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.

The Lackawanna Coalition held its first “Coffee & Commuting” outreach to the riders at the Short Hills station on Thursday morning, August 17, between 6:00 and 8:45. Under clear skies, hundreds of commuters were introduced to the rail advocacy organization as six members handed out literature explaining the activities and goals of the group. The Short Hills riders are sophisticated business people, often working in high tech industries, and they seemed genuinely interested in the information that was offered.

The goal is to introduce the Lackawanna Coalition to the public in a friendly, neighborly way by offering a cup of coffee. There were a dozen new sign-ups for the group’s e-mail notifications, three membership renewals and two new members who signed up on the spot. There are plans for other coffee & commuting outreaches at other rail stations soon. We thank the dedicated members who organized the event: David Peter Alan (LC Chair) Sally Gellert, Simon Drake, Tim Sevener, Gary Kazin and this writer. A second session at South Orange on August 29 also brought two new members and about 30 e-mail notification sign-ups.

A more detailed account of the Short Hills session by Sally Gellert is posted on the Coalition’s website, www.lackawannacoalition. org. Also, be sure to check the website for announcements of future “Coffee and Commuting” sessions.

It was a difficult summer for our riders on the Morris & Essex Line and Gladstone Branch, but it could have been worse. NJ Transit had a good plan, and they implemented it well. We praised them for that, but things could have better if they had allowed us, as the representatives of the displaced riders, to participate in the planning and implementation of the summer service plan.

Before the plan was implemented, advocates and elected leaders complained that they were not fully informed about it. This writer made that complaint at the May 31 Legislative hearing. So did the mayors of seven towns along the M&E Line, as well as several state legislators. Nonetheless, NJT maintained strict secrecy until the plan was actually implemented; an action that prompted this writer and other commentators to say that we expected a chaotic scene when the summer schedule went into effect.

We expected a more-difficult summer than we had, mainly because of NJT’s total secrecy about their plan. Had we known the specifics of that plan before it was implemented, we could have been reassured that they had a good plan, and we could have suggested changes that would have made the summer even better (or, at least, less difficult) for our constituents.

We had specific suggestions, and we proposed them to NJ Transit managers. Unfortunately, because of the secrecy with which the plans were formulated and implemented, those managers considered it too late to implement those suggestions, so they ended up falling on deaf ears.

The secrecy with which NJT operates is strongly adversarial to the interests of its riders. It would not have been difficult or expensive for management to trust us or the area’s elected representatives enough to consult us while they planned for the summer. Had they been more trusting and less secretive, the summer would have been less onerous for our riders, and management would have drawn extra praise for caring enough about the representatives of the riders to include us in its decision-making process.

We will continue to fight the culture of secrecy at NJ Transit in our statements, in our legislative efforts, and every other way we can. We ask you to join us in this campaign. Until managers at NJ Transit start caring about your representatives, including us, they will not start caring about you, either.

If you enter NY Penn Station’s (NYP) newly expanded and extended West End Concourse (WEC), built under the steps of the Farley Post Office building on the west side of Eighth Avenue, you will see not a single clue that most NJT trains—those on Tracks 5-16—can be reached from this wonderful facility, which provides excellent 8th Avenue subway and Far West Midtown access. Nor is there even a single clue planned regarding NJT train service in New York State’s grand $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall, located just west of the WEC in the re-purposed Farley mail-sorting room (scheduled to open in late 2020, it is designed for “celebrating arrivals” with its high glass ceiling).

That’s because NJT management has steadfastly refused to undertake a project proposed repeatedly by advocates (including a May 22d resolution by the Coalition) that was a 2004 Early Action item of the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project and is a critical element of the Gateway project. That project is the extension of NYP Platforms 1 and 2 (which serve Tracks 1 through 4) to the newly extended WEC and related track switching improvements. Without these improvements, trains on these four tracks cannot be reached from the WEC. To solve the problem of an NJT customer waiting for a train that ends up departing from one of these inaccessible tracks, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), New York State’s economic development agency and WEC and Train Hall developer, elected never to mention NJT or its trains on the WEC train departure boards and way-finding signage, and plans to do the same in the Train Hall.

