With the completion of Amtrak's summer-long work program at New York's Penn Station, normal schedules have returned on the area's rail lines. NJ Transit issued new timetables effective September 2, which basically restored the schedule in effect in early July before the work program began. Morris & Essex Lines weekday trains to Penn Station will begin running again on Tuesday, September 5, after the Labor Day weekend; weekend and holiday schedules were unchanged during the summer. Coincidentally with the restoration of regular service, weekday midday busing on the Gladstone Branch came to an end; regular trains will now run all day on weekdays.  (Weekend busing on the Gladstone will continue until sometime in the fall.)

NJ Transit and the other rail operators into Manhattan generally received high marks for handling the schedule changes. A typical media report, by Patrick McGeehan for the New York Times (Sept. 2), says that the "summer of hell" widely predicted for commuters never materialized.  The article quoted NJT Executive Director Steven Santoro's testimony at a recent hearing in Trenton: Mr. Santoro said that New Jersey Transit riders “made an almost seamless transition from their old travel patterns to the temporary ones that were in effect throughout the Amtrak repair outage.” Riders on the Morris & Essex lines enjoyed a bonus of fare reductions of roughly 50%, and free transfers to and from PATH trains and NY Waterway ferry services from Hoboken. The experience of using Hoboken instead of New York as their gateway to Manhattan left some riders impressed with the alternative; the Times article quoted Karen Roth, a commuter to Manhattan from Rockaway, N.J., as saying that while she would resume riding to New York Penn once the trains began running again, she said that "the difference is I’m no longer averse to just getting on the train to Hoboken to get to work."  And while crew shortages caused the cancellation of many trains during the summer, Ms. Roth said that she had not encountered a single cancellation on the trains she rode.

According to Mr. Santoro, the cost to NJ Transit of the rescheduling, and for paying for riders' PATH and ferry fares, was about $25 million; he said NJT might seek partial reimbursement from Amtrak for NJT's expenses.  But he said there would be no NJT fare increase during the current fiscal year.

The Lackawanna Coalition believes that NJ Transit did a credible job during the summer work program; however, the Coalition believes that even better services could have been offered if NJT had solicited advice from commuters and their advocacy groups in the planning stage.

On Thursday, Aug. 17, I left home well before sunrise—a novelty—picked up fellow Coalition member Bill Russiello (and his table) in Hackensack—made a quick stop at ShopRite Rochelle Park (open 24 hours!) for forgotten napkins and abandoned-at-home milk and almond milk (apparently my brain not being as fully awake as one would hope), and headed out to the Lackawana Coalition’s initial “Coffee and Commuting” event in Short Hills.  Meanwhile, Chairperson David Peter Alan was brewing coffee, members Gary Kazin, Simon Drake, and Tim Sevener were arriving at Short Hills station.  (Tim had printed up a page detailing his alarming research confirming the details of what we already knew: just how much service has been lost at Short Hills in the past 9 years).

Upon arrival, we found a few early commuters, and proceeded to set up between parking lot and platform, ready to offer a complimentary cup of coffee, a cookie, a bit of fruit, and an opportunity to reflect on the “Summer of Heck”, commuting in general, rail fares, NJT management, and all things railroad.

One of the most common questions we were asked was “Will this really be done by September 1st?”  As usual, NJ Transit has not volunteered any specific details, but we could say that they are still announcing return to normal service then—and that Amtrak has proposed more needed repairs for Summer 2018.  We found that most people were prepared for more trouble than they found—that the ferry options was much appreciated, and that if NJT were able to work with the legislature to keep fares down, it would likely be welcomed as an option—and we agree, particularly as it could be an automatic back-up in case of any unexpected delays on the rails.

