peak rail fares several times, and we strongly agree.  As the official representative of our riders and our communities, we continue to request a meaningful opportunity to participate in decision-making about these fare policies.

We objected strenuously when NJT eliminated off-peak rail fares in 2010, a change that removed an incentive for riders to travel at times when there is enough train and station capacity to accommodate them easily.  The next fare increase could come soon, and it will provide an opportunity to switch to a fare structure that will promote efficient use of our rail system.  It would not be good for our riders, or for NJT, if the current fare policies continue.  One important step toward restoring a discounted off-peak rail fare is to refrain from raising off-peak fares when peak-hour and commuter fares are increased.  The last fare increase was high for commuters and peak-hour riders: 25%.  It was massive and unprecedented for off-peak rail riders: 47% and as high as 64% for some fare zones.

Continue Reading Report from the Chair, Mar./Apr. 2014

Amtrak to Repair East River Tunnels

According to an announcement by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Amtrak will use $86 million in Superstorm Sandy federal recovery funds to perform maintenance work on four East River tunnels used by Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, and some NJ Transit trains enroute to or from Sunnyside Yard in Queens.  Several issues in the tunnels recently have delayed commuters, mainly Long Island Rail Road customers; problems have included broken rails.

Problems in the tunnels, owned by Amtrak, can have a severe impact on service because of the difficulty of removing derailed trains and of evacuating passengers.  Planned changes include replacing all of the old “jointed” rail segments, which are particularly prone to failure; improved track inspection; and a new, preemptive track maintenance and replacement program.  Sen. Schumer said he worked out the program following a September meeting with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia.

 Reporting by the Associated Press (November 18); the Crain’s New York Business article is archived at A (subscribers only).

Let’s Get Behind Amtrak Tunnels

This editorial article was published in the Asbury Park Press. It is quoted here as a matter of interest, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Lackawanna Coalition.

It’s all water under the bridge now, or more precisely, water over the tunnel.

But the release on Tuesday of a federal Government Accountability Office report concerning the scuttled Hudson River rail tunnel project has opened old wounds and brought about a whole new round of “Gotchas!” and “I told you sos” from champions of the project and those who opposed it.  This is decidedly unhelpful.

What would be helpful is to put an end to partisan sniping and after-the-fact finger pointing, and find a way to get across the river.  And, in fact, there is one remaining possibility: the proposed Gateway Tunnel being studied by Amtrak, which would involve building a second set of tunnels and an annex to Penn Station in New York.  Instead of rehashing the past, New Jersey’s senators should continue their support for the Amtrak proposal, and the state ought to do what it can to move it along.

This article was formerly available at t

Report Disputes Christie’s Basis for Halting Tunnel

This article was published in the New York Times. It is quoted here as a matter of interest, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Lackawanna Coalition.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey exaggerated when he declared that unforeseen costs to the state were forcing him to cancel the new train tunnel planned to relieve congested routes across the Hudson River, according to a long-awaited report by independent Congressional investigators.

The report by the Government Accountability Office, to be released this week, found that while Mr. Christie said that state transportation officials had revised cost estimates for the tunnel to at least $11 billion and potentially more than $14 billion, the range of estimates had in fact remained unchanged in the two years before he announced in 2010 that he was shutting down the project.  And state transportation officials, the report says, had said the cost would be no more than $10 billion. (limited access; paywall)

Amtrak Says Joint Tunnel with NJT is Dead

Late Thursday, November 11, Amtrak officials said that any talks with NJ Transit on a joint new tunnel under the Hudson are dead, according to the Bergen Record, reported by Karen Rouse. “We are no longer interested in this project,” said Vernae Graham, spokeswoman for Amtrak. “There were exploratory talks going on with NJ Transit,” Graham said. “The talks have stopped. . . .  That was commuter rail, and we are interested in intercity rail projects.”

