“Midtown Direct” at 25: A Remembrance

On Monday morning, June 10, 1996, trains on the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line rolled directly into New York’s Penn Station for the first time, and travel on the line changed forever. No longer would it be necessary to go to Hoboken and take a PATH train or a bus to get to Manhattan. Although some riders still go to Hoboken and some now take a ferry to the Financial District, many more take the M&E straight to Penn Station. It was the Kearny Connection, which links the M&E and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) at Swift Interlocking in the Meadowlands that made the new “Midtown Direct” route possible.

Continue Reading “Midtown Direct” at 25: A Remembrance

NJT Plans Track Improvements at Summit

On NJ Transit’s Morris & Essex lines, the busiest stations are Newark Broad Street and Summit; both have 3 station tracks and 2 platforms, and when several trains arrive at once, a traffic jam can ensue, particularly if 1 or more trains are running behind schedule.  Summit can be particularly bothersome, as some trains “turn back” to New York or Hoboken, so they must have some place to wait until it’s time to depart on their return trip.  However, there is no convenient place for these trains to wait, so they sit out on the main line; schedules are carefully constructed to allow for this, but if trains get behind schedule the whole house of cards can begin to collapse, as a waiting train then blocks through trains trying to find their way past Summit.

Compounding the problem is the set of “crossovers” at Summit, which allow trains to change tracks.  These have sharp curves and require low speeds, which makes everything take that much longer; even when there are no problems, riders will notice how slowly trains move through this trackwork, particularly to or from the Gladstone Branch, which begins at Summit.  Now NJT is planning to do something about the situation. According to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (May 9), NJT plans to construct a new siding or “pocket track” with a capacity for 12-car trains; this will allow trains reversing direction to be parked without blocking through trains.  The improvement should allow more flexible scheduling of the entire M&E system.  On May 8, the NJT Board approved a $2 million contract for engineering design work for the project; the contract went to Jacobs Engineering Group of Morristown.  The new siding is scheduled to be ready by 2017.  Unconfirmed reports suggested that the slow-speed crossover problem may be corrected as part of the same project.

 

 

LATEST: Near-Full Service March 24

New timetables effective March 24 for all NJ Transit heavy-rail services restored most service that was still reduced after Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.  Some trains are still missing, notably 3 daily round trips between Bay Head and Hoboken on the North Jersey Coast Line and some runs to Waldwick on the Main/Bergen lines.  On the Morris & Essex Lines, a number of Gladstone and Dover trains to and from Hoboken have not resumed.  (Schedules were reissued on June 2; some changes may have been made, but we have not yet analyzed the new schedules.)  Weekend service on all lines is back to normal, with the exception of an early-morning round trip between Dover and Hoboken on the M&E.

The resumption of service was made possible by restoration of electric traction power into the Hoboken terminal; damage to a substation had restricted Hoboken to diesel-powered trains since the storm.  Most customers will find their pre-Sandy service restored, although there are notable exceptions because of the still-missing trains.  North Jersey Coast Line riders from beyond Long Branch will continue to find fewer trains and longer gaps.  On the M&E, the lack of an early-morning weekend train from Hoboken will affect commuters to jobs from the New York area; and there remain unacceptable gaps in service on the Gladstone Branch, including no outbound trains (beyond Murray Hill) between 2:40 and 4:27 p.m. on weekdays.  Returning, the 8:50 p.m. departure from Gladstone for Hoboken is also missing; since the preceding train does not take passengers at Gladstone, there is an astounding gap at Gladstone station (only) of nearly 5 hours, roughly from 5 to 10 p.m.

PATH resumed full normal service on March 1; this restores service to World Trade Center and Exchange Place on weekends.  Since all lines were operating on weekdays, full service has been restored.

NYC Transit resumed through train service to the Rockaways (A Train) on May 30, after an absence of 7 months since Hurricane Sandy.  However, they also announced a plan for an extensive closing of the Montague Street Tunnel (R Train) to complete repairs and strengthen defenses against future flooding.