As has also occurred in previous service changes, we learned that, once again, being forced to change standard commuting procedures has shown riders alternatives that they then use, regularly or on occasion, in the future—they are more “professional” commuters, knowing the system a little better.  A number of riders mentioned the value they discovered in commuting through Hoboken (which the Lackawanna Coalition has been championing for years).  We continue to request greater use of Hoboken Terminal, including  restoration of the many Hoboken trains that have been lost over the years.

We were particularly grateful to Deputy Mayor Jodi Rosenberg for stopping by; she eloquently spoke at a NJ Transit board meeting before the summer, complaining of the usual secrecy as NJ Transit gave towns along the M&E line no information to help them help their residents prepare for the disruption.  She told us of how she worked with a bus app company to offer riders a charter-bus option.

As commuters arrived a few minutes before each train, they were greeted with “It’s Coffee and Commuting Day!  Have a cup of coffee with us,” as well as conversation and literature as to how to continue to stay connected with the Coalition: via social media, e-mail, or joining us at our monthly open meetings, the 4th Monday of every month (unless moved because of a holiday) at Millburn town hall.  Look for us coming to your station, and join us for Coffee and Commuting!

 

 

It was not the "Summer from Hell" that some riders expected, but it was not a normal summer, either.  Riders on New Jersey Transit's Morris & Essex (M&E) Line and Gladstone Branch were effectively displaced from New York's Penn Station since July 10th, and sent to Hoboken instead. 

For older riders, the summer has brought a return to the commute of bygone days, before NJ Transit initiated Midtown Direct service to Penn Station in 1996.  There was a difference, though: Midtown Direct service attracted thousands of new riders to the M&E service area and those riders have swelled the ranks of Hoboken commuters, essentially doubling normal Hoboken ridership.

At this writing, the summer service pattern will continue for two more weeks.  It has gone smoothly, for the most part.  Still, it takes longer to get to Midtown Manhattan from Hoboken, because it is necessary to transfer to a PATH train or ferry to get there.

At an "Advocates' Roundtable" meeting on Wednesday, NJ Transit Executive Director Steven Santoro praised the affected riders for being "very, very patient" during the summer.  Advocates from the Lackawanna Coalition and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) agreed.

The major track work at Penn Station has also affected riders from Long Island, because Amtrak has been using high-numbered tracks at the station for some of its own trains and NJ Transit's.  These tracks are normally reserved for the Long Island Rail Road, so some LIRR trains were diverted to other terminals in Brooklyn and Queens.  Mark Epstein, Chair of the Long Island Commuters' Council, said: "I give the tip of the hat to the riders."

Amtrak owns Penn Station and its approach tracks, and there are reports that more track work will be needed next summer to bring the station and its approach tracks up to a state of good repair.  If that happens, the same riders will need to display more patience at that time. 

As the weeks of the work program wear on, with generally positive results, NJ Transit is adjusting alternative bus services effective Thursday, August 3.

Inbound morning (only) express bus service from Morristown and Madison rail stations will now be offered, with buses leaving every half hour between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m.  There is no corresponding evening return service; passengers should travel by train from Hoboken, or to Morristown they can use the regular Coach USA #77 route from the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Bus service from Summit and Maplewood has increased, with morning departures now at  6:45, 7:00, 7:20, 7:40, 8:00, and 8:30 a.m.

However, due to low ridership, the 6:00 bus departure from South Orange, and the 6:00, 9:00, and 10:00 bus departures from Newark Broad St. will no longer be offered.

Riders of the 107X, 108, and 126 bus lines may notice some decrease in bus frequency, as some buses added for the work program have now been reassigned.

NJT rail tickets will be cross-honored on all these services. The NJT announcement of these changes can be viewed here.

Elsewhere in the metropolitan area, the Long Island Rail Road also adjusted alternative services during the Penn Station work program, cutting back bus services to hourly, and eliminating ferry service from Long Island City to Manhattan.

 

If you are a commuter, we want to know about your concerns, and we will soon be coming to you!

