This morning, for the first time, New Jersey Transit rerouted most inbound trains and all outbound trains on the Morris & Essex (M&E) Line into Hoboken.  That includes a few trains on the Gladstone Branch, although most trains on that line normally go to Hoboken.  Most Midtown Direct service to and from Penn Station has been suspended through September 1st, so Amtrak can perform major track work at Penn Station.  Other lines are not affected, nor are week-end schedules, and Montclair trains that normally operate to and from New York will continue to do so.

This writer and others had feared that forcing most M&E riders to change their commuting habits would cause large-scale disruption and chaos, at least when the service changes were introduced.  Instead, there were no major difficulties today, and the morning commute seemed to go smoothly.  That included connections to Manhattan, despite concerns that the extra peak-hour service operated by the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) line between Hoboken and 33d Street in Manhattan would be vastly insufficient to accommodate the extra riders who will be commuting through Hoboken for the next eight weeks. 

There are still a few early-morning trains on the M&E into Penn Station.  The last one this morning arrived there at 7:03 after originating at Millburn and stopping only at Maplewood, South Orange and Brick Church (and not Newark).  It was crowded for a train running on such an early schedule, but most riders got seats and few were forced to stand.  A large contingent of NJ Transit employees, including managers, were on hand at Hoboken to assist customers, while PATH employees were stationed at the main entrance to the PATH platforms to direct NJ Transit riders to other PATH employees who could check their tickets and allow them into the PATH system.  PATH and ferry operator NY Waterway are honoring NJ Transit tickets to Hoboken for the connection to Manhattan. 

At other locations, including South Orange, Maplewood, Summit and Broad Street Station in Newark, there were extra buses to take morning riders into the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT).  NJ Transit also provides regular bus service between Hoboken and the PABT on the #126 bus, where Hoboken tickets were also honored for the trip to Manhattan.

We expect that, as riders become familiar with the new arrangement, Hoboken operations will continue to go smoothly.  All riders must allow extra time to get to their destinations in Manhattan.  PATH trains are running every five minutes during peak-commuting time, and they are scheduled to take 14 minutes to get to 33d Street Station, actually located at 32d Street and Sixth Avenue.  There is a temporary ferry route to 39th Street operating during peak-commuting hours only, but it took 33 minutes by ferry and connecting shuttle bus to get to 42d Street and Eighth Avenue.   The #126 bus is scheduled to take 26 minutes to go from Hoboken to the PABT.

The Lackawanna Coalition has criticized NJ Transit for its unwillingness to consult us and the elected officials in our area, concerning the diversion of our trains from Penn Station to Hoboken.  According to NJ Transit's numbers, there is still enough capacity at Penn Station outside peak-commuting times to run M&E trains there, at least during mid-day and evening periods.  That would have made travel easier for some of our constituents.  NJ Transit had a plan, and they implemented it, whether we or anyone else believed that it could have been improved.  Still, they implemented their plan well, this morning's commute went smoothly, and our fear that the morning would be chaotic turned out to be unfounded.

If the operation goes as smoothly for the next eight weeks as it did this morning, our riders will do reasonably well.  We do not know if ridership today was lighter than expected because many regular commuters stayed off the trains, expecting today to be a chaotic experience, because they had scheduled a vacation this week, or because they decided to pay a higher fare and use another mode of transportation.  Still, the new service ran well, which minimized the loss of time for our New York riders.  Things certainly could have been worse.