Archive for New Jersey Transit
Updated: At least one person has dead and 108 are injured, including one critically, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced this afternoon, after a Pascack Valley line NJ Transit train derailed and crashed into the station in Hoboken during rush hour this morning. The FRA is heading to the scene to investigate, and witnesses say the train crashed through a wall into a crowded waiting area. Reports indicate that some passengers are still trapped in the wreckage, and casualty numbers may be higher. According to initial reports, the woman who died was not on the train but rather on the platform when the crash occurred.
According to those on the train who were uninjured, the train seemed to be going too fast as it entered the station, and images indicate that the train broke through a station wall, severely damaging the roof at Hoboken. NJ Transit is amidst an effort to install positive train control, a technology that can limit train speeds based on location, but the agency has not completed this work. Meanwhile, with New Jersey’s transportation trust fund out of money, work on most long-term capital projects has slowed or stopped completely, pending resolution of a debate in Trenton over the gas tax. That said, it’s not clear if PTC had a role to play in this tragic collision or if PTC could have averted it.
NBC News had more on the crash:
Preliminary reports suggest the crash involving train No. 1614 on the Pascack Valley Line was accidental or caused by operator error, according to four law enforcement officials, though they stress it is early in the investigation…It appeared the train went through a bumper stop at the end of the track. It came to a stop in a covered area between the station’s indoor waiting area and the platform. From above, chopper footage showed the glass arches atop the building crunched like an accordion over the platform.
Currently, all PATH service is suspended at Hoboken, and the Hudson Bergen Light Rail is not running into or out of Hoboken either. However, PATH service to Hoboken is expected to be restored by this evening’s rush hour. Additional buses were be added as well.
Images and video from the scene are coming through on Twitter and this is currently a developing story.
— Leon O (@monduras) September 29, 2016
My train just derailed and crashed into the Hoboken train station. Thankfully all I got was a crack to my head, please pray for the rest pic.twitter.com/DEm34qFSFI
— Laura (@rustysombrero) September 29, 2016
— Nick Delgado (@NickDelgadoTV) September 29, 2016
— Cristian Benavides (@cbenavidesT47) September 29, 2016
The details won’t come out until the New Jersey Transit union reserves information on the settlement, but trains will continue to run throughout the weekend and until at least 2019 as New Jersey Transit avoided a strike on Friday. The union and New Jersey Transit reached a deal late on Friday afternoon, and although Gov. Chris Christie called it a good deal for taxpayers and commuters, we won’t be able to pass judgment for a few days. But trains will run as scheduled, and all those contingency plans that were announced earlier this week will fall by the way side. Until next time.
But while New Jersey is spared some short-term labor pain, New York City has its weekend subway service changes to contend with. As always, these are from the MTA. If anything is wrong, take it up with them, and leave yourself a few extra minutes of travel time as you go about your weekends.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 1 service is suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry. 2 and 3 trains run local between 34 St-Penn Station and Chambers St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 2 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 3 service operates to/from New Lots Av all weekend, replacing the 4 in Brooklyn.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, 3 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between New Lots Av/Crown Hts-Utica Av and Bowling Green. Take the 2 or 3 instead. For service between Borough Hall and Franklin Av, take the 2 or 3 instead.
From 4:30 a.m. Saturday, March 12 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 13, 5 trains are suspended. Take the 2 or 4 and/or free shuttle buses. Free shuttle buses operate between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, stopping at Baychester Av, Gun Hill Rd, Pelham Pkwy, and Morris Park. For service between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse, take the 2. For service between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Bowling Green, use the 4.
From 6:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, March 13, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and Bowling Green. Take the 2 and/or 4. 5 shuttle trains operate between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. For service between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse, take the 2. For service between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Bowling Green, use the 4.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from 3 Av-138 St to Hunters Point Av.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 12, to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 13, Hudson Yards-bound 7 trains run express from Mets-Willets Point to Queensboro Plaza.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, A trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, A trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, C trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, Brooklyn-bound C trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Norwood-205 St bound D trains run express from 36 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, E trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W 4 St-Wash Sq. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge, stopping at Queens Plaza.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, E trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains run express from Smith-9 Sts to Church Av.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, F trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Astoria-Ditmars Blvd bound N trains run express from 59 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, Forest Hills-71 Av bound R trains run express from 59 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, R trains are suspended in both directions between 59 St and 36 St in Brooklyn. Take the N instead. R trains will run between Bay Ridge-95 St and 59 St.
