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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MTA Plans To Meet Residents’ Demands

Over the last number of years, residents of the Bay Ridge Towers have been fighting to get something done about the fencing problem around the property. The property which is located at the northern end of Bay Ridge, has train tracks that go under & around it. The issue concerning many residents is that there is a hiding space for homeless people amongst others underneath the propertys’ deck. The space is easily accessible due to a hole in the chain link fence. After years of battling, a new & stronger fence is being put in place. Jake Mooney of the New York Times has more on the story:

FOR at least four years, Barbara Grebin and fellow residents of Bay Ridge Towers, a pair of 30-story co-op buildings at the northern tip of that Brooklyn neighborhood, have been fighting to seal off access to the train tracks that run under the complex’s parking deck and alongside its foundations.

The space under the deck, they and local officials say, is a cavernous hidden shelter for groups of homeless people, easily accessible by climbing through a hole in a chain-link fence and descending a rocky slope. There is ample room under its high ceiling to sleep in a dark corner or make a fire.

But the Long Island Rail Road, which owns the tracks, has always maintained that their security is the responsibility of the private freight company that leases them. That company disagreed, the fence around the tracks remained inadequate, and the homeless people kept coming. Which is why Ms. Grebin was not expecting much from a meeting at the co-op on the subject in May.

“I’m thinking, here we go again — I’m going down there, I’m going to hear a whole lot of nothing,” she recalled.

What she got, to her surprise and delight, was word that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which controls the L.I.R.R., would meet residents’ demands by putting up a new, stronger fence and increasing patrols of the area. The shift was announced in a news release from Gov. David Paterson, who cited concerns about rail security.

The president of the railroad, Helena Williams, in a letter to the local community board, insisted that the tracks were the freight line’s responsibility. But the agency will make the changes, she added, because it “strives to be a good neighbor.”

Regarding the territorial disputes, she said in an interview, “From the community’s perspective and the railroad’s perspective, these issues are secondary to the fact that we need fencing.”

Residents of neighborhoods along the railroad’s tracks frequently request fencing, she said, but she described the circumstances at Bay Ridge Towers as unique. Efforts to find homeless people under the buildings and persuade them to go elsewhere had failed, she said, and the site is tricky, from a security perspective, because it is both next to New York Harbor and on top of the Buckeye Pipeline, a conduit for aviation fuel that federal authorities said was the target of a failed 2007 terrorist plot.

“If the homeless have access,” Ms. Williams said, “then other unauthorized people can have access.”

According to Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, the organization that arranged the May 13 meeting, some residents greeted the news with a standing ovation, and one woman cried with joy.

Ms. Grebin, a 66-year-old retired administrative assistant, said she was “astounded” at the agency’s about-face, adding, “I was delirious that day.”

Now, she said happily, she is wondering if there is another cause she can focus on. “We’re a co-op,” she said, “and if something’s going on that we don’t like, we make a stink.”

Lets hope the new fencing will be installed in a timely manner & helps keep trespassers off the property & tracks.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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A Train Service Alert

The MTA has posted a service alert regarding train service. The service alert reads:

Due to ongoing switch problems at the Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue Station, please expect delays in service on the trains at this time.

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Woman Killed After Being Struck By A Q Train

Sometimes stories slip through the cracks & this one qualifies for that distinction. My sister e-mailed me the story of a woman who died after being struck by a train. She wondered if I had heard about the story to share on the blog. I did not so, I thank her for the unfortunate story. Here is the brief report on the incident courtesy of WCBS 880:

New York City police say a woman has been struck and killed by a subway train in Brooklyn.

Authorities say the woman was hit by a southbound Q train shortly before 3:30 a.m. Thursday at East 16th Street and Beverly Road in the Flatbush neighborhood.

Police are investigating but don’t suspect criminality.

A Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman says southbound service on the Q line is operating on the N line between DeKalb and Stillwell avenues.

I have not heard or read any other details as to how this unfolded. If I come across more, I will post about it.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA NYC Transit Honored

Just a short while ago, the MTA issued a press release to announce an award that was earned by the bus division of MTA NYC Transit. The safety award was given out by the New York State Public Transit Association and the Bus Association of New York. Here is the full press release courtesy of the MTA:

Providing safe and reliable surface transportation for the 2.4 million daily passengers who rely on bus service in the five boroughs is New York City Transit’s Department of Buses primary goal. Today, one of the Department’s key managers was recognized for an industry-leading commitment to safety, receiving the 2008 Senator Norman J. Levy Bus Public Transportation Safety Award. The award, sponsored by the New York State Public Transit Association and the Bus Association of New York, was presented today by PTSB member John S. Delaney at the New York State Public Transit Conference in Utica.

Patrick Sullivan, General Manager of Road Control for MTA NYC Transit and MTA Bus, received the award for his dedication to reducing fatalities, pedestrian accidents and injuries that result from accidents and bus collisions.

“Pat Sullivan is truly an industry safety innovator,” said Joseph J. Smith, Sr. V.P. of Buses at NYC Transit. “Pat and his team have charted a clear course for this department to follow in our ongoing efforts to ensure that we are providing the safest service possible both for our employees, customers and pedestrians,” added Smith.

Prior to his current position, Sullivan was Chief Officer of Safety and Training between 2005 and 2007. In that position he initiated a multi-pronged approach to safety that resulted in a 71-percent decrease in fatal accidents in 2007. Utilizing training, safety awareness, equipment enhancements and direct in-service intervention techniques, Sullivan and his team were able to achieve significant safety improvements.

In addition to a reduction in fatal accidents, Sullivan and his assembled team of mangers from across the bus division also produced a 29-percent reduction in pedestrian accidents as well as a 19-percent reduction in injuries as a result of bus collisions during the same period.

Among some of the team’s achievements was the creation of a Unified Task Force of managers from each division and borough to come together to conduct focused safety blitz campaigns on Bus Operator performance; facilitated invention and/or modification to mirror improvement to eliminate blind spots while simultaneously pursuing new lighting systems which are being incorporated into new bus procurements; created a Hybrid Deceleration Program to reduce the take off speed of the Hybrid equipment which contributed to a spike in customer injuries on these model buses, and; worked with the Office of Corporate Communications to produce BusTalk cards for display on buses, as well as development of Take-One materials to educate customers on how to prevent injury while using our system, including a targeted public outreach to Senior Citizens (which accounted for 80% of the fatality incidents).

According to Sullivan, the true recipient of this award is really the NYC Transit and MTA Bus operators. “They have the toughest job of all, driving a bus day in and day out in New York City is no easy task,” said Sullivan. “We gave them the tools needed to improve their safety performance and fortunately they accepted the challenge and rose to the occasion,” added Sullivan.

“Patrick Sullivan and the staff and management who support him at MTA New York City Transit deserve to be commended for their success in making improvements that have saved lives,” said NYSDOT Commissioner Astrid C. Glynn. “Mr. Sullivan spearheaded changes in driver training, supervision and equipment that have made the city’s transit system safer for passengers, pedestrians, bus drivers and other motorists.”

The Public Transportation Safety Award program was initiated in 1996 to recognize both individuals and public transportation systems that have demonstrated excellence in developing and promoting safety initiatives for their systems. Award categories are leadership in transit safety, excellence in transit safety and transit system safety.

Transit Blogger salutes the men & women who helped the bus division earn this award!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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