The Amtrak announcement comes a day after NJ Gov. Christie told The Record that Amtrak was interested in possibly purchasing from NJ Transit engineering work that had already been done; Amtrak would then use the work to begin planning their high-speed rail tunnel.  NJ Transit spokesman Paul Wyckoff said only that, “We’re all interested in exploring affordable alternatives to the trans-Hudson challenge,” according to The Record.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that a new tunnel is necessary, both for commuters and for intercity rail service; but that it needs to be a coordinated solution that addresses both NJ Transit and Amtrak’s needs, and therefore needs to serve Penn Station and be usable by both railroads.  We encourage NJT and Amtrak to work together on an affordable solution that truly furthers regional rail service.

Christie Cancels Tunnel

WNYC reported at noon Wednesday that N.J. Gov. Christie has reaffirmed his decision to cancel the ARC tunnel. This follows a 2-week period in which the Christie administration was reconsidering its earlier decision to cancel the project.

WNYC reporter Matthew Scheuermann said on the station’s 12:00 p.m. newscast that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had offered an additional $380 million in federal funds over the weekend, but Christie said that the offer was not enough to make the project affordable.

We’ll post further details as they become available.

Columnist Criticizes Lautenberg for Continuing to Defend Deep-Cavern Proposal

Partisan politics appears to be heating up over the issue of the ARC Project with New Jersey Transit’s proposed deep-cavern terminal under 34th Street in Manhattan, which Gov. Christie has said will not be built.

Asbury Park Press columnist Bob Ingle criticized Senator Frank Lautenberg for continuing to defend the proposal to build a deep-cavern terminal far below 34th Street in Manhattan as part of the ARC Project.  NJT had proposed new tunnels into Manhattan that would not go to the existing Penn Station, but now acknowledges that the cost of a new deep-cavern terminal will be billions of dollars more than previously stated.

Ingle said: “U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg is missing a chance to demonstrate his worth in Washington and become a hero back home but instead he keeps pushing the same old plan.”  Lautenberg held a press conference at Penn Station in Newark to defend the plan but, according to Ingle, he merely “sounded old themes.”

Ingle quoted Gov. Chris Christie as reacting to Lautenberg’s conference by saying: “Senator Lautenberg can do what senators do, which is talk. . . .  What governors are supposed to do is decide.  If it’s going to cost New Jerseyans 2 to 5 billion more than what it’s projected to cost now, it’s not going to happen.”

Ingle also called on Lautenberg to help promote a new tunnel that Amtrak could use, rather than the deep-cavern proposal that Christie rejected.

The Lackawanna Coalition and allied rider advocates have consistently called for new tunnels to go to the existing Penn Station, so Amtrak and NJT can both use them, noting that such a plan will deliver better performance, while saving billions of dollars.

Ingle’s column was formerly to be found on the paper’s web site,

Tunnel Debate Continues

New York MTA Chairman Jay Walder reportedly said on October 13 (at a Crain’s Business Breakfast Forum) that if New Jersey doesn’t want the $3 billion allocated for the ARC tunnel, the MTA will be looking to secure some of the funds for its own needs. (Reported on WNYC.)  Meanwhile, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) held a press conference at Newark Penn Station on October 14 to unveil a new study by the Regional Plan Association.  The study says that the tunnel would improve NJT’s on-time performance and is essential for regional growth  (Asbury Park Press, The Record).  Sen. Lautenberg has also been quoted as saying he’s in contact with a large New York financial firm regarding possible private financing for the tunnel (Star-Ledger online, reported Oct. 13).

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that a new tunnel is needed, but not in its present “deep cavern” configuration; the tunnel should instead lead to Penn Station, a much more flexible arrangement that would advance regional transportation.  The Coalition disputes the study’s conclusion that the “deep cavern” configuration would speed up travel; the long times required for riders to access a station 180′ below street level would actually lead to an increase in overall travel time.

NJT Breaks Ground for ARC Tunnel

The Lackawanna Coalition supports additional tunnel capacity to Manhattan, but opposes the proposed “deep cavern” terminal that is planned to accompany the proposed additional tunnels.  We continue to question the affordability of the deep-cavern terminal portion of the project, and we object to the planned eviction of Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Line riders from the existing Penn Station.  NJT says the groundbreaking ensures the eventual completion of the project as planned, but we know that ground has been broken for the Second Avenue Subway four times at last count.  The line was planned in the 1920s, when a subway was built in Cincinnati.  The Cincinnati tunnel and stations were never used in transit service.