Our new initiative is called "Coffee and Commuting" and we will start on Thursday, August 17th, with a visit to Short Hills Station during morning commuter hours.  We will start before 6:30 and we will stay until after 9:00.  So look for our table near the entrance to the station, have a cup of coffee (which we will provide), and tell us what you would like to see happen on our railroad, and what we can do to help improve your commute and all your other transit use.  This will be a good opportunity to meet us and find out about what we are doing to improve your transit experience.

After our Short Hills visit, we plan to be at other stations in September.  So come to Short Hills on Thursday morning, August 17th, and have "Coffee and Commuting" with us!

As the third week of the "Hoboken Summer" on the Morris & Essex and Gladstone Lines draws to a close, the return to pre-1996 commuting on those lines is still going relatively well.  Still, many riders are looking forward to the next five weeks going quickly, so they can commute into Penn Station, New York once again.

 

Our site visits to Hoboken indicated a busy terminal, reminiscent of the days before we had the Midtown Direct route, and everybody went to Hoboken.  The scene was orderly, and everybody seemed to know where to catch the PATH train or ferry in the morning, and the right train to take them home at the end of the day.  NJ Transit employees were on hand to assist customers, and they reported that the Hoboken operation was going smoothly.  Some trains were packed with standing riders leaving Hoboken, although the boarding process was easy, since track assignments are posted well in advance of departure at Hoboken.  PATH trains were crowded during peak-commuting hours, but crush-loads were not common, except in the event of delays on the PATH system.  Those delays occurred form time to time, however. 

 

Not all trains to and from Hoboken have been crowded.  Even at peak-commuting hours, it appeared that all riders were accommodated, as long as their trains ran.  Ridership to and from Hoboken has been lighter than expected, prompting speculation that a significant number of commuters worked from home or found another way to get to their offices.  Perhaps they were scared off by expectations of a chaotic start to the summer service, or by fears of the "Summer of Hell" that was forecast by the media.  If ridership continues at current levels through August, there should be no problem providing transportation for them. 

 

We have observed that ridership is especially light on mid-day trains, and we hope that "off-peak" ridership recovers to prior levels in September.  We have also proposed that NJ Transit adjust Hoboken fares in the future, to encourage price-sensitive riders to commute to Hoboken instead of Penn Station, New York.  We have called for called for the restoration of discounted fares for travel outside peak-commuting hours, too.

 

While many riders used PATH trains between Hoboken and Manhattan, as expected, the ferries were also popular.  Riders gave the ferries high marks, although it is unclear how many riders will keep using them when they must pay a separate ferry fare, beginning in September.  The ferry operator, NY Waterway, calls the ferry and the connecting shuttle buses that take riders between Midtown Manhattan and the ferry terminal "the civilized commute," but that level of civilization requires extra time.  This writer boarded a shuttle bus to the ferry at 3:59 pm yesterday and eventually got to South Orange at 5:46; total travel time: one hour and 47 minutes.  Under the old schedule, with a walk to Penn Station and a change of trains at Newark, the arrival time would have been 4:55.  There is another travel option available to and from Hoboken: the #126 bus between there and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  We did not observe many riders getting on the bus at Hoboken Terminal, and it appears that most riders on that route still take it form Washington Street in Uptown Hoboken.

 

The major difficulty that has surfaced lately is the shortage of engineers to run the trains, so some were canceled.  That presented a problem as recently as this morning.  While we will not take sides in whatever labor dispute is ongoing, we express our concern that canceled trains disrupt the lives of the customers who ride those trains.  We hope that the parties to whatever dispute is occurring settle their differences soon, for the sake of the riders who are already being inconvenienced this summer.

 

As the summer service approaches the half-way point, it appears that things are going smoothly.  As we said two weeks ago: "So far, so good."

