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.
Federal law requires commuter rail operators to implement an advanced safety technology, Positive Train Control (PTC), by 2015. However, many operating agencies protest that the new technology is expensive, untested, and cannot easily be obtained. The presidents of the two railroads operated by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro North Railroad (M-N) and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), have protested that they may be unable to meet the deadline. Howard Permut and Helena Williams, presidents of M-N and LIRR respectively, note that they “make operating a safe and reliable system . . . our absolute priority” and that the lines have already invested over $1 billion on a signaling system “providing a level of security greater than that of many rail systems today.” In addition, they say, in a joint letter to The New York Times (May 5), to install PTC requires retrofitting 1200 miles of track and more than 1000 rail cars and that much of the technology needed is not yet even developed, let alone approved or in production. In a follow-up letter to The Times (May 8), the CEOs of the American Public Transportation Association and of the Association of American Railroads emphasized that the railroads do not seek to delay implementing the new technology because of the costs involved; instead, they wrote, the technology simply won’t be ready in time for the 2015 deadline.
We do not have information on PTC compliance at NJ Transit; however, NJT is known to have already implemented highly advanced “civil speed enforcement” technology on many lines, and this technology may provide most or all of the features required in the new law.
Having a nightcap on the way home has been a commuter tradition for many years. Years ago, there were bar cars on some evening rush-hour trains and, in the New York area, Metro-North Railroad still has them on some New Haven Line trains. Elsewhere, including on NJ Transit, weary homebound commuters buy drinks before boarding and enjoy them en route. However, sometimes the consumption of alcohol, both before boarding and on trains, has led to rowdiness and even violence. On some lines, apparently, this comes to a peak on weekend late-night trains as revelers continue their celebration once aboard.
On the Long Island Rail Road, two recent attacks on train conductors have led the railroad to institute a trial policy curbing alcohol on certain late-night trains. Christine Haughney, writing in the New York Times (April 24; contributions also from Randy Leonard), reports that, effective May 14, riders will be prohibited from bringing alcoholic drinks onto LIRR trains leaving Pennsylvania Station on Friday and Saturday nights between midnight and 5 a.m. Various riders and advocates were quoted to the effect that riders generally have a low tolerance for rowdiness on the trains. The ban will not affect trains at other hours, including the LIRR’s popular service to the East End of Long Island for weekend getaways.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that all riders, and transit employees as well, are entitled to a safe and comfortable environment for their journey.