“Midtown Direct” at 25: A Remembrance

On Monday morning, June 10, 1996, trains on the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line rolled directly into New York’s Penn Station for the first time, and travel on the line changed forever. No longer would it be necessary to go to Hoboken and take a PATH train or a bus to get to Manhattan. Although some riders still go to Hoboken and some now take a ferry to the Financial District, many more take the M&E straight to Penn Station. It was the Kearny Connection, which links the M&E and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) at Swift Interlocking in the Meadowlands that made the new “Midtown Direct” route possible.

I rode the first train, and NJ Transit’s Executive Director, Shirley DeLibero, was on hand to give a certificate commemorating the occasion to every rider who wanted one. The original schedule included Penn Station trains that were added to the existing Hoboken schedule, but the balance has changed over the years, as more trains are sent to Penn Station and fewer to Hoboken.

The one-seat ride to Manhattan resulted in a decrease of 15 to 20 minutes’ travel time each way, which, in turn, made living along the M&E more popular. Property values along the line increased dramatically, as did real estate taxes collected. The Midtown Direct schedule includes 2 round trips on the Gladstone Branch during peak commuting hours and, since the Montclair Connection opened in 2002, also includes a number of Montclair trains.

The Lackawanna Coalition fought for the new connection. Former Chairs Albert L. Papp, Jr., and James Laurie (1911-1998) were instrumental in making it happen.

Besides increased ridership and property values, Midtown Direct service also led to the founding of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition in 1998 to advocate for a similar one-seat ride on the Raritan Valley Line. That has been achieved for some midday and evening trains, but not on weekends or during peak commuting hours. With an expected reduction in the number of commuters compared to prepandemic levels, there might finally be enough capacity to let the Raritan Line into Penn Station at historic commuting hours. The Lackawanna Coalition has consistently supported a one-seat ride for the Raritan Valley Line, because it has been so successful for the M&E.

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