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first weeks of NJT's summer work program service changes has passed; the chaos many predicted has not materialized, and according to reporting by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media, Amtrak is making good progress on its track work at New York Penn Station. After two weeks of work -- one-fourth of the eight weeks of work planned for the program -- Amtrak says they're 25-30% done. A switch that was blamed for a July 6 derailment has been replaced; the only reported "glitch" in the work program involved a new track bed for Track 10 at Penn Station: the concrete had to be re-poured. The work has focused on the track switches that route trains coming through the two Hudson River "tubes" into and out of Penn Station's complex of 21 station tracks.

While Morris & Essex Lines passengers continued to grumble about being forced to use Hoboken at most times on weekdays, another contingent has the opposite gripe, according to another article by Larry Higgs. Most commuters on NJT's North Jersey Coast line use New York Penn and continue to enjoy normal service.  But a few Coast Line trains normally go to and from  Hoboken, and these trains have been terminated at Newark Penn Station during the summer work program.  Riders who used those trains now have to transfer at Secaucus to reach Hoboken, or use PATH from Newark, and they're not happy about it. And while diverted M&E riders get a bargain 50% fare for the duration of the work, aggrieved Coast Line riders have not been offered reduced fares.

NJT has published a handy online guide for M&E riders during the work program; it's available (PDF format) here.

 

 

 

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.

 

As NJ Transit and the other railroads using New York Penn Station implemented their altered schedules on Monday, July 10, media coverage was intense. Prepared to cover what many had forecast as "chaos," as the event rolled out TV crews and reporters scrambled instead to find anything at all to report. There were no crush loads on trains, only a few cancelled train runs (with no obvious relationship to the Penn Station work programs), and buttonholed commuters who had little to complain about other than somewhat longer travel times and unfamiliar surroundings. NJT's Morris & Essex riders, diverted to NJT's Hoboken terminal and generally unable to access New York Penn, were able to use their discounted tickets (photo) and transfer to various connecting carriers (story below) at no cost.

With the first morning commute out of the way, attention shifted to the evening ride home and the days to follow.  Some conjectured that the evening rush hour might be more intense, as many people leave their workplaces at about the same time. And perhaps many riders, wary of the predicted chaos, left home earlier than usual, or simply decided to work from home or take a day off. But as in the morning's commute, things went smoothly, although two M&E trains from Hoboken to Summit were cancelled, and passengers directed to following trains. Based on the first day's experience, NJT's plans seemed sound, although Mondays in the summer typically see a lighter-than-normal load as commuters extend their weekend.

Of course, the media was concentrated at the Manhattan and Hoboken terminals, and might not have been able to detect problems after riders passed through the terminals.  One rider on NJT #435, the 6:01 p.m. departure from  Hoboken to Gladstone, reported a last-minute track and platform change; a short, three-car train; no air conditioning in the first car; and delays enroute.  This may have been an isolated incident, or perhaps an indication that NJT still hasn't worked the bugs out of rerouting its fleet to Hoboken.

The discounted M&E tickets (photo) to Hoboken look just like a regular ticket, except for the price and the expiration date that appears -- September 1, 2017. The illustrated senior/disabled ticket costs $2.60; the regular price is $5.15.  (A full-fare ticket now sells for $6.00; the normal price is $11.75). The discount is only available on tickets between M&E points (Newark Broad St. through Hackettstown on the Morristown Line, and the Gladstone Branch) and Hoboken, and may be used to transfer to connecting services on bus and ferry lines and on PATH.

Amtrak's work program at New York's Penn Station began July 10 and will run through September 1;  all carriers using the crowded stations have announced service reductions and alternative travel options. The burden of service changes will fall on riders onNJT's Morris & Essex lines -- the Morristown and Gladstone branches, where almost all weekday trains running to and from New York will be diverted to Hoboken. North Jersey Coast Line trains normally serving Hoboken will terminate at Newark Penn Station instead.  Amtrak required NJT to cut 6 from its maximum of 21 trains in or out of Penn Station each hour; NJT said this would disrupt the trips of 7400 passengers each day. Information regarding the temporary schedules are available on NJT's website; for the most-affected Morris & Essex Lines, printed timetables for the new services are available at stations and were distributed on many trains on June 29. To download the latest schedules for the work period, visit www.njtransit.com, click on "Schedules and Fares," select "Train" from the dropdown box, then scroll down to the section "Upcoming PDF Schedules." (The M&E schedule, for example, is here.)  NJT announced a number of alternatives for affected riders to reach their destinations, and private carriers have also begun to offer alternatives. And some commuters vowed to drive in to Manhattan, or just work from home. 

