A Tribute to Mr. G.

We read in the Star-Ledger of the passing of Mr. Russell Graddy, “Mr. G.”, whom we had met in the course of his fight for justice from NJ Transit.  Over 2 or 3 years, he and his group of dedicated supporters showed up at each board meeting in “Justice for Mr. G.” T-shirts, speaking truth to power, with courtesy and passion, refusing to be discouraged.  Each month, the group testified to Mr. G’s integrity, support of his community, and the need to right the long-standing injustice.  Mr. G. was always the closing speaker, reminding the board that, though they individually were not there in Atlantic City so many years ago, a board inherits the unresolved problems of the past, and this was theirs to solve.

We learned a bit of his unexpected success in winning the bid for a shop at the Atlantic City bus station, his Paterson bank coming through to support him in that expansion, the dishonorable way in which he was evicted from that successful business, his rent payments for years afterward, even while locked out, in an attempt to resolve the issues.  We learned of his role in bringing Dr. King to Paterson, of his influence in the community over the decades—and we had a memorable lunch at his diner, Mr. G’s.  He arrived as we were eating, and sat with us for quite some time, shooting the breeze.

Some of us feared that NJ Transit was dragging out his case deliberately, so we were pleased when in 2020 we heard that NJT had finally made an offer that Mr. G. could accept.  Given the pandemic’s closing of Mr. G’s, he has been living in the Catskills, where his funeral will be held; there will be a memorial service in his home city of Paterson.

Farewell, Mr. G.; rest in peace, rest in power, and condolences to your family and friends from all of us at the Lackawanna Coalition.

Resolved: We Call for Permanent Federal Operating Support for Transit

At a meeting of the Lackawanna Coalition held at Millburn, New Jersey and by telephone conference on October 25, 2021, the following resolution was adopted:

WHEREAS the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant changes in travel patterns in the United States, including reduced commuting on New Jersey Transit (NJT) and similar railroads that formerly served large numbers of commuters, and reduced use of transit generally; and

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Commuting Will Not Be the Same as It Was before COVID

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has brought many changes to this country and the world at large.  One change is having an effect on major metropolitan areas such as New York (including New Jersey), Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago: a potentially momentous change in commuting habits.  Until the virus hit, millions of commuters would get on a train early in the morning and head to their offices five days a week, only to return home by the same route late in the afternoon or sometime in the evening.

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Report from the Chair, Nov./Dec. 2021

At the October NJ Transit board meeting, I commented on the difficulty of finding information on agenda items in order to make meaningful comments. In previous administrations, the final written agenda included a lot more detail on action items.

As I looked over the packed agenda, there were items on which I had questions. I called our former technical director, current member Joe Clift, to get some answers. He also had questions, so together we hit the website. We looked for details on such items as the 8-electric-bus purchase for the Camden pilot project, and realized that we had seen some of these before—NJ Transit’s Capital Plan would have details. We found the documents: many pages, with no index or page numbers, but background material on action items to help us evaluate the projects.

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NJT Board Members: Wake Up!

Portal North Bridge Is Out of Money Already!

Stop the presses, NJ Transit Board members, please wake up! The $1.56 billion Portal North Bridge construction contract you approved unanimously at a special meeting last Oct. 12 is a whopping $340 million (28%) over the $1.22 billion contract cost in the PNB Project capital budget! The entire Project Capital Cost is now higher than any amount anticipated by either NJT or the Federal Transit Administration, $32 million over the $1.96 billion identified as the worst case imaginable for which 20% cost overrun funds were identified. In effect, the PNB Project capital budget is out of money before the first spade is turned.

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Coalition Calls for Federal Aid for Transit

At our October meeting, the Coalition passed a resolution calling on Congress to continue the recent practice of providing federal operating assistance for transit providers. Transit agencies have received aid from the Department of Transportation in the form of grants for capital projects over the years, but few federal dollars have customarily been available for operations.

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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.

Resolved: 2 Statements from the Coalition

Our August meeting was productive; we had been talking about a few issues on which we were able to come to resolution, and we approved two statements:

Regional Fare Cards: Not So Fast!

We are concerned about recent suggestions to have NJ Transit accept regional fare cards, despite the convenience for most riders, as we have yet to see one implemented in a manner that allows senior citizens to their federally-mandated discounts without preregistration. Conditions of federal funding requires that seniors with proper ID need only present theieRr document (Medicare card, usually, with photo ID if requested).

Greenway?

Our open letter to the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) suggests that the plan for Norfolk Southern to sell its right of way on the former Lower Greenwood Lake line to Open Space Institute or to private real estate investors is a mistake. We believe that it is imperative to prevent removal of the tracks on the right-of-way, a valuable asset, so that there is the possibility of restoration of freight and/or passenger service. We ask the NJTPA to persuade New Jersey Transit to purchase the right-of-way for future use.

RUN Conference

On Friday, October 15th, from 1 to 5 p.m., the Rail Users’ Network hosts a regional miniconference focussing on Midwestern rail. They hope to host the long-delayed Newark conference in person in Spring 2022, with the Lackawanna Coalition as local advocacy partner and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Association as host. Keep watching for details!

MEET A MEMBER: LC Secretary Daniel Chazin

How I Became Interested in Trains & Rail Transit

It was the passenger service operated on the New York & Long Branch Railroad that was largely responsible for my interest in trains and rail transit.

I grew up in Teaneck, where I still live. I was born in 1951, and passenger service on the West Shore Railroad, which provided service to Teaneck, wasn’t abandoned until 1959. But my father, who then worked in Jersey City, rarely (if ever) rode the West Shore trains, and I have no recollection of ever riding (or even watching) passenger trains on this line.

Continue Reading MEET A MEMBER: LC Secretary Daniel Chazin