Several months ago, NJ Transit officials were embarrassed when confronted with evidence that the restrooms on the NJT 7th Avenue concourse in New York’s Penn Station were in lamentable condition; the situation was brought to light by Albert Papp, Jr., former Lackawanna Coalition chair and president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers. Now the facilities will be refurbished, which will require them to close from January 2 through 16, according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (November 16). Papp’s investigation had highlighted faucets that didn’t work, duct tape holding up toilet paper dispensers, and missing soap dispensers, among other shortcomings. Temporary repairs swiftly followed Papp’s disclosures.
Repairs are also under way at restrooms in Newark’s Penn Station; in this case, however, complete closure will not be required. In New York, while the restrooms are closed, the nearest open facilities are on the Long Island Rail Road (lower) level, accessible by escalator; there are also Amtrak restrooms in the northwest section of the upper level, near 8th Avenue.
Quoted on radio station WNYC (June 14), New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Joseph Lhota says that there are solutions to the capacity limits at New York’s Penn Station—if the railroads using the busy terminal would cooperate more. Lhota said there are three ways to increase capacity: longer platforms, more sharing of platforms among the three railroads (NJ Transit, MTA’s Long Island Rail Road, and Amtrak), and sharing of tracks, particularly if trains would be scheduled to run straight through the station, serving customers both east and west— the MTA/NJT cooperative service from Connecticut to New Jersey for fall football games shows that this is feasible.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that increased cooperation between the various operating agencies is vital to an efficient regional transportation network; through-running, a unified fare system, coordinated schedules, and compatible equipment all have a part to play. Until additional tunnels can be built under the Hudson, however, rush-hour capacity to New Jersey appears limited to the number of trains currently in service; the tunnels simply cannot handle more trains. In the near term, it appears that if demand on NJT and Amtrak trains continues to increase, solutions will involve increased use of the Hoboken gateway and economic incentives to encourage travel outside of peak periods.
An alliance of passenger rail advocates in the region has proposed and endorsed a plan to connect any proposed new rail tunnels and the tracks they contain to the existing Penn Station, rather than building the deep-cavern terminal proposed by New Jersey Transit. The plan, known as the “Penn Station First” plan, also calls for construction of new track to the Grand Central Terminal area on Manhattan’s East Side and for eventual through-running between New Jersey and Long Island or Westchester and Connecticut. According to the proposal, through-running would use train sets more efficiently than the current in-and-out operation, saving money and allowing more service. The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP), the Empire State Passengers Association (ESPA,) and the Regional Rail Working Group (RRWG) have joined the Lackawanna Coalition in proposing the Penn Station First Plan.