Handy Guide

NJT has published an online handy guide for M&E riders during the work program; it's available in PDF format here.

NJT Rail Schedules

New weekday schedules have been released for all lines affected. This mostly involves schedules for the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton lines. Weekend and holiday schedules are not affected. On the M&E, all trains to and from New York Penn Station (the "Midtown Direct" service) are rerouted to Hoboken, except for four inbound trains arriving before 7:00 a.m. On the Montclair-Boonton, trains will continue to run to and from New York, but in peak hours these trains will skip Newark Broad Street, which will make it impossible for M&E riders to transfer in peak hours -- which might have led to dangerous overcrowding. For both the M&E and M-B, significant schedule changes are in effect, so it's important for riders to consult the new timetables before traveling starting July 10. On other lines, the changes are minor; some connections have changed for travelers transferring at Secaucus Junction, and North Jersey Coast Line trains to and from Hoboken will terminate at Newark Penn Station, to make room for the additional M&E trains routed to Hoboken. Outside of peak hours, it will be possible for M&E riders to reach New York Penn via the remaining Montclair-Boonton trains that still stop at Newark Broad St.; these are listed in the revised M&E timetable. Riders are cautioned that late-night PATH service can be very inconvenient to Hoboken; M&E riders should consider the Montclair-Boonton line trains from New York to Montclair State University, and connect at Newark Broad St.; however those holding the reduced-fare Hoboken tickets may be required to buy a ticket reading from New York, or to pay surcharges on board. Off-peak Raritan Valley Line trains operating to and from New York will continue, with minor schedule changes.

"Plan B" Alternatives Appear

While NJT has planned extensive options for riders affected by its reroutings, competing options were reported by Larry Higgs for NJ Advance Media. One option is offered by Boxcar Bus, inbound in the morning from Madison, Chatham, Short Hills, Summit, and Millburn; tickets cost $13.99 and must be purchased via Boxcar Bus's smartphone app. According to the Higgs article, Our Bus is planning service from West Orange and Livingston, and is using crowdsourcing to determine pickup points; as of July 6, however, the new service didn't seem obvious on their website. From Morristown, Skedaddle will offer nonstop service between Morristown and 370 7th Avenue in Manhattan in both directions, three buses each way daily; tickets cost $17 and can be reserved on their website. Morristown officials are promoting the Skedaddle service, but not subsidizing it.

Reduced Fares

To compensate M&E riders for the loss of service, reduced fares will be available to Morris & Essex Lines  (Morristown and Gladstone lines) riders during the work period. A fare table is included in the M&E temporary schedule; all fares to Hoboken have been reduced by approximately 50%. This includes weekly, monthly, and single trip (adult and reduced senior/disabled) fares. Fares to New York and Newark Broad St. are unchanged, but riders to Newark should be able to purchase a cheaper Hoboken ticket and use it to Newark.  These reduced-fare Hoboken tickets will be valid only during the work period and cannot be used on other NJT lines. Monthly ticket users on the M&E should buy a Hoboken pass instead of a New York ticket for July; for the period July 1-9 these tickets will be valid to New York. Weekly and monthly tickets should be available through agents, ticket machines, and online apps; the one-way tickets will be available starting July 9.  The reduced-fare Hoboken tickets will not be honored to or from New York, except on the four early-morning (before 7 a.m.) inbound M&E trains.  The reduced-fare Hoboken tickets will not be honored weekdays to or from New York, except on the four inbound weekday trains arriving before 7:00 a.m. On weekends, weekly and monthly tickets will be honored to or from New York, but single trip riders must buy tickets to New York to travel there. 

