No matter that there are only 5 trains a day each way. No matter that they are only in mid-weekday hours, not at rush hours or on weekends. No matter that the first train arrived packed with dignitaries, but at least 6 minutes late, no faster than the previous service.
On Monday, March 3, Raritan Valley Line customers finally had a chance to ride to Manhattan without changing trains in Newark, where they typically had to search high and low for seats on connecting trains, often finding no place to sit. NJ Transit, finally responding to years of pleas from angry riders, took a few small steps to satisfy them, with 5 midday trains in each direction between Raritan or High Bridge and New York Penn Station. The first train left Raritan at 8:43 a.m. with considerable hoopla and participation by local dignitaries, including Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer, chair of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, which had pushed for the service and still wants it expanded.
According to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (March 4), Palmer said “It’s a four-step process; this is step one.” The other steps, Palmer said, are service in the evening; service on weekends; and, perhaps finally, rush-hour service. N J Transit has long maintained that additional rush-hour service is not feasible because the tracks into Manhattan are already saturated with trains at peak hours. Advocates are not so sure, saying that a more equitable sharing of the tracks among riders on the various lines would allow all riders a chance at one-seat service.
Some riders were surprised to find the new service; others, like Steve Thorpe of Winfield Park, made a point of riding the first train. He called the event “A historic moment.” Some stumbled on the service by accident: Patricia Trattner of Branchburg found she was part of a historic moment; “I missed the bus on a good day,” she said.
The new service was made possible by new technology: NJT’s “dual-mode” locomotives, which can operate as diesels on nonelectrified lines such as the Raritan Valley, then convert to electric operation to reach Manhattan, where tunnels prohibit fumes from diesels. The units were purchased in anticipation of the “ARC” tunnel to Manhattan, canceled by NJ Gov. Christie in 2012, and have mostly been used as stand-ins for the railroad’s regular locomotives. The new service takes advantage of the dual-mode capability.