When we first heard word of a looming New Jersey Transit fare hike — the first since 2010 but fifth since 2002 — initial reports indicated the raise could be as much as 25 percent. Now that the budget numbers are coming into view, that steep hike seems to be off the table, and fares may go up by only nine percent in the coming months. But the reprieve may be only temporary as a variety of factors are at work that could push NJ Transit fares even higher in coming years.
The Wall Street Journal broke news of the hike last night. The nine percent figure is designed to help close a budget gap of $80 million. Andrew Tangel reports:
NJ Transit is expected to propose a 9% fare increase as the operator of commuter trains, buses and light rail faces a budget shortfall, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. The agency is expected to announce the proposed fare increase—its first in five years—along with potential service adjustments as soon as this week, this person said. Any fare increase would be subject to public hearings and an eventual vote by the agency’s board.
It wasn’t immediately clear how much individual fares for NJ Transit’s various systems might rise under the proposal. But the proposed increase is well below the last one, in 2010, when the agency raised fares by 22% on average. NJ Transit faced a $300 million budget gap then. This time there is an $80 million deficit to close…
NJ Transit officials have said they realize the previous increase was difficult for riders to stomach. This time, they have said, the aim is to keep any increase in the single digits as they try to close the gap in the agency’s fiscal 2016 budget, which takes effect July 1. In recent weeks, NJ Transit officials have been looking to trim expenses across the agency, and said they had found about $40 million in savings. But the agency has faced rising expenses, such as labor and benefits costs, and it remains in negotiations with unions representing its employees.
But that’s all short term. There are a pair of long-term issues that could affect New Jersey transit fares in the coming years. First, an annual subsidy of nearly $300 million from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority may end after next June, and second, due to a federal mandate that Amtrak run the Northeast Corridor like it a business, rent owed by New Jersey Transit to Amtrak may increase by around $20 million annually. If this worst-case scenario comes due, NJ Transit may have to hike fares by 30 percent to continue to maintain current service levels.
As I noted last month, this constant talk of NJ Transit fare hikes is in stark contrast to the fact that New Jersey’s gas tax hasn’t increased in a generation. For a state that, whether it admits it or not, relies so heavily on its rail network and can’t take more traffic on its clogged roads, this situation will quickly grow untenable. Where, I wonder, is the breaking point?
— Tri-State (@Tri_State) March 4, 2015
Although this site is largely focused on New York City transit, it’s hard to ignore New Jersey’s impact on the region. I don’t quite follow the daily ins and outs of New Jersey’s transportation scene as I do New York’s as that is a frustratingly Sisyphean, but as the state with the fifth greatest number of unlinked transit trips in the nation — and one that feeds directly into New York City — we can’t just ignore it under a more transit-friendly administration is in place. These days, we’re talking fare hikes.
The scandal of the week from the Garden State involves Exxon. The state had sued for over $8 billion in environmental damages, and the suit was headed to a damages determination when Gov. Chris Christie opted to settle for $225 million, cents on the dollars. From news stories to Op-Ed columns, The Times has covered this environmental and taxpayer scandal closely since breaking the story last week, and it’s worth paying attention here as it reverberates from a local to a national level. But that’s hardly the only story at play.
Yet again, New Jersey Transit is gearing up to raise its fares, and the hike — designed to cover an operating budget gap — could be by as much as 25 percent. Larry Higgs had the story:
NJ Transit commuters should brace themselves for possible fare hikes of 25 percent or more in addition to service cuts, a transit advocate warns, as the agency struggles to close an $80 million budget gap.
And while NJ Transit officials insist a fare increase would be lower than 2010’s fare hike and is on the table only as a “last resort,” the last time the agency faced an $80 million budget gap, in 1981, it jacked fares by 50 percent over three years and introduced significant service cutbacks. “It’s a safe assumption it will be greater than 25 percent by the amount of revenue needed to fill the hole,” said Veronica Vanterpool, Tri-State Transportation Campaign executive director. “The funding structure for NJ Transit is broken. What we need is a new funding structure.”
Other factors that could affect a fare increase include the cost to settle expired contracts with 20 unions, which make up more than 9,000 of NJ Transit’s 11,000 employees. Many of those contracts expired five and six years ago. However, any fare increase under consideration will include those contract costs, said Nancy Snyder, an NJ Transit spokeswoman. “We recognize the 2010 fare adjustment was a serious burden on customers,” Snyder said. “We would not repeat that level of adjustment, which was required because of years of refusing to make tough choices including retraining costs and adjusting fares to meet needs.”