NJT-Announced Connecting and Alternative Services

NJT announced a number of connecting and alternative services, including ticket honoring arrangements.  Passengers traveling via Hoboken will have their tickets cross-honored via PATH, New York Waterway, and NJT's #126 bus line to and from New York.  On PATH, inbound riders can use their NJT tickets at Hoboken; returning riders must board PATH at 33 Street or World Trade Center only to use their NJT tickets. PATH said it would add extra trains, and would be capable of handling 9000 additional riders daily. New York Waterway will offer a special peak-hour (7-10 a.m., 4-8 p.m.) ferry service between Hoboken and West 39 Street in Manhattan, every 15 minutes. At Newark Broad Street, there are several options.  Newark Light Rail service between Newark Broad St and Newark Penn will run on a 10-minute headway in peak hours (6:30-9:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 8:00 p.m.);  Hoboken monthly and weekly passes will be valid, but not single Hoboken tickets on the Light Rail; however, riders wishing to continue to New York via NJT rail service from Newark Penn will have to buy a ticket reading to NYP. Contracted bus services from Newark Broad, South Orange, Maplewood, and Summit to New York in the morning peak only (7-9 a.m.) will also be available to Hoboken ticketholders. NJT rail tickets will also be cross-honored on NJT and private bus lines, including DeCamp, Lakeland, and Community Coach lines (Caution: one NJT site says this requires New York tickets). NJT announced that enhanced service will be available on three of its bus lines: #107 from South Orange, #108 from Newark Broad, and #126 from Hoboken, with extra buses on standby at South Orange should overcrowding develop.

Frequently Asked Questions

NJT has a list of FAQs on its website.  Most of the answers are covered in this article, but here's a few miscellaneous topics:  A Hoboken pass or ticket will be honored on most alternative travel options, including buses, PATH, ferries, and the early morning M&E trains into New York; but if you really need to travel on other NJT lines or use other trains into New  York, consider buying a ticket or pass valid to New York; however, note that weekly/monthly (only) reduced-fare Hoboken passes will be honored on weekend trains to and from New York.  When updates to the work program are required, NJT will disseminate the information on its website, on social media (Facebook, Twitter, MyTransit alerts, texts to customers' cell phones, radio, TV, and PA systems at stations.

Weekend Service Not Affected

Weekend trains will operate normally; on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton lines, the main service on weekends is to New York Penn, with Hoboken service operating only every two to three hours.  NJT announced that weekly and monthly tickets reading to Hoboken will be honored on M&E trains to New York; however, single-trip riders will apparently have to purchase tickets at the regular prices and won't be able to use the special half-price tickets.

Gladstone Weekday Busing

Coincidentally with the Amtrak work program, midday busing on the Gladstone Branch also began July 10 and extends to September 1. Buses will replace trains for six midday weekday trains in each direction between Summit and Gladstone, from approximately 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information is included in the special summer timetables; note that in some cases bus stops are a few blocks from the rail station. Eastbound passengers should note that the bus departure times are 15-25 minutes earlier than the trains they replace. Weekend Gladstone busing (all weekend trains), in effect since March, continues until sometime in the fall.

Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak Also Plan Service Changes

Long Island Rail Road, the other commuter service using New York Penn Station, also announced reductions in service and rerouting of trains to the line's other western terminals. LIRR also announced alternative bus and ferry services. Notably, LIRR's service changes were spread across the LIRR's various lines, in contrast to NJT's approach which mostly focuses on rerouting trains on the Morris & Essex lines.  LIRR also announced that there would be 25% discounts for riders diverted from New York Penn to the line's alternate terminals, Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn or Hunterspoint Avenue in Queens.  Amtrak, which owns Penn Station and will be conducting the repair program in July and August, announced a reduction in New York-Washington service, and cut back of some of its Harrisburg trains to Philadelphia or Newark, N.J.; and three round trips between Manhattan and upstate New York, Amtrak's Empire Service line, will switch to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan instead of using Penn Station.

