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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NJ Transit Plans to Proceed with Gas Plant Despite Gov. Murphy Request

This article was written for the Lackawanna Coalition by Ken Dolsky of the Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition, which has been leading the effort to ensure that any new NJ Transit projects use clean, renewable energy as much as possible, in compliance with our state’s new environmental-justice legislation.  The views expressed are specifically those of the DGTM Coalition; the Lackawanna Coalition is in alliance with their goals.

NJ TRANSIT plans to build its own power plant in Kearny in order to power selected trains when it loses commercial power, as happened for several days after Hurricane Sandy.  NJT has $512M in grant money to build this system.  Its original plan was to build a 140MW gas plant.  However, in 2020 Governor Murphy directed NJT to redesign the project primarily using renewable energy.  NJT spent 2020 “reimagining” the framework for the project and issued an RFP at the end of 2021, which was expected to follow the Governor’s direction.  Instead, NJT’s RFP is only requesting a gas plant and appears to have never intended to follow the Governor’s directions.

The RFP requests proposals that utilize fossil fuels now along with an undefined transition to be “carbon neutral” by 2050.  The RFP is completely silent as to when this transition would occur or even start.  Even assuming this is to be a transition to clean renewable energy, this approach will allow the plant to burn gas for many years.

Unlike its specific design of a gas-based solution, the RFP left the design and specifics of a solar/storage solution completely up to the bidders.  It provides no design, no specs, no land, no support for acquiring land and no support for leasing terms and conditions for solar, yet claims to be unbiased.  Clearly, NJT stacked the deck in favor of gas.

NJT is not even asking for an initial plan to use renewable energy, as it is likely afraid the renewable energy proposals will be more cost effective than the gas plant.  If NJT thinks that solar/storage won’t be viable for its immediate needs, why not solicit full solution bids and be able to prove its premise?  The Don’t Gas the Meadowlands (DGTM) Coalition has worked with solar experts and evaluated space for solar near the project and concluded that solar is completely feasible now and will very likely have better long-term financial benefits over a gas plant.  All of this information was provided to NJT during 2019 and 2020.

NJT is also hiding behind the Energy Master Plan target date of 2050 to fulfill its commitment to using renewable energy.  No NJT document or statement prior to the RFP ever said this could wait until 2050.

NJT’s gas plant will increase NJ GHG emissions by 600,000 million metric tons (MMT) per year, so transitioning to truly renewable energy will only reduce the increase in emissions this plant will have caused.  This will do nothing to reduce GHGs by 80% by 2050 as described in the EMP.

There is no reference in the RFP of the need to comply with NJ’s Environmental Justice (EJ) law.  Building what would be the 5th fossil fuel power plant in one of the most polluted communities in the country flies in the face of New Jersey’s landmark EJ legislation, S232, which was passed to protect vulnerable residents from facilities such as this.

NJT is spending its one time grant on the wrong technology that will produce the worst results in terms of air quality/health, climate change and financial benefits for NJT. They are purchasing a dead end technology that will decrease in value vs. a technology that will increase in value.

The DGTM Coalition is asking NJT for a clear and compelling explanation for excluding a renewable energy proposal, including an analysis that will allow NJT to compare the long-term financial benefits and costs of owning a gas plant versus owning a renewable energy plant.  Assuming no receipt of such an explanation, we are demanding that the RFP require bids on renewable-energy solutions that can be implemented now in order to provide this comparison.  At the same time we are asking Governor Murphy to reiterate his 2020 demand for a solution that will maximize the use of renewable energy.

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.

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with Academy Is a Huge Break from Tradition

Live! In Person! The April NJT Board Meeting!

We are pleased to note that the April board meeting will be held live on Wednesday morning, April 13th, at 9 a.m., at NJ Transit headquarters in Newark—for the first time in more than 2 years. Since March 2020, all meetings have been by phone—and without even live-streamed presentations of the A number of people requested that the call-in option be maintained. Commissioner Gutierrez-Scaccetti stated that in fact the call-in option will be continued, as it has proven quite popular, opening up participation to many who found travel difficult for various reasons. We hope that members of the public who make the effort to attend in person will have their full 5 minutes to be heard. In any case, it will be good to chat in person and to once again have the new board room used to its full capacity, presentations and all!

