What We Learned from the Mass Transit Superbowl

By now, everybody knows that New Jersey Transit suffered a defeat at the “Mass Transit Super Bowl” on Feb. 2 that was almost as humiliating as the one that the Seattle Seahawks inflicted on the Denver Broncos in the Meadowlands. On Feb. 24, Commissioner and Board Chair James S. Simpson announced that the NJT Board of Directors will conduct a review of the Super Bowl situation.

The Lackawanna Coalition has submitted its own questions for the committee to ask. On Game Day, we had several observers in the field, watching the operation that took a long time to move thousands of fans to and from the Big Game. We believe that NJT management should consider the following suggestions:

  1. Carefully estimate a range of people to expect, and then plan for the most. It’s like planning a party on a big scale: you never want to run out, no matter how many people show up.
  2. If you have expertise, trust your judgment instead of trusting people who know less than you do.
  3. Make the maximum use of the resources you have, especially if problems can occur.
  4. It’s an old saw, but “Always expect the unexpected!” You never know what random chance may do!
  5. “Planning for every contingency” means just that, and no less.

Transit management may be able to use this information to avoid making similar mistakes in the future, but there are also positive lessons that we learned from the experience, and hope they did, too.

For the first time, NJT offered an “all-mode” comprehensive ticket, good on all rail, bus and light rail lines. It was only offered for Super Bowl week, but the precedent has been set. We suggest that NJT consider offering daily, weekly and monthly “all-mode” fares in the future. This would benefit both local residents and visitors to New Jersey.

On Saturday, Feb. 1, Amtrak kept both tunnels into Penn Station, New York open for trains, rather than closing one of them for track work. NJT ran half-hourly service as far as Summit on the Morris & Essex Line, South Amboy on the North Jersey Coast Line and New Brunswick on the Northeast Corridor. We commend NJT for running this level of service, and we know now that, with two tracks available to and from Penn Station, the line can accommodate any reasonable amount of expansion of weekend service in the future. We have been calling for construction of a third tunnel to Penn Station as quickly as possible, and we now know that a third tunnel will allow the amount of weekend service that NJT riders in North and Central Jersey should have, whether or not they currently have weekend service to Penn Station, New York.

Detailed coverage of the Super Bowl from a transit perspective was provided in the author’s extensive coverage of the event in the Feb. 3, 10 and 17 editions of  Destination: Freedom, formerly to be found at www.nationalcorridors.org.

Originally posted on Lackawanna Coalition Web site on 5 March 2014 by author David Peter Alan.

EWR Monorail, Station to Close May 1 for 75 Days

Newark Liberty International Airport’s monorail system is showing its age, and it will shut down May 1 for a 75-day overhaul, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the transportation system, reported by Steve Strunsky in the Star-Ledger (April 9). The monorail is the only way to get from NJ Transit’s airport station to the airport’s terminals, so train service will also be suspended during the repair period. The repairs include fixes to the steel and epoxy running surface; the years of service have eroded 60 spots along the 6.3-mile system. Buses from airport terminals to Newark Penn Station will replace the monorail.

Read the complete story at:


Executive Director Says More Changes are Coming to NJT

Aside from announcing that Quiet Commute Cars will soon be offered on trains to and from Hoboken during mid-day hours on weekdays, New Jersey Transit Executive Director Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim said there are some other changes coming to the agency soon.

The NJT Board will meet twice during the evening this year: on Thursday, May 15th and again in September. The May meeting will begin at 6:00 pm and take place at NJT Headquarters in Newark (map). At last month’s Board meeting, Coalition Communications Director Donald Winship requested that NJT schedule some Board meetings during evening hours, and the Coalition supported his request. 

In addition, the Executive Director’s Reports from Board meetings will be available on NJT’s web site, www.njtransit.com, and the site will soon contain a library of documents about transit. Hakim also said that NJT will produce a fleet plan, detailing how the agency will use its equipment, and that she would meet with rider advocates on a quarterly basis. She met with representatives from the Lackawanna Coalition, the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) and NJT’s Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee (SCDRTAC) on March 14th, less than two weeks after she took over the job as Executive Director of NJT.