 

We know this will be a difficult summer for many of you who ride the Morris & Essex Line, especially if you ride “Midtown Direct” trains to New York Penn Station. You will need to get used to riding to and from Hoboken, as everybody did until 1996. If you normally ride to Hoboken, you and your fellow Hoboken “regulars” will be joined by thousands of temporary riders who normally go to New York.

So we have prepared this guide with some tips to make your summer travel as painless as possible.

The service changes will occur only on weekdays. Weekend service will NOT be affected. If you have a monthly or weekly ticket to Hoboken, it will be honored to New York on weekend trains. If you are an occasional rider with a single-trip ticket, you must pay the regular New York fare. Seniors and persons with disabilities will be entitled to ride for reduced fares, as always. The rest of the information in this document applies to weekday service only.

Four trains that arrive before 7:00 in the morning will still go to Penn Station, but no trains on the Morris & Essex Line will leave New York directly. All inbound trains arriving after 7:00 will go to Hoboken, and all outbound trains will leave from Hoboken.

If you are not familiar with Hoboken Terminal, you should know where to find the various transit services offered there. The terminal itself is a historic structure, built by the Lackawanna Railroad in 1907. It is a stubend terminal, so when trains come to a stop, you will be facing the terminal building. To the right as you exit the train are the higher-numbered tracks and the light-rail line that goes to Jersey City, Bayonne and other places in Hudson County. To the left are the lower-numbered tracks. If you walk toward the left on the concourse between the building and the tracks, you will find a stairway down to the PATH trains. We expect that an attendant will be positioned at the bottom of the stairs to let you into the PATH system when you show your ticket. The terminal building itself (known in railroad parlance as the “head house”) contains the historic waiting room, where you can wait until your train is ready for boarding. There are rest rooms located off the waiting room. Beyond the waiting room are the ferry slips. Be prepared to show the attendant your ticket as you board the ferry. If you are taking the #126 bus to Port Authority Bus Terminal, walk to the left from the train and turn left at the end of the concourse. You will pass some food stands on your right and come to an exit to the outside. Go through that exit and turn left. The bus terminal will be ahead of you.

PATH trains may be extremely crowded, especially during the busiest part of the morning peak commuting time, between 7:30 and 8:30. If you can use a ferry or a bus to get to New York during that time, you may wish to consider those alternatives. There will be more PATH trains at peak commuting times than under normal operation, but we are not sure that the proposed service will have enough capacity to accommodate the regular riders and the additional riders, too.

Be sure to allow plenty of time for your trip. You may not get onto the first PATH train from Hoboken. The bus from Hoboken to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (the #126) takes longer than PATH, and the ferries may take even longer. PATH is scheduled to take 14 minutes from Hoboken to 33d Street, and the #126 bus is scheduled to take 26 minutes to get to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. If the Lincoln Tunnel is crowded with buses, it could take longer. There will be a special ferry route between Hoboken and West 39th Street during peak commuting times, but that trip also requires a shuttle bus from the dock. Ferries are scheduled to take eight minutes to cross the river, but you will need a shuttle bus to reach your destination. Your total time will depend on where you need to go in Manhattan, and whether you need to use a bus, ferry-bus connection, or subway to reach your goal. If you take PATH, you will probably enter the platform at the back of the train. We suggest that you walk as far forward as you can before you board the train. The south exit of the 33rd Street station is closed for long-term renovations, so you will have to walk to the front of the train to exit the station. The same advice holds when you get on at 33d Street. You will show your ticket to an attendant and enter the station at the back of the train. The closer you get to the front, the closer you will be to the station in Hoboken when you get off.