April Brings a Full NJ Transit Board:
James Adams Cancelled

When in-person board meetings resume in April, there will be a full 13 members present (or at least 10: 3 individuals are nominated, not directly appointed, and need Senate confirmation). Missing from the dais will be current board member James Adams, who was not reappointed. The reason given is the end of his term (Dec. 31, 2020), but we are skeptical. Flora Castillo voted No twice in 2016, and she was not renewed. At the time we wondered if her Nos were a factor—Mr. Adams’ removal after multiple No votes seems to indicate that, indeed, dissent is not tolerated.

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James Adams Cancelled

NJ Transit to the Hicks Tract in Millington

One of the few parks in Morris County that is accessible by public transportation is the Hicks Tract in Millington, which is less than half a mile from the Millington station on the Gladstone Branch of NJ Transit. It’s a rather small park, and hardly worth the long train trip to get there — if hiking is the only purpose of the trip. But if you view the trip as a day-long excursion, in which the train ride and the hike have equal significance, it becomes a great opportunity to spend a day riding trains and taking a hike.

Today (Wednesday, March 16) was an ideal day for taking this excursion. It was a beautiful, warm day — perfect for hiking — but it also was the second day in which a special schedule was in effect for the Morristown Line and Gladstone Branch, following significant storm damage last week, which resulted in a week-long suspension of service on both lines. Under this special schedule, all Gladstone Branch trains terminated in Summit, with the result that I would have the opportunity to take three separate trains each way! (As it turned out, this special schedule would be in effect for only two days, with close-to-normal service resuming on Thursday.)

I began the trip by driving to the New Bridge Landing station on the Pascack Valley Line, where I boarded Train #1625, scheduled to depart at 10:24 a.m. This train is unique, as it is the only train that originates at the New Bridge Landing station. The trainset arrives as Train #1651 at 10:01 a.m. and remains in the station for the next 23 minutes, with passengers welcome to board whenever they arrive.

We departed on time at 10:24 a.m. but lost three minutes waiting on the siding for northbound Train #1607. We lost another four minutes due to restrictive signals between Wood-Ridge and Secaucus, and we arrived at the Secaucus Junction station at 10:56 a.m., seven minutes late. This was a problem, as I was hoping to connect with Morristown Line Train #6621, scheduled to depart Secaucus at 10:56 a.m. It takes at least two minutes to get from lower level tracks at Secaucus to upper level tracks via the rotunda, and if my connecting train had departed on time, I would have missed it. But there is always the chance that the train might be a few minutes late.

I quickly made my way up to the rotunda, where I noticed that Train #6621 was still displayed on the Solari board — a hopeful sign that the train had not yet departed. I then went through the fare gates and down the escalator, and just as I reached the platform at 10:58 a.m., my train was pulling into the station on Track B. I had lucked out! Train #6621 was pulled by dual-mode engine 4533 and consisted of six multi-level cars. I found an unoccupied four-seat group and sat down for my ride to Summit. Interestingly, although we were several minutes late and hardly anyone boarded or detrained at Secaucus, we spent two minutes at the station. Possibly, this time was used to lower the pantograph on the dual-mode engine.

West of Newark, we used the center express track. This was because there was track equipment on the westbound local track in the area of the damaged catenary between South Orange and Maplewood. There are platforms for the express track at Brick Church, South Orange and Maplewood, but for the stop at Orange, passengers had to detrain across the westbound track, and only the first two cars of the train opened at this stop.

We arrived on Track 1 in Summit at 11:38 a.m., four minutes late. The eastbound train to Hoboken, scheduled to depart at 11:42 a.m., was boarding passengers on Track 2, and my shuttle train to Gladstone would be departing from the Wall Track. I walked upstairs to the waiting room on the bridge over the tracks and then went down to the platform serving the Wall Track, where I boarded Gladstone Branch Train #415. The train consisted of three Arrow III cars, of which only the middle car was open to passengers (the first car served as a “hangout” for the four crew members who were on board). Sixteen people boarded the train, and we departed on time at 11:47 a.m. When we arrived at the Stirling station, we took the siding and stopped to detrain the one passenger who got off here. We then moved ahead before the opposing train proceeded into the station.