NJ Transit reopened the Hoboken terminal building late on Monday, January 28.  The building had been closed for some time after contamination due to the Hurricane Sandy flooding was discovered.  Karen Rouse of The Record of Bergen County reported on Friday evening (Jan. 25) that Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) pressured NJT to provide temporary shelter, toilets, and running water for customers within 3 business days, or he would call a legislative hearing.  The report was formerly to be found at http://www.northjersey.com/news/NJ_Transit_to_reopen_Hoboken_Terminal_on_Tuesday.htmlNJT announced Tuesday’s re-opening at 5:34 on Friday afternoon, according to Rouse.

The waiting room bears little resemblance to the pre-Sandy facilities, as much of the room is still walled off, the rest rooms are closed, and a limited amount of plastic seating is provided. For restrooms, use the train parked on Track 8 for that purpose, which is also warm and comfortable.

Dual-Power Locomotives Run into Penn Station

New Jersey Transit’s ALP-45DP dual-power locomotives ran into Penn Station for the first time last weekend.  Because of maintenance on the wires that supply electric power to trains on the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line, the power was turned off between Maplewood and Morris Plains on Saturday and for some of the service day on Sunday.
Although Amtrak has expressed concern about allowing the units into Penn Station, the weekend service seemed to go smoothly, although with some delays.  The locomotives, made by Bombardier, cost approximately $7.9 million each; roughly 3 times the cost of a conventional diesel unit.  The use of these units to bring revenue trains into Penn Station could reopen the push by the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition and other advocates for a one-seat ride to New York City on nonelectrified lines such as the Raritan Valley Line or the southern part of the North Jersey Coast Line.

No Wheels Means No Trains

Why do NJ Transit rail services remain substantially reduced nearly 4 months after Hurricane Sandy?  A shortage of wheels for rail rolling stock is a major factor, according to NJT Executive Director Jim Weinstein, reported by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (Feb. 14).  According to operations manager Kevin O’Connor, “There’s only so many people producing wheels.  We need wheels for every single vehicle that was damaged, as well as bearings for the locomotives that were damaged.  Wheels is a big, big, tough issue.” Many cars and locomotives were damaged when two major storage yards were flooded, in Hoboken and in Kearny.  Low-slung “multilevel” passenger cars, the railroad’s newest equipment, were turned into “aquariums” by the saltwater flood.

NJT officials have taken fire for the decision to move the cars into the low-lying yards, relying on forecasts that the yards had never flooded and wouldn’t this time; other forecasts accurately predicted the flood that did indeed materialize.  In the event, 70 locomotives and 272 train cars were reported damaged, and an electrical substation supplying train power to the Hoboken area was also taken out by the storm.  Electric-powered trains have not yet been able to operate into Hoboken, a restriction that has crippled service on the Morris & Essex lines, particularly the Gladstone Branch, where most of the regularly-scheduled trains operate by electricity into Hoboken.  Lackawanna Coalition chair David Peter Alan commented that the Gladstone has “the worst service outside of peak commuting hours since 1984”, citing gaps between trains of 2, 3, and even 4 hours.  Alan called the situation on the Gladstone “absolutely unacceptable”.  The Hoboken situation will improve with installation of a temporary substation in March, but Weinstein hedged his bets, saying that delays in getting wheels and other parts for the rolling stock might further push back a full restoration of service, saying full restoration might take “the better part of the year”.  Meanwhile, to avoid future flooding damage, the railroad is investigating the possibility of developing new storage yards in Linden and New Brunswick on unused property.

M&E, Montclair Restored after Storm

 Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton lines are scheduled to restore service at noon, Saturday, Feb. 9; service had been suspended at 8 p.m. on Friday during  the snowstorm.  NJT attributed this action to the vulnerability of those lines to tree damage, citing the experience of Superstorm Sandy in October (which has resulted in continuing reduction of service on those lines).  It had originally been announced that service would remain suspended through Saturday.

 NJT’s action appears to conflict with weather forecasts that, at the time of the announcement, were actually becoming less severe; once the storm began to abate on Saturday morning, total snowfall reports did not exceed 12″ in the M&E territory, although wind gusts remained a threat on Saturday, especially with tree limbs already weighted with snow.  In general, however, the experience in the M&E territory was no more severe than elsewhere on the NJT system, which remained in operation.  Bus services north of Interstate 195 (that is, all of north Jersey) were also suspended at 8 p.m. on Friday, and restored at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

The short suspension may be attributed to an overabundance of caution, but the selection of the M&E and Boonton lines for suspension suggests that NJT may not have enough equipment to keep all lines running during an emergency.  Weather forecasts were equally severe or even worse for other lines, which were not suspended.  The NJT press release announcing the suspension noted a lack of “system redundancies”, which supports the notion that the system is stretched thin after Hurricane Sandy, and that the suspension of the M&E and Boonton lines was a question of priority-setting rather than prompted by unusual risk to those lines.