Be careful about fares. Some Montclair trains can take you between Broad Street Station in Newark and Penn Station New York, but not during commuting hours. You will also need to pay a New York fare. Single-trip riders to or from New York on weekends will, also.

Hoboken fares are discounted approximately 50% during the service change, which includes monthly passes for July. These tickets will be honored on the early-morning trains into Penn Station and, monthly tickets will be valid to Penn Station for the first week of July. If you have a Hoboken ticket, you can ride into New York on the #126 bus from Hoboken, PATH or the ferries going to 39th Street or the World Financial Center. Returning to Hoboken, PATH will only honor Hoboken tickets for riders who board at 33d Street or the World Trade Center stations; not Newark Penn Station or intermediate stops on the “uptown” PATH line to 33d Street.

There will be extra buses during morning peak travel hours from Newark Penn Station, South Orange, Maplewood and Summit into New York. The #107 from South Orange and #108 from Newark Penn Station are operated by NJ Transit. Buses from Maplewood, Summit and Broad Street Station in Newark are contracted commercial buses that will run into New York between 7:00 and 9:00 in the morning, but there will be no “return” service. NJ Transit tickets will also be honored on DeCamp buses in the Montclair area, Lakeland buses in Morris County, and Community Coach in Morristown. NJ Transit also says that Hoboken tickets will be honored. Some towns have discussed chartering buses for their residents, but those buses would require a separate fare. We suggest that you check with your town to find out if they have one.

If you are expecting your ticket to be honored on a bus, ferry or PATH train, you may choose to purchase a “paper” ticket, which can be easily displayed to the bus driver or fare-checker. Commuters normally keep their tickets with them. If you are a single-trip riders, make sure that the conductor gives it back to you. You will need it for PATH, the #126 bus, or the ferry. We suggest that you purchase a round-trip ticket in advance, so you will have it to for the Manhattan link to Hoboken, whichever mode you choose to take. If you use PATH, there will be an attendant at the turnstile near the back of the train to inspect your ticket and let you in. We have not been informed that any other entrances will be covered that way, so we suggest that you go down the stairs from the concourse.

If you are riding during midday or in the evening, be sure to check the PATH connecting times, which are shown on the other side of the paper schedule from the weekday trains, to the right of the fare chart. PATH does not run very frequently, especially in the late evening, so you may have to leave Manhattan earlier than usual to catch your train at Hoboken. The worst case is the last train on the M&E Line, which previously left Penn Station at 12:56. It will leave Hoboken at 12:59, but you must leave the PATH 33rd Street station no later than 12:10; 49 minutes earlier. You can also take the last Montclair train, leaving at 12:34 and have a 22-minute wait at Newark for the M&E train. That alternative is slated to require a New York fare, however.

For more information from NJ Transit, go to www.njtransit-theupdate.com/morris-essex-line-rider-guide to find links to the PATH and NY Waterway ferry websites, along with information about extra bus service during the period. Schedules and operations are always subject to change, though.

There is also a place to click on the front page of the NJT web site, www.njtransit.com, for this information.

If you can take some extra vacation time or work from home more often this summer, that might be a good idea. The Morris & Essex Line has many more riders today than when everybody rode to Hoboken, before June 1996.

We will do the best we can to keep you informed of any changes, and to advise you about how to make the summer as painless as possible. We also urge you to join the Lackawanna Coalition and help us advocate for better transit in our region. We meet on the fourth Monday of every month (unless a holiday forces us to change the meeting date) at 7:00 at Millburn Town Hall. To learn more, check our website, www.lackawannacoalition.org. You do not need to be an expert on rail operations or on transit. We can help you to learn what you need to know. We are civic-minded volunteers who are familiar with our railroad and New Jersey Transit, and we have advocated for better rail transit on our lines since 1979. We hope you will come to a meeting and meet us, and we hope you will join us.

Good luck this summer, from the Lackawanna Coalition!