Tomorrow night is the night NJ Transit has been planning for for a long time—the first Mass Transit Super Bowl. Having watched the process over the past few weeks and months as the final plans solidified, I saw several areas that frankly scare me. What are they? Well, listed below are what I’m praying doesn’t cause trouble.
First of all, the equipment selected for this task doesn’t bode well: the MLV double-decker cars, versus the Comet IV and V single level cars. Although the MLV does have higher seating capacity, that’s not foreseeable as a major issue. The big issue for this kind of situation is going to be efficient flow through, and seating is not a capacity improvement, its a limitation for a trip this short. In fact, the highest real-capacity rail cars are ones with limited seating, like Metro-North bar cars and NYCTA subway cars. Standees take up less room than seated passengers. With a ride out to the Meadowlands taking only a few minutes, everybody having a seat is not the most important consideration—getting as many people onto and off of the train as quickly as possible is.
What the MLV’s fail at is loading speed. At high-level platforms the Comet IV and V cars have 5 person widths of ingress/egress space, spread out over the length of the car, allowing people to quickly enter or exit the car and fill it, with no steps or other impediments to rapid movement. The MLV’s have 4 person widths of door space, with only 2 of them practically usable, because the layout of the car tends to preclude usage of the others. People also spend much time trying to slowly move up or down the cars’ unacceptably narrow staircases. Fast movement of people and trains is more important than seats. They chose seats.
The next big problem is the use of Secaucus. The lower level of Secaucus was never designed to handle this many people at once, especially when the game lets out. Moreover, everything I have seen points to whatever the security checks being, they are generally going to happen at Secaucus. Secaucus was never designed to have those kinds of security measures in place. Either situation is bad by itself: combine them and you have the kind of mess that kills careers. I foresee huge backups at Secaucus. Probably in getting people out to the game, and almost certainly for getting them back from the game.
The last problem, the one that is going to kill things stone-cold dead, is the lack of extra service on game night outside of the possible, and as of yet unconfirmed, shuttles from New York to Secaucus. People are going to be coming from places other than New York, and going to places other than New York. Another symptom of NJ Transit tending to operate themselves as Metro West Railroad. I expect quite a few people to be planning on coming from Philly as a way to save money over presumably exorbitant hotel room prices in New York. If people back up on platforms leaving the station at the end of the football game, the transportation game’s over, too. And you’re out, Mr. Weinstein.
However, I hope this goes off without a hitch. Maybe we can avoid New Jersey solidifying itself as the laughing stock of the nation. Because this is the Super Bowl. Everybody is going to be watching.