New Jersey Transit, as we know, hasn’t been a paragon of a well-run transit agency. Their utter lack of emergency flood preparedness cost them a few hundred million dollars in damage due to Hurricane Sandy, and Gov. Christie’s decision to kill ARC without a potential replacement has saddled the agency with the same operations challenges it has faced for decades. The sources of the $80 million gap, as others have noted, are numerous and include raising costs and increased spending on labor. The fare hikes to cover this gap will be steep.
Meanwhile, it’s worthy pondering how and why New Jersey’s drivers get off so easily. Even as hundreds of millions of transit riders pass through the Garden State’s transit network, drivers haven’t seen a corresponding increase in the gas tax in 25 years. The imbalance affects us all as it leads to more cars on the road and less money to maintain or even expand the transit network. It’s a strange and uncomfortable situation that isn’t going to change any time soon.
It’s hard to say which transit agency has had a worse go of it lately. New Jersey Transit had some banner years in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy knocked out hundreds of millions of dollars of rolling stock and followed that up by being unable to cope with greater-than-expected crowds during the 2014 Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Metro-North has been plagued by derailments, collisions and deaths over the past 16 months. It’s not been a good look for either.
So it should come as no surprise then that a New Jersey Transit official who was given the boot, in part, over the agency’s response to Sandy has found a new home at Metro-North. Karen Rouse of The Record had the story:
NJ Transit’s former railroad chief, who was pushed out in March following two tumultuous years that included the flooding of nearly 400 rail cars and locomotives during Superstorm Sandy, has landed a job within New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Kevin O’Connor, the former vice-president of rail at NJ Transit, started April 10 as Metro-North Railroad’s new chief transportation officer, according to Aaron Donovan, spokesman for Metro-North, a division of the MTA that provides rail service in suburban New York and Connecticut…
O’Connor came under intense public scrutiny in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy flooded hundreds of NJ Transit rail cars and locomotives that had been left to sit in low-lying, flood prone rail yards. Documents and emails revealed that NJ Transit did not follow a plan to move the equipment to higher ground, and instead left the rail cars and locomotives in the vulnerable yards in Kearny and Hoboken as Sandy approached. The damage to the equipment was upwards of $120 million.
In February, the Christie Administration shook up NJ Transit, replacing former executive director Jim Weinstein with Ronnie Hakim – herself a onetime former special counsel at the MTA. Hakim dismissed O’Connor and Joyce Gallagher, NJ Transit’s former vice-president for bus operations, within weeks…
Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti, in a written statement, expressed confidence in O’Connor. “I have known Kevin for decades and like many in the railroad industry, I have the utmost respect for his operational skills, his leadership and his management abilities,” said Giuletti, who took leadership of Metro-North in January. “He has 37 years of experience with Amtrak and NJ Transit, both of which are partners with Metro-North, and we will benefit from his long experience.”
O’Connor, according to Rouse, will replace John McNulty, a vice president at Metro-North, who is retiring this year.
Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen O’Connor’s name pop up in the ongoing coverage of New Jersey Transit’s response to Sandy. He repeatedly excused planning that left expensive rolling stock in flood zones and shortly after Sandy, got into a war of words with some of the agency’s critics over NJ Transit’s seemingly inept response to the storm. Yet, transit is incestuous in the northeast, and O’Connor, a few weeks after getting ousted from the Garden State, has landed with New York’s troubled agency. Maybe it’s a fit for both, but it’s certainly reasonable to eye this development skeptically right now.
It’s been a rough decade for New Jersey Transit. What started out so promisingly with the ground-breaking for the ARC Tunnel has devolved into today’s mess. One of the busiest commuter rail lines in the nation and a key artery between New York and New Jersey has become bogged down in scandals surrounding inept responses to a hurricane and poorly planned Super Bowl contingencies. Even with a new leader, old stories continue to plague an agency trying to move forward against the tides of the past.
Earlier this week, Ronnie Hakim, a one-time MTA exec and former head of New Jersey’s Turnpike Authority, hosted her first board meeting as the new executive director of New Jersey Transit. After botched the Sandy prep and the Super Bowl logistics, Jim Weinstein finally lost his job at the end of February, and Hakim is the one in charge of picking up the pieces. So far, she’s saying the right things.
For the first month of her job, she’s conducting a listening tour. She’ll speak with riders and workers, with politicians and the public, about New Jersey Transit and ways to improve operations, customer service and morale. “The average service time of our employees is over 20 years” she said this week. “They are people who take a tremendous amount of pride in what they do — and that pride has been beaten on. It has been really difficult. It’s almost like you want to say, this is not ‘Groundhog Day,’ right? Every day is not about the past. Every day should be about the future, and my job is to refocus us on the future.”
