NJT Board’s “No” Vote on the Proposed Contract with Academy Is a Huge Break from Tradition: COMMENTARY

The March vote by the NJ Transit Board to reject the proposed contracts that would have given Academy Express, LLC, the right to operate several bus lines in Hudson County for the next 3 was historic, and it represented a radical departure from the past 42 years of board practice.

The decision to reject Academy as an operator and instead award the contracts to Coach, USA, marked the first time that the Board had voted against an agenda item of major significance in the agency’s history, dating back to 1979. The vote was unanimous, in keeping with Board custom.

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NJT Signs Contract for Cutoff Construction, but It’s No More than a Baby Step

At its April 13 Board meeting, the first “in-person” meeting in more than 2 years, NJT approved a $32.5 million contract for rehabilitating the Roseville Tunnel, located along the former Lackawanna Cutoff right-of-way, west of Port Morris Yard. The project is part of an effort to restore service on 7.3 miles of new track west of Port Morris (less than 8.3% of the former 88-mile line between Port Morris and Scranton), to a 55-space park-and-ride station in Sussex County’s Andover Township.

An NJT press release said, “The Rehabilitation of the Roseville Tunnel is a crucial element in restoring passenger rail service from Port Morris to a new station in Andover,” and touted the eventual return of service to the state’s Northwestern county, but current plans call for a low-capacity station and service during commuting-peak-hours only. The release made no mention of eventual service to Scranton.

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Remembering Orrin Getz (1939–2022)

Riders on Metro-North’s “West of Hudson” trains on the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley Line trains lost a friend when Orrin Getz left us on March 21. He was 82. Getz was a member of the Metro-North Commuter Council, representing Rockland and Orange counties in New York State. Metro-North, of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), owns the tracks on the New York side, while NJ Transit operates the trains. Trains to Port Jervis use NJT’s Main or Bergen County Lines between Hoboken and Suffern, N.Y.

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Lackawanna Cutoff Mentioned at March Board Meeting, but the Reason Was Not Revealed

The March meeting of the NJT Board (actually a phone conference, the practice for the 2 years since the COVID-19 virus struck) was dominated by the historic votes to deny Academy Express, LLC, 2 contracts to operate bus routes in Hudson County, and to award them to Coach USA. Even the week-long service disruption on the Morris & Essex and Gladstone lines was not emphasized, perhaps because of the announcement that the trains would run again the next day.

There was an unexpected topic addressed by high-profile speakers during the public comment period: running trains on some restored track on the Lackawanna Cutoff.

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Falling Tree Pulls Wire Down—
No Service on M&E Lines for Seven Days

Service was suspended on most of the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line, along with the Gladstone Branch, for an entire week, beginning on Monday evening, March 7. A strong storm blew a large tree onto the elevated M&E right-of-way near Jefferson Avenue in Maplewood, between the Maplewood and South Orange stations. It pulled down the overhead wires (“catenary”) that power the trains running on the line and damaged the wires’ supporting structure. On Tuesday, nothing ran anywhere on either the M&E or the Gladstone Branch. By Wednesday, hourly service (different from and slower than normal) had been established between South Orange and New York Penn Station. However, there was no service at all—not even limited diesel service—past South Orange.

Continue Reading Falling Tree Pulls Wire Down—
No Service on M&E Lines for Seven Days

NJT Board’s ‘No’ Vote on the Proposed Contracts
with Academy Is a Huge Break from Tradition

The vote by the NJ Transit Board to reject the pro-posed contracts that would have given Academy Express, LLC, the right to operate several bus lines in Hudson County for the next 3 years was historic, and it represented a radical departure from the past 42 years of Board practice.

The decision to reject the 2 contracts to Academy as an operator and instead award the contracts to Coach USA marked the first time that the NJ Transit board had voted against an agenda item of major significance in the agency’s history, dating back to 1979. It also marked the first time that such a negative vote was unanimous, although approvals almost always are.

Continue Reading NJT Board’s ‘No’ Vote on the Proposed Contracts
with Academy Is a Huge Break from Tradition

Remembering Tom McBride (1938–2022)

West Orange resident and Lackawanna Coalition member Thomas G. McBride left usonJanuary28,attheageof83. He was a Coalition member for many years, but he was best-known locally for his long and outstanding service to Essex County residents, especially its transit riders, as longtime chair of the Essex County Transportation Advisory Board (ECTAB).

The TAB was founded in 1980 by the County Freeholder Board, now known as the Board of County Commissioners. Tom was a charter member and, as it turned out, the last-surviving original member. When I joined the Board in 1985, it was still new (one year younger than the Lackawanna Coalition, actually) and was deciding which aspects of transportation policy to emphasize within the county. Although the TAB seldom interacted with elected officials, its primary point of contact with county government was (and still is) the Essex County Planning Division.

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It’s the End of an Era at NJ Transit, as the Last Original Employee Retires

In a way, NJ Transit will never be the same again. The agency’s last original employee, who was there even before it was founded in 1979, has retired. She was Joyce J. Zuczek, and she had become a favorite employee of a number of active Coalition members.

Joyce had 45 years’ service with “Transit” and, before it was founded, with the now-defunct Commuter Operating Agency in the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDoT). She was one of the original NJT employees, the list of whom reads like a roster of future industry leaders. One was Sen. Francis X. Herbert, who sponsored the Transportation Act of 1979, NJ Transit’s enabling legislation. In later years, Herbert was given the title “Father of NJ Transit”. Joyce later talked about typing Herbert’s original draft of the bill.

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November Train Schedules Bring Improvements, but More Are Needed

NJ Transit’s new rail schedules, which became effective on November 14, show dramatic improvements in weekend service on the Main and Bergen Lines, and some weekday trains were restored to the schedule. This is a step in the right direction, but more improvements are needed, especially on weekends throughout the system.

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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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