So Which Is It?

Over the last few days, conflicting reports have come out about New Jersey Transit (NJT, NJ Transit) service on the Raritan Valley line. One report stated how local & state officials were meeting to discuss the possibility of creating train service from Easton, Pennsylvania to New York City. Here is that report courtesy of The Morning Call:

State and local officials from Pennsylvania and New Jersey met at Lafayette College on Thursday to discuss the possibility of providing train service from Easton to New York City.

Officials who attended the meeting were quick to describe the plans as ”preliminary” and ”informal.” But they said such train service is much more plausible today thanks to high gas prices driving up demand for public transportation, along with New Jersey Transit’s plans to build a new tunnel into Manhattan that would double the number of trains going in and out of the city.

‘This is not something that’s going to happen soon, or without a lot of work, but I think people are optimistic and are willing to give it a try,” said Michael Dowd, a vice president with the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and a Northampton councilman. He said any plan is still ”years away.’

Roughly 30 people attended the meeting, including Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr., Phillipsburg Mayor Harry Wyant, state Rep. Bob Freeman, D- Northampton; and representatives from the offices of state Sen. Rob Wonderling, R-Montgomery; U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-15th, and U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Dowd said.

Panto and Freeman deferred all questions to Dowd. The meeting also included officials from New Jersey Transit, the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission and Lafayette.

Officials interviewed Thursday said they did not discuss specific details, such as the cost of the project. Instead, they focused on potential obstacles and strategies to hurdle them.

Dowd said officials agreed they must form a commission to help identify funding sources and show that NJ Transit support is unified.

Among other things, he said the commission would look at getting NJ Transit access into Pennsylvania, environmental and right-of-way issues and determining which tracks can be used and which need to be repaired or built.

The majority of the meeting was spent discussing a strategy that would help link Phillipsburg with New York City, Dowd said.

”If we don’t get the train to Phillipsburg, we are not getting it to Easton,” Dowd said.

In September, NJ Transit’s board approved a $1.2 million study of public transportation improvements in the state’s Raritan Valley and Interstate 78 corridor. Among other things, the study — to be completed by the end of the year — will look at the viability of providing train service from Phillipsburg to existing lines at High Bridge or Hackettstown.

”Pending the results of the study and funding resources, we will then decide what the best course is to take,” said NJ Transit spokesman Joe Dee.

The study does not look at possibly expanding service to Easton, Dee said. Extending the line across state borders will not be easy, he said.

There was a time when passenger train and trolley services connected the Lehigh Valley with New York. Direct passenger service between New York and the Valley ended in 1961.

NJ Transit is also considering introducing a train line along the Interstate 80 corridor from Scranton to Hoboken, N.J., and then to Manhattan. NJ Transit officials said the timeline for construction of that line will depnd on available funding.

Now onto the conflicting report which talks about service cuts that were approved this past Wednesday at New Jersey Transit Board of Directors meeting. The report is courtesy of the Asbury Park Press:

Rail advocates blasted NJ Transit officials at Wednesday’s board of directors meeting for train service cuts scheduled to take effect in August.

The changes, to start Aug. 3, include:

Consolidation of some off-peak and midday North Jersey Coast Line trains. However, shuttle train service between Bay Head and Long Branch will be available.

Consolidation of “a pair of trains” on each of the Morris and Essex branch lines in the off-peak hours.

A switch to bi-hourly service on the Raritan Valley Line on Sunday morning, with parallel service on the No. 113 bus route from Dunellen offered as an alternative.

NJ Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles said the changes are being made to shift equipment and resources to where the demand is. He said the changes will provide 8,000 more seats, in conjunction with more new, multilevel rail cars entering service, allowing the redeployment of single-level cars.

“What you’ll see is . . . there is increased demand on service to midtown New York and we’re using our resources to meet it,” Sarles said after the meeting. “We want to get the capacity to where the demand is.”

Sarles said the cuts were made on trains with low ridership and low demand.

But advocates charged that NJ Transit created the conditions for those declines by targeting off-peak riders with a 25 percent fare increase in 2005. That caused ridership to drop, said David Peter Alan, chairman of the Lackawanna Coalition, a nonprofit commuter-advocacy organization.

“When NJ Transit eliminated half of the weekend trains to and from Hoboken without notice in 2006, I predicted further service cuts. When management raised off-peak fares in 2005, I predicted they’d use the ensuing decline in ridership as an excuse to eliminate service,” Alan said. “That was 20 months ago. You’ve removed our mobility.”

Some Coast Line riders have voiced concern to the Asbury Park Press that they’ve been told they’ll lose their NJ Transit connection to Hoboken, meaning they’ll have to make additional connections between the New York City subway and PATH trains to get to work.

“These are off-peak and reverse-peak trains,” Sarles said of the Coast Line changes. “We are trying to match capacity to demand.”

Alan told the board that NJ Transit violated state law by making service cuts without holding a public hearing first and called for the changes to be rolled back until such hearings are held for riders to comment.

“I don’t know what’s worse, the severity of the cuts or that it was done in secret,” Alan said. “It makes no sense making midday cuts when the price of gas is so high.”

Alan said these cuts affect riders who either don’t have a car or can’t drive for medical or other reasons and are dependent on NJ Transit. Some of them ride the train to and from work in the reverse direction of the rush-hour crowd, and now face a longer wait, he said.

“We are making sure that service is maintained for transit-dependent riders,” Sarles said.

Sarles said increased ridership has helped NJ Transit keep up with rising prices of diesel fuel, but said it still has to manage its budget.

I will be honest, my experience & knowledge of New Jersey Transit operations is severely limited compared to that of the MTA so I tend to seek out analysis from more experienced NJ Transit riders. I decided to check out Subchat to see if any discussion was going on about the issue & there was. I must say one particular post in the thread about these reports caught my eye. According to poster “Chris R16/R2730”, racism was the reasoning for these cuts. Here is his full response:

Nope, racism.

Look at the services they are cutting. Off peak. Weekend. Reverse peak. Intermediate. I’ve ridden enough NJT trains to know that on many lines, especially on the M&E and RVL lines, the bulk of this traffic is not caucasian. NJT officials only care about those who ride peak trains between points in Jersey and Manhattan.

I am not sure what to think, I mean could racism be the reasoning for service cuts? I will admit that the reasoning seems extreme at first but I am not blind to the fact that racism is still going strong (unfortunately!) in our world today. I do admit that I could definitely believe that they are more concerned about riders between New Jersey & Manhattan. In all honesty, every form of rail transit in the tri-state area is bias towards commuters going to & from Manhattan.

I would love to hear more about the possibility of racism being a driving force or even just somewhat of a force to these cuts. Talk about opening a pandora’s box if that could ever be proven. In the meantime, here is the link to the thread if you want to read the comments from others on both reports.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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