We arrived at the Millington station at 12:09 p.m., two minutes late. Three passengers detrained and one boarded. I walked up Long Hill Road and then over to the Hicks Tract, where I spent close to an hour hiking around this small but delightful park. I then returned to the station, where I arrived about 1:45 p.m., leaving me with about 20 minutes to wait for my eastbound Train #426. The Millington station is now the location of a café, and there are very nice round tables between the station building and the tracks, which are available both to patrons of the café and to people waiting for trains. This proved to be a very delightful place to wait for my train. While waiting for the train, I asked an employee of the café whether commuters accounted for a significant percentage of the café’s customers. She replied that that used to be the case prior to the pandemic, but that few commuters now patronize the café, although many local residents still do.

Train #426, also a three-car set of Arrow III equipment, arrived four minutes late at 2:06 p.m. The conductor greeted me and jokingly told me that he had reserved a seat for me. In fact, I was the first passenger to board this train since it departed from the Gladstone station. The middle car of the train, where I sat, was entirely empty, and the conductor assured me that no passengers had boarded between Gladstone and Millington. Passengers did board the train at each of the stops between Millington and Summit (except for Gillette), and by the time we arrived at Summit, there were nine passengers onboard. When we pulled into the Stirling station, a man wanted to board the train but didn’t have a mask. The conductor told him to sit in the back of the car, away from everyone else, and let him board.

We arrived on the Wall Track at Summit at 2:25 p.m. My train to Hoboken was not scheduled to depart until 2:45 p.m., so this gave me some time to explore the station. Summit features an historic brick station, built by the Lackawanna Railroad in 1905, but the station building has been completely reconfigured, and the waiting room moved to the bridge that spans the tracks. I walked upstairs to the waiting room, where I noticed that the departures board indicated that both the 2:45 p.m. train to Hoboken and the 2:47 p.m. train to Gladstone would be departing from the Wall Track. This didn’t make any sense, as it’s not feasible for two trains heading in opposite directions to depart from the same track only two minutes apart. I looked around the waiting room and noticed that there was a sign stating that the maximum occupancy of this area is 700 people. I cannot imagine trying to get even half that number of people into this relatively small space!

I went back down to the platform, where the crew of the Gladstone train told me that notwithstanding what the electronic message board said, my Hoboken train would be departing from Track 2. That is indeed what happened. At about 2:45 p.m., westbound Midtown Direct Train #6631 pulled into the station on Track 2. When that train moved on, the equipment set that had been parked beyond the station on Track 1 (that was the consist of Hoboken-Summit Train #321 that had arrived at Summit on Track 1 at 2:30 p.m.) moved onto Track 2, and a verbal announcement was made that Train #326 to Hoboken would be departing from Track 2. Train #326 was pulled by a dual-mode engine and consisted of seven Comet cars, of which three were open to passengers.

My train departed Summit at 2:51 p.m., six minutes late. We lost another three minutes between East Orange and Newark. As we approached Newark, we switched onto the center track and passed a train that was apparently stopped on the eastbound local track. That was presumably Montclair-Boonton Line Train #6242 that was scheduled to arrive at Newark at 3:18 p.m. but was being held so that our train could stop at Newark ahead of it. Interestingly, we pulled into the Newark station on Track 1, which is normally used for westbound trains.

When we arrived on Track 14 of the Hoboken Terminal at 3:40 p.m., nine minutes late, I detrained and walked over to Track 5, where my Pascack Valley Line Train #1623 was boarding. The train consisted of four Comet V cars, all of which were open to passengers, and I took a seat in the front car. Relatively few people boarded the train in Hoboken, but when we departed the Secaucus station, nearly every seat group in my car was occupied by at least one person. This amounts to about 50% occupancy on this shoulder rush-hour train, which indicates that rush-hour ridership is beginning to rebound somewhat. Our ride was uneventful, and we arrived at the New Bridge Landing station one minute late at 4:36 p.m., thus concluding a very enjoyable day of train riding and hiking.

A Trip to the Symphony: State Theatre

Today, March 13th, I had a ticket for a 3:00 p.m. performance by the New Jersey Symphony at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, and I decided to go by train. I drove to the New Bridge Landing station, where I boarded Pascack Valley Line Train #2112, which departed at 12:45 p.m. and arrived at Secaucus at 1:12 p.m., giving me plenty of time to transfer to Northeast Corridor Train #7845, scheduled to depart at 1:23 p.m. The train operated a few minutes late, and we arrived at the New Brunswick station at 2:17 p.m., six minutes late. That was fine, as it takes about 10 minutes to walk to the State Theater, which didn’t open to the public until 2:30 p.m.

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