The Coalition has been advocating for more transparency and openness at NJT for several years.

A Hoboken Cure for the Midtown Woes

Does it seem like almost every other day that there is a delay on trains to New York? Based on data from NJ Transit’s e-mail alerts, there HAVE been delays, more often than every third day, reported to this rider, whose home station is Mount Tabor, on the M&E Line west of Morristown! In the 92 days from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, I received 49 delay alerts on 33 different days. The vast majority, 41 alerts on 27 days, affected Midtown Direct service. I believe this is due to the sheer number of trains going through the two Midtown tunnels. At least three times, the Midtown tunnels were so jammed that all Midtown trains on the M&E were redirected to Hoboken.

This begs the obvious question: why has NJ Transit been axing Hoboken service since 2006 when they reduced, and later eliminated, the Morris and Essex Line weekend Hoboken trains, and also cut 28 trains to and from Hoboken every weekday? Restoring Hoboken trains all the time would provide options not just for New York, but also for New Jersey via the Hudson Bergen Light Rail. Restoring Hoboken Express Service would allow travel to the 33rd Street PATH station just two blocks from New York Penn Station. This would be as fast as Midtown Direct, or faster when the Midtown Direct suffers one of its many delays. Hoboken also provides ferry options. Hoboken service would also reduce the load on overcrowded MidTown Direct trains. We already have the tracks and some trains to Hoboken. Let’s use them and get our money’s worth from these investments!



Quiet Cars Coming to Midday Hoboken Trains

In a move members of our organization have been calling for recently, NJ Transit has announced the expansion of its Quiet Commute program outside of rush hours according to a report from Mike Frassinelli. The trial program will begin with midday trains to and from Hoboken Terminal, on weekdays staring May 5. The quiet car will be the same position in the train as the existing rush-hour Hoboken trains — that is, the first car of trains to Hoboken and the last car of trains departing from there. NJT Executive Director Ronnie Hakim added that this program is a part of a new initiative called COR (“Civility, Order and Respect”). “”This seemed like the right time to undertake a bit of a public education campaign — a reminder, really — to people that we want to have a very calm, civil, respectful environment in our transit system,” she said. “It’s going to cover the gamut. Because I’ve been on the train when you hear young people using foul language, for an example, and it’s not pleasant and it’s not appropriate.” We at the Coalition look forward to seeing a reduction in loudness and rowdy behavior on trains, which has been far more common outside of peak hours.

Read Mike Frassinelli’s article here.

Originally published on previous Lackawanna Coalition siteon 9 April 2014 by author Donald Winship.

PATH May Miss Safety Target

Despite an ongoing weekend shutdown of World Trade Center service, PATH may miss its own safety program deadlines, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal by Ted Mann (March 21). The 45-weekend shutdown is needed, PATH said, to allow it to meet deadlines to install “positive train control” (PTC) technology by December, 2015. The advanced safety system was mandated by Congress for commuter railroads after a fatal train wreck in California in 2008, attributed to engineer inattention. Proponents say that wreck, and other accidents such as a recent fatal derailment on Metro-North in the Bronx, could have been prevented by PTC.

After announcing the shutdown, PATH conferred with the PTC contractor, Siemens Rail Automation, who informed PATH that the goal was optimistic and that PTC was likely to be ready for less than half of PATH’s system by the deadline. PATH said that they expected to find a way to meet the deadline anyway.  If PATH is able to complete the PTC installation on time, it would be one of the few commuter railroads in the US to meet the deadline. Meanwhile, PATH customers and local officials expressed anger at the lack of weekend service to downtown New York; service to 33 Street in midtown Manhattan continues, although there is no service at Exchange Place in Jersey City, which is on the World Trade Center line. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop characterized the service interruption’s impact as “tremendous; it has a real impact,” he said. For its part, PATH operator Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said it was looking at alternatives, including ferry service between Manhattan’s World Financial Center and Paulus Hook in Jersey City.

