On the Rails with the Coalition

On Friday, May 20, folks from the Lackawanna Coalition teamed up with some folks from the Senior Citizens and Disabled Residents Transportation Advisory Committee (SCDRTAC) on an inspection trip on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton lines. We left from Newark Broad Street on the 2:16 P.M. Montclair-Boonton train and stopped in Dover for dinner at Ohh Que Rica, an informal Colombian restaurant a short walk from the station. A few of us turned back there, having early-evening appointments, while the rest went on to Hackettstown. There we had a half-hour layover; a few of us stayed at the station or on the train: others braved the oncoming rain to head downtown for a quick beer.

We returned on the Morris & Essex line, some of us peeling off at stops along the way, others going as far as Secaucus, where adventures ensued.

Our travelers included disabled riders: one person is blind, one uses a scooter. Arriving in Secaucus, despite crew having assured us that they would get a bridge plate to our car, our scooter user jumped the (small) gap on his own—it was taking a while, and as he said, “I didn’t want to go to New York.” As he powered forward, we looked for crew members, and we did see them coming with bridge plates from both directions— should have trusted them!

Next was a transfer to a southbound North Jersey Coast Line train to Newark Penn Station, then to a Northeast Corridor train to Hamilton Station and buses home (or, as it turned out, to a car ride to their homes). The train was expected on Track B, so I ensured that folks got there (up, across, and down, a bit more complicated needing an elevator, but doable, and we had time—though signage could have been clearer: the elevator is at the far end of the platform, facing the direction in which the train moves—one is almost ready to give up before looking around that last wall).

As I was upstairs grabbing a snack, I heard an announcement that the train scheduled for Track B instead was to arrive on Track 2—ACK! It was only a minute or so from arrival, so I hot-footed it to Track B to find my colleagues already gone. The NJ Transit employee at the gates said that they had indeed made it, so I relaxed, and headed for the Pascack Valley line.

Arriving home much later, I found an e-mail detailing the further adventures: the 3 did get to the elevator, though signage was bad and it took a while, then made it to Track 2—but they had missed the planned connection! NJ Transit policy, we heard when reporting this to SCDRTAC, is to wait for folks who had been waiting on the original platform to make it to the new one—a practice missed that evening, leading to them catching a later NEC train, avoiding the Newark transfer but at the expense of arriving in Hamilton too late for any of the bus connections.

The final verdict? A good time was had by all; NJ Transit employees along the way were helpful, courteous, and friendly; NJ Transit policies are better on paper than in reality; and South Jersey residents hoping to get home in time to make connections have to leave really, really early!

We did document some station observations on the Lackawanna Coalition’s station-inspection report form, now in beta testing on our website—watch this space for info about its prime-time debut!

MEET A MEMBER: LC Secretary Daniel Chazin

How I Became Interested in Trains & Rail Transit

It was the passenger service operated on the New York & Long Branch Railroad that was largely responsible for my interest in trains and rail transit.

I grew up in Teaneck, where I still live. I was born in 1951, and passenger service on the West Shore Railroad, which provided service to Teaneck, wasn’t abandoned until 1959. But my father, who then worked in Jersey City, rarely (if ever) rode the West Shore trains, and I have no recollection of ever riding (or even watching) passenger trains on this line.

Continue Reading MEET A MEMBER: LC Secretary Daniel Chazin

Weekend Trains Return to the Gladstone Branch

After an absence of 2 years and 8 months, weekend train service returned to the Gladstone Branch on June 6. Trains run hourly as shuttles between Gladstone and Summit, connecting there with Morris & Essex Line trains between Dover and New York Penn Station. For Hoboken or Montclair passengers, there is a train connecting at Broad Street Station in Newark approximately every other hour. The schedule is similar to the one in effect until October 2018, when substitute bus operation began. Running time is 44 minutes eastbound and 54 minutes westbound, compared with 57 minutes eastbound and 62 minutes westbound for the bus operation.

Continue Reading Weekend Trains Return to the Gladstone Branch

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.

Talking Crossing Gates to be Tested

After 3 teenagers were killed by trains in 2 incidents on successive days in October 2011, NJ Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson convened a task force of experts to find ways to improve grade-crossing safety. (Two of the youths died not at a grade crossing, but while trespassing on a railroad trestle, on a line that sees no scheduled train traffic on the Sunday of the tragedy.) The death of 13-year-old Michael Cabaj involved a too-often-repeated scenario: on a double track rail line, one train passes and pedestrians attempt to cross, unaware of an approaching train on the second track, this time at the Outwater Lane crossing in Garfield.  Now, that crossing will receive an experimental system, according to Mike Frassinelli’s article in the Star-Ledger (Sept. 22): when a second train is coming, a talking sign will shout an audible warning: “Danger! Another train coming!” Other improvements include “skirts” below crossing gates to discourage pedestrians from ducking under the gates: these are being tried at the Aberdeen-Matawan station on the North Jersey Coast line.

NJT Relaxes Some Weekend Bicycle Restrictions, but It’s Little Help on Our Lines

New Jersey Transit announced on Monday, August 6th, that it would relax some of the weekend restrictions against the use of bicycles on trains, beginning on Saturday, August 11th.  The restrictions that went into effect in July prohibited bicycles on all inbound trains that would arrive at their terminals in Newark, Hoboken, or New York between 9:00 and 12:00 in the morning, and leaving those terminals between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m.  The regulation does not apply to trains going in the opposite direction, which would carry New York-based cyclists to New Jersey.
NJT announced that the weekend restriction would no longer apply to trains that terminate in Hoboken, or Raritan Valley Line trains that terminate at Newark.  The restrictions on weekend bicycle use on the Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast, and Morris & Essex (M&E) lines remain in full force and effect.
Cyclists on the M&E line must take the 7:05 train from Dover, or an earlier train, to reach their destination before the restricted period begins.  They must also leave Penn Station on the 4:11 train, or wait until 8:11; a gap of 4 hours.  Although trains on the Gladstone Branch may now carry bicycles, Gladstone trains terminate at Summit on weekends.  Cyclists cannot use M&E trains east of Summit during the restricted hours, so they are subject to the same restrictions as M&E riders.
The only improvement for riders on our rail lines is that cyclists getting on trains at Bay St. (Montclair), Glen Ridge, Bloomfield, or Watsessing Avenue can now use 2 trains to Hoboken and 1 train from Hoboken that they could not have used before.