Yet, the ghosts of problems past continue to haunt NJ Transit. Earlier this week, the New Jersey State Assembly held a hearing on the problems that arose on Super Bowl Sunday, and New Jersey Transit failed to show. John Wisniewski, head of the Garden State Assembly’s Transportation Committee, succinctly summarized why NJ Transit’s issues that day should be of major concern to the region’s transit advocates. “We saw what happened at the Super Bowl almost as an advertisement as to why you should not take the train,” he said.
NJ Transit officials plan to speak with the Assembly at some point this year, and the agency’s board is conducting its own review. There is no word as to when their findings will be released. Newspapers in New Jersey remain skeptical.
Meanwhile, even the ARC Tunnel, once New Jersey Transit’s savior, reared its zombie head this week in an extensive Times profile of Gov. Chris Christie’s relationship with the Port Authority:
Mr. Christie also used the agency to help him out of political jams. When he came into office, his state’s Transportation Trust Fund, traditionally financed by the gas tax, was nearly empty. But Mr. Christie, as a candidate, had pledged not to raise taxes. The Port Authority’s involvement in a major project, it turned out, presented a perfect solution.
In 2010, Mr. Christie canceled construction on a planned railroad tunnel under the Hudson River that would have eased congestion for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains, and used $1.8 billion that the Port Authority had planned to spend on it to fill the trust fund.
This isn’t really anything we didn’t know or at least surmise about the long lost ARC dollars. They never went to transit improvements, as Christie once said, and the governor’s claims that he was primarily concerned with cost overruns still rings semi-hollow. Yet, the fact that there is no ARC Tunnel, that Gateway is decades away, that New Jersey Transit is stuck with the century-old pair of tracks leading to New York City will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future.
So Hakim takes over an agency whose ship needs righting. Hopefully, she’s up for the job, but it’s a thankless one without much support for her own bosses. Is there a clear way forward for New Jersey Transit? We’ll find out soon enough.
As a new year dawns, it’s become an annual tradition these days for commuter rail lines in New York City to announce record ridership numbers and continuing growth. Metro-North, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit have seen numbers not matched since the age of the automobile dawned, and with congestion in the region worsening and gas prices rising, this is a trend with upward growth that shows no signs of slacking off.
Along with higher ridership comes more crowded trains. We’ve seen this in the subways, and commuter rail passengers who are on packed trains every day live through it as well. It is starting to become a problem and one, at that, with no easy solution. Jim O’Grady at WNYC has the story, railroad by railroad:
Riders like Wadler wonder why the railroads don’t simply add more trains. The answer is limited track space. Long Island Railroad has nine branches that converge on a three-track bottleneck beneath the East River that it shares with freight and Amtrak trains. Railroad president Helena Williams says most of those trips end at Penn Station, where track space is at a premium. “We only have so many opportunities to put trains through our system and into Penn Station,” she told WNYC during an interview at the MTA’s Midtown headquarters…
Metro-North has six fewer branch lines and more rail yard space than Long Island Railroad. But it, too, has short platforms and is bursting with passengers, especially on the New Haven Line. Metro-North would like to add double-decker trains, which carry more people and are used by commuter lines around the country, including the LIRR and New Jersey Transit. But spokesman Aaron Donovan says the issue is not enough headroom—for the trains…
New Jersey Transit has dozens of double-decker trains that fit through tunnels under the Hudson River. The problem is the number of tunnels: two. Spokeswoman Nancy Snyder says those two tunnels carry all of the Amtrak and commuter train traffic between Manhattan and points west.
O’Grady’s piece drills down on each railroad’s challenges, and we know that New York City is constrained in that Manhattan is an island. But while the situation is dire, there is some faint glimmer of hope for certain commuters. First, East Side Access may eventually open, bringing more riders on the LIRR and better distributing them throughout the city. The Penn Station Access plan could follow which would help Metro-North. New Jersey Transit, though, in the ARC-less present, is relying on Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel to remove some trains from the Hudson River bottleneck, and it’s not clear when, if ever, that tunnel will become a reality.
We can wring our hands over ARC and the missed opportunities, and we should be worried that few in Albany and Trenton are actively seeking a solution to this capacity problem. We should discuss through-running at Penn Station to bolster capacity as well. But because of geography, politics and economics, these capacity concerns represent a problem that won’t soon disappear.
It has, to say the least, been a rough few years for New Jersey Transit. Over the past year and a half, the current agency leadership has overseen a