PA Lease Deal Fracas May Affect Fares

A controversial deal in which the Port Authority leased the North Bergen park-and-ride lot to NJ Transit for just one dollar a year may be coming undone, and it may have implications for NJ Transit fares, according to reporting in the Star-Ledger by Steve Strunsky (March 20). The deal is under scrutiny because of conflicts of interest allegations involving Port Authority Chairman David Samson, whose law firm had been retained by NJ Transit to help maximize revenue from park-and-ride lots. If the deal were evaluated according to the market value of the lot, NJ Transit might have to pay a lot more, monies that would have to be raised from NJT’s fare revenues. The plot thickened when NJT’s chief of real estate and development, Michael Francois, said that NJT might consider privatizing its park-and-ride lots, leasing them to private operators.  This raised eyebrows of Port Authority directors, who said the PA might be interested in a cut of any rental income NJT would derive from renting out a lot that the PA owns and was providing to NJT essentially for free.

M-N: Heavy Demand May Have Affected Safety

Responding to a Federal Railway Administration(FRA)  critique of the railroad’s “safety culture,” which the FRA characterized as “deficient,” Metro-North Railroad president Joseph J. Giulietti raised the possibility that the line’s attempt to cope with mushrooming ridership may have negatively impacted safety. Quoted in reporting by Matt Flegenheimer in the New York Times (March 15), Giulietti said of mushrooming demand, “That’s a fantastic problem to have . . . if you’re a well-run railroad.” He said that M-N would study whether the increasing ridership had caused it to neglect safety. The total number of weekday trains the railroad operates increased to 690 in 2013, a 15 percent increase over 2004. “At some point, this culture turned into one of, ‘How many trains can we get in there and how fast can those trains get in there,” Giulietti said.

Metro-North parent Metropolitan Transportation Authority said that more trains were not necessarily unsafe, but that an important factor is how the schedule is arranged to allow tracks to be taken out of service for maintenance.  FRA administrator Joseph Szabo also wondered whether the railroad was trying to run too many trains, and said that he was confident that M-N sister road Long Island Rail Road did not appear to have the “depth of challenges” found at Metro-North.  This may be due to LIRR ridership, which has actually declined somewhat in recent years. But it also could be that the “safety culture” on other lines, including LIRR and NJ Transit, really hasn’t been evaluated: the study by the FRA of Metro-North was an unprecedented review of a passenger railroad; the “code name” of the study, Operation Deep Dive, suggested that the FRA had conducted a more penetrating study than usual.

Read the complete story at:


NJT On-Time Performance Declines

Delays to NJ Transit trains are increasing, and commuters are not happy, according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (March 14). In all but one of the last 9 months, Frassinelli writes, NJT fared worse than in the previous year. February, in fact, was the worst month for train delays in 18 years, even worse than January’s experience, which was the worst month in 9 years. In February, just 87.4 percent of trains received an “on time” rating: but the standard used for determining whether a train is late allows arrival at the destination of six minutes later than the time printed in timetables, so trains can be behind schedule but not counted as “late.” 15,565 trains were operated in February, and 2088 were late. Trains on the Morris & Essex Lines and the North Jersey Coast Line seemed to fare the worst, with only 74.6 % of trains arriving within the 6-minute window. February was one of the worst months for weather-related events, which may explain why the overall performance was so bad.

Lackawanna Coalition member Tim Sevener has maintained a spreadsheet of travel alerts issued by NJT; he was quoted in the article. NJT issued 55 alerts in January and February, with delays ranging from 10 minutes to an hour. The weather also caused delays when Amtrak had to close one of the Hudson River tunnels at a time to do “ice patrol” maintenance in the cold weather. Newly arrived NJT Executive Director Ronnie Hakim blamed aging infrastructure: “The rail system is as good as its infrastructure. It’s old. It needs maintenance,” she said. Social media today allow computers to do more than sit in frustration. Commuter David Speedie was able to send a dispatch from his delayed train: “As I write I am just outside Secaucus on an indefinitely delayed Montclair Direct, already almost 30 minutes late, with the excuse du jour (Overhead wires? Signal problems? Switch problem? Take your pick.) I have been in Third World countries with better transport systems.”