In fact, ESDC renderings of the Hall depict Amtrak and LIRR waiting rooms, ticketing and information facilities, way-finding signage and departing train information on large digital displays, but without a single mention of NJT in the entire facility. The lack of access from the Hall to Tracks 1-4 will also deny NJT customers use of the 50% increase in NYP waiting space provided by the Hall, a huge benefit during evening rush hour service disruptions.

In his August 25 nj.com and Star Ledger article headlined “Official: N.J. Needs a Voice in Plans to Revamp Penn Station,” Larry Higgs quoted Coalition Chair David Peter Alan: “Extending tracks gives commuters access to the full [Moynihan] facility. For commuters, it means getting into Penn Station faster and getting on and off [trains] faster. NJ Transit could run any train to any platform.” He also referenced this writer, who is also a Coalition member: “NJ Transit board members were asked by Joe Clift in July to allocate $10 million to design the track and platform extension. ‘It would be a huge increase in waiting space. There is a benefit to having all tracks accessible.’”

No design funds were allocated, which constitutes the most recent refusal by NJT. Higgs reported NJT officials instead are working on a different plan that would extend the LIRR’s Central Corridor in NYP, which would not solve the problem of Tracks 1-4 not having access to the WEC or the Train Hall. He referred to Nancy Snyder, NJT spokeswoman: “The agency investigated extending the four tracks and platforms in 2007 and found it would have cost around $200 million, was too complex and provided little benefit to riders” Snyder said. Higgs’ article continued: “That proposal ‘posed significant engineering and design challenges and requires extensive and difficult modifications to the railroad’s infrastructure,’ she said.”

The platform extensions and related track switching improvements will have to be undertaken at some point, as they are a necessary element of the Gateway project. Why not undertake them immediately, in time to demand full Hall access and facilities for NJT customers? We hope NJT management will change their minds quickly & get on board the Moynihan Train Hall train, before it leaves the station.

When NJ Transit began “Midtown Direct” service on the Morris & Essex, Montclair and Gladstone lines in 1996, it was enormously popular from the start, and it remains so. While some riders on our lines still ride to Hoboken, many grabbed the opportunity to ride directly to Penn Station, New York. This summer, those riders will again ride to Hoboken as the old service pattern returns for eight weeks. For the past 21 years, we have strongly supported our riders having the choice of going to Penn Station, or going to Hoboken and taking advantage of the transit options there. This summer, though, many of our riders will not have the option of their regular trip to Penn Station and back. 
 
From July 10 to August 31, Amtrak will be working on the tracks at New York Penn Station, and has required NJ Transit to reduce peak-hour trains by more than 25%. The burden of service changes will fall on riders on the Morris & Essex lines: almost all weekday trains running to and from New York will be diverted to Hoboken. Temporary schedules are available at stations in paper form, and can be downloaded from NJT’s website, www.njtransit.com; click on Schedules & Fares, then Train, then scroll down to Upcoming PDF Schedules. NJT has announced a number of alternatives for affected riders to reach their destinations, but skepticism abounds about how well this will work out. 
 
The changes apply only on weekdays. Weekend service will NOT be affected. Neither will fare for single-trip riders those days. NJT will still run the regular M&E “Midtown Direct” schedules on weekends, and New York fares will apply for single-trip riders. 
 
In the temporary schedules, all weekday Morristown and Gladstone Line trains to and from New York Penn will be rerouted to Hoboken, with the exception of four very early inbound trains, arriving in New York before 7:00 a.m. Montclair-Boonton Line trains to New York will continue to run there, but during extended peak hours (including until 9:30 p.m.) they will not stop at Newark Broad Street, so they will be unavailable to M&E riders seeking to transfer. The remaining New York trains may, however, be the most convenient way to travel at certain times; particularly outbound late at night. 
 
