Railgram

The Railgram is the Coalition's official newsletter, published every two months and packed with in-depth coverage of the issues. For past issues and printer-friendly versions, click here.

 As we start a new year with a new governor and administration, we look to plan our legislative year. As always, there will be budget hearings in March, and we will be there to advocate for a dedicated NJ Transit operating budget, so that capital funds are available to spend on capital maintenance and projects, not filling operating-budget gaps. We are encouraged by AR-158, now in the Legislature, that would create a task force that would “study and make findings and recommendations concerning all potential opportunities for the New Jersey Transit Corporation to generate new revenue without increasing fares.” We would remind the task force that NJT real estate is part of our common resources, owned by the public and managed by NJT in trust for us all; we would prefer lease arrangements and would argue against almost any sale of real estate. We hope that the two “people with expertise and experience in public rail passenger transportation” appointed to the task force come from the riding public, rather than from industry executives; otherwise, we call for the addition of such individuals.

 

 In 2016, a bill was passed that allows NJ Transit to cut up to two hours of service without public comment or review. We strongly opposed that bill after it was changed from its original language, which would have prohibited just that action, and we have received assurances that the legislature will take up this issue again. We consider repeal of this provision (Public Law 2016, Chapter 52) to be our top legislative priority, and we will be watching and advocating for that to happen quickly.

 

 We are definitely in favor of A-2497, which would extend NJT’s current full-time student monthly pass discount to all New Jersey higher education students, not just those attending “certain participating institutions.” The rate is 75% of full fare and is an important but not overwhelming discount that will help all students, too many of whom are burdened with a large amount of student debt, to afford transportation to their classes and jobs (and wherever else they travel). It would help most those without cars, and may enable some to put off an automobile purchase, both helping their finances and making the roads just a little less clogged and our air just a little bit cleaner. These students are our future; if we can help making attaining an education a little easier, it will benefit us all in the long run.

 

 We urge you to join the Lackawanna Coalition and to join us in our campaign. We are planning to make statements at legislative hearings and to organize a “Day in Trenton” in March. The more of you who join us and campaign with us, the more successful we can be in improving YOUR mobility.

 

 

 

 

Although the Lackawanna Coalition has a Membership Committee, it never had a chair until this year. I previously served in the position of Secretary, and I will now serve in this new capacity. I will give a presentation on plans for recruitment in the near future.

 

What are duties of the Membership Committee? The duties are keeping the membership roll of the Lackawanna Coalition and actively recruiting new individual members and encouraging municipalities and counties to appoint representatives. Although the first duty is fairly simple, it is my intention to improve the quality, quantity, and implementation of the data in the membership roll. These improvements should help our organization run more smoothly and make communication more effective. I hope that it will provide assistance with the recruitment of new members too.

 

Recruitment of new members is no small task. I plan to address the problems of demographics within our organization in relation to the riders of our lines of concern. We currently lack individual members from transit-heavy areas, such as Morristown, Summit, Orange, East Orange, and Newark. Many of these municipalities have not appointed a representative to send to the Lackawanna Coalition. We will try to improve our relations with them in 2018.

 

 

 

Last year's outreach campaign of Coffee and Commuting was successful. It was effective in talking with riders and actually getting a few new members. I hope that doing another Coffee and Commuting event in 2018 produces similar results. I believe that informing potential members of our accomplishments will at least demonstrate that we are effective and serious in improving public transportation in our state.

 

In our last issue, we reported a suspension of service on the Gladstone Branch due to “debris” that fell from the retaining wall west of Summit Station, and expressed concern about the state of repair of the infrastructure on that line and the Morristown Line. Robert M. Lavell, Vice-President and General Manager for Rail Operations at NJ Transit, requested the opportunity to respond. He told us:

 

“The debris was an electrical box on the wall and not the concrete. We did do the scaling of the wall, we had an engineering consultant onboard to assist further documented inspections. We have 30 inspections scheduled of the wall. New Jersey Transit is continuing to advance the Summit Interlocking project that will allow us to further remediate the wall. The wall is safe and we will continue to ensure that it stays that way.”

 

 

 

The Lackawanna Coalition looks forward to construction starting on the necessary parts of the proposed Gateway Project: new tunnels that connect the Northeast Corridor into the existing Penn Station as a four-track mainline rather than two separate two-track railroads, a single four-track bridge to replace the existing Portal Bridge, and connecting Tracks 1 through 4 at Penn Station into the West End Concourse and eventually the Moynihan train hall, now under construction in the Farley Post Office Building. However, we remain concerned about the proposed “Penn South” station and other features of the proposed Gateway Project that we believe are overpriced and unnecessary, and we continue to object to them.

 

On Thursday, January 4th, the New York Daily News published an editorial calling for a project very similar to our suggestions, which we have called “Plan B.” The editorial called for a “new tube” into Penn Station, platform connections to the future Moynihan Station, and a four-track bridge at medium height to replace the aging Portal Bridge. The editorial criticized the Trump Administration for its expressed unwillingness to have the Feds chip in 50% of the cost of the tunnel project, but also said that Gateway was too expensive.

 

 

The editorial comes on the heels of a letter dated December 29th from K. Jane Williams, Deputy Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to New York and New Jersey officials, which denied that the Obama Administration had committed the U.S. Department of Transportation to a 50-50 funding match for the “Hudson Tunnels Project” portion of Gateway and said that 90% of the riders who would benefit from the project are local riders.

 

 

The Coalition has repeatedly questioned whether the Trump Administration and Congress would be willing to fund 50% of the cost of Gateway, which is now estimated at $30 billion, and continues to call for a less-expensive project that increases capacity at Penn Station sooner. At the same time, we are dismayed that the letter does not recognize the Hudson River crossing as the most critical possible point of failure of transportation from New England to Washington, D. C. and points south, but we acknowledge the FTA’s concern about enough money for national Amtrak projects and the lack of a local match other than fare increases, especially in our own state.

 

 

There needs to be more realistic plan, and it needs to happen soon.

 

 

We welcome the similar call from the Daily News and we continue to advocate for more capacity now.