NJT Posts New Rail Schedules without Notice

New Jersey Transit has just posted new schedules for all rail lines to their web site, as service takes another step toward returning to pre-Sandy levels.  The new weekday schedules take effect this Monday.  There are improvements on the Morris & Essex, Montclair-Boonton, and Gladstone lines, although there are still some serious gaps in service, and the level of weekday service to Gladstone is still far below pre-Sandy levels.
While we compliment NJT on increasing the number of trains, we remain concerned that NJT has refused to discuss any potential schedule changes with us, as the representative of our riders and our communities.  We are also concerned that the new schedules were posted on the business day before they are slated to take effect.

Gladstone Service Coming Back, but at a Reduced Level

Morris County Service Also Cut

The Lackawanna Coalition has obtained a draft schedule for the Morris & Essex Line and Gladstone Branch, which is slated to take effect on Monday, December 3rd.  The good news is that Gladstone Branch service will return for the first time since Superstorm Sandy disrupted service late in October.  The bad news is that service will be reduced from previous levels, particularly midday service, which will run only every 2 hours.  Previous off-peak service ran hourly.
In addition, early-morning trains west of Summit toward Dover and Hackettstown will be eliminated.  The first morning train west of Summit is scheduled to arrive in Morristown until 8:14 and Dover until 8:35.
These are weekday schedules; if there are any changes in weekend service, they have not been announced yet.  The Lackawanna Coalition hopes this schedule will be temporary and that the M&E and Gladstone Lines will have their former levels of service restored soon.

Study Highlights Transit-Oriented Development

Once upon a time, trolley lines built amusement parks at the end of their lines to encourage ridership.  The modern-day equivalent may be the “Transit Village”: development at transit hubs, where transit users can live, work, or shop just steps from their train or bus.  A report due out on September 24 by New Jersey Future assesses development opportunities at New Jersey transit hubs, according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Ledger (September 22).

Recently, NJ Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson attended a ceremony to name an old railroad town (Dunellen in Middlesex County, on NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line) the state’s 26th Transit Village, a community built around a transit hub.  The forthcoming report from New Jersey Future has been 3-1/2 years in progress under the group’s research director, Tim Evans.  Some interesting statistics dot the report:

  • the highest population densities in the state can be found in Hoboken near Hoboken Terminal and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail;
  • several Newark Light Rail stations are in areas where less than 1/3 of households have a vehicle;
  • stations with the highest home values include Millburn, Summit, and Peapack on the Morris & Essex Lines; and, unbelievably to some motorists,
  • there are NJT Rail stations where less than 1/3 of parking spaces are typically occupied (Point Pleasant Beach on the North Jersey Coast; Cinnaminson and Florence on the River Line Light Rail).

An example of a burgeoning Transit Village is Morristown on the M&E, with the newly-constructed Highlands at Morristown Station apartment building development.

NJT Changes Weekend Bike Rules Again

New Jersey Transit has changed the rules for bicycles on weekend trains again.  The ban on bikes applies only between Secaucus and Penn Station, New York, so riders can take a bike on the train between points within New Jersey.  Riders cannot take bicycles to Penn Station on trains that leave Dover after 7:05 a.m. and before 11:05 a.m.  In the afternoon and evening, the 4:11 from Penn Station is the last train until 8:11 that can take bikes.
The newly-relaxed rule does not provide much help to riders on the Morris & Essex Line.  PATH allows bikes at all times on weekends, but the only connection between the M&E and PATH is at Hoboken, which is served by Montclair trains, which only run every 2 hours.  It is not practical for riders to use the train between Hoboken and Secaucus, because the waiting time between trains at Secaucus is at least 45 minutes.
The Lackawanna Coalition has called for hourly service between Montclair and Hoboken, to provide a Hoboken connection for all M&E trains on weekends.