A number of connecting and alternative services have been announced; on most of them, NJT riders holding valid tickets (passes and single-trip) can use the other services at no extra cost. These include PATH at Hoboken, 33rd St., and World Trade Center; NJT’s #126 bus at Hoboken, #108 from Newark Broad St., and #107 from South Orange; and DeCamp (Montclair area), Lakeland (Dover area), and Community Coach (Morristown) bus lines. The extra buses from Newark and South Orange will run during morning-peak only, and there will be temporary bus service during those hours from Summit, Maplewood and Broad Street Station in Newark to Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. NJT tickets will also be honored on the regular New York Waterways weekday ferry services between Hoboken and World Financial Center and Wall St./Pier 11, and a special service will operate between Hoboken and West 39th St. from 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. All these ferries will be free for Hoboken NJT ticketholders. Weekly and monthly passes will also be honored on the Light Rail between Newark Broad Street and Newark Penn stations, although it appears that single-trip tickets may not be valid. In any case, riders continuing to New York Penn from Newark Penn will need New York tickets.
 
As you probably know, PATH is increasing service on the line between Hoboken and 33rd Street in Manhattan during peak commuting hours. Trains normally run every seven minutes, but they will run every five minutes “for the duration.” We have calculated that PATH can only hold about half of the additional Hoboken riders during the busiest part of the morning peak-commuting time, so you may wish to use an alternate means to get to Manhattan. There will be extra ferries, including a temporary route to West 39th Street. That also requires a shuttle bus in Midtown. There will also be more service on the #126 bus between Hoboken and Port Authority Bus Terminal, but the bus will also be slower than PATH. However you go to Manhattan, be sure to allow plenty of extra time for the trip.
 
If you do take PATH, there may not be room for you if you arrive at Hoboken between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning. So you might want to adjust your commuting schedule. If you get on at the back of the PATH train at Hoboken, you should know that the exit at the back of the train at 30th Street is closed for renovations. So you will need to walk to the front of the train to exit the PATH system.
 
You will need to allow extra time for PATH, as well. NJ Transit lists connecting times on M&E schedules, but it is difficult to read them in the timetable format. So be careful to get to PATH early enough to make your connection. This is especially important outside peak commuting hours, when PATH does not run frequently. If you plan on taking the last train that normally leaves Penn Station at 12:56, you will need to leave the 33rd Street PATH station no later than 12:10; 46 minutes earlier! 
 
You probably know that PATH (at Hoboken, 33rd Street and the World Trade Center stations), ferries and some buses (NJT from Summit, Maplewood, South Orange and Newark, as well as some buses operated by private companies) are honoring NJ Transit tickets reading to and from Hoboken. You will need to show a ticket to an attendant or a bus driver, though. We suggest that you buy and keep a “paper” ticket, rather than using your smart phone. Many commuters buy tangible tickets, and we suggest that “single-trip riders” do the same
 
If you normally travel to Newark from points west of Summit (mostly Morris County points), the Hoboken fare will be lower than the Newark fare this summer. Go ahead and ride to and from Newark on a Hoboken ticket. NJ Transit has told us that they expect some Hoboken tickets will be used for rides to and from Newark.
 
Your town may charter a special bus for commuters who are displaced by the changes this summer. Morristown has done that. Check your town’s website to see if there is one. You will probably be required to pay a separate fare, though. NJT will add peak-hour buses on the #107 route from South Orange and the #108 route from Penn Station, Newark; both to the Port Authority. There will be temporary routes from Summit and Maplewood, too. NJT has also announced special buses from Broad Street Station in Newark to the Port Authority Bus Terminal as well. 
 
To compensate riders for the inconvenience and extended travel times, NJT is cutting fares to Hoboken from M&E points by approximately 50% in July and August. Monthly and weekly pass users should buy their passes to Hoboken for this period. On weekends, regular service will operate; weekly and monthly passholders can use their Hoboken passes to reach New York on weekdays, but single-trip riders (regular and reduced fares) will have to buy New York tickets to travel to New York Penn. On weekdays outside of peak hours, it will often be possible to reach New York Penn by connecting at Newark Broad St. to Montclair-Boonton line New York trains, but tickets reading “New York” will be required. 

Be sure to check our website, www.lackawannacoalition.org, regularly. That is where we will do what we can to bring you up-to-date information about what you can do to reduce your transit-riding pain this summer as much as possible. We will also feature a Survival Guide for the summer on the site, and we will update it as best we can.