For some time, Coalition Secretary Daniel Chazin has been reporting on confused passengers on the 12:45 Pascack Valley train to Spring Valley. Because a 12:49 Bergen line train to Middletown is scheduled on Track H at 12:49, only 4 minutes later, the automatic announcement that a “train is expected in 8 minutes” can cause inexperienced passengers, or those rushing to board one of the trains, to mistake the Pascack Valley train, arriving first, for the Middletown train right behind it.
Metro-North Railroad has announced fare increases effective March 1 on all its lines, including the lines in New York State operated by NJ Transit. However, it turns out, riders from some NJT stations in New Jersey on the Main-Bergen and Pascack Valley Lines will also suffer increases. Why? It turns out that when NJT had its most recent fare increase, 25% across-the-board—except for off-peak round-trip riders who suffered an incredible 47% increase—Metro-North stations at the far end of those lines did not increase their fares, which are controlled by M-N, not NJT. If all NJT fares had been increased uniformly, this would have led to an anomalous situation in which fares to the last NJT station, for example Suffern, would have been higher than fares to Metro-North stations beyond. Therefore, the fares to NJT points were capped at the M-N rates or below. This meant that, since the M-N fare from Sloatsburg and Tuxedo is $9.50 one way to Hoboken, so is the fare from NJT stations at Allendale, Ramsey, Mahwah, and Suffern. Suffern is in NJT fare zone 14: a typical fare to Hoboken from zone 14 is $10.25. Now that M-N is increasing its fares, the cap on the NJT fares will also rise. The increase will be most significant at the farthest-out NJT stations, Suffern and Montvale, where the increases could be as much as 9%. (Some media reports have said that senior/disable fares will not be affected, but the Metro-North website says that they will.) As yet there is no information about off-peak round-trip fares, which have been offered to Metro-North points (including Suffern) at a substantial savings; for example, the current full fare from Suffern to Hoboken is $9.50 each way, but an ORT ticket is only $14.25, a 25% discount off of 2 one-ways. These are the fares that NJT eliminated in their last fare increase, but Metro-North was more forgiving.
Aging infrastructure, and the lack of cash to fix it, particularly on the Northeast Corridor, are cited as a main cause of service delays on NJ Transit, according to reporting by Karen Rouse and Dave Sheingold of The Record (reported in the Star-Ledger, August 8). An NEC commuter is quoted as saying that conductors frequently blame signal problems, and Amtrak (which owns and maintains the Northeast Corridor track) as the cause of delays.
The Record (newspaper) analyzed operating records from 2002 to 2012 in the study, which showed that the NEC had the worst on-time performance, 91.7%. In contrast, the Main/Bergen and Pascack Valley Lines, which do not connect physically with the Northeast Corridor, posted the best performance: about 97.5% for both. Morning rush hour is the worst time to ride the trains, with 1 in 12 delayed; the evening is better, with 1 in 18, and off-peak best of all, with 1 in 24 delayed. The study noted the difference between operating and capital funding: NJT sends Amtrak about $70 million a year for operating costs, but its contribution to capital projects remains stuck near 1996 levels: $55 million was spent in the past year; $50 million in 1996. Amtrak notes that there has not been significant funding increases from Congress since 1976.
Also, while track and signal problems are a significant cause of delays, bad rolling stuck (locomotives and rail cars) are actually the leading cause of delays. Dispatching delays, when Amtrak and NJT trains compete for scarce track space, also are significant. Key infrastructure components at risk include the power system that supplies the signals, and the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, over which all NJT trains to Manhattan must pass; the bridge is 100 years old, dating from the original Penn Station, and Portal failures accounted for roughly 75 NJT train delays last year. Additional delays occur when the bridge must be opened for marine traffic, and trains must travel at reduced speeds over the span at all times.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that infrastructure conditions have reached a critical point, especially on the Northeast Corridor, and must be addressed immediately; replacement of the Portal Bridge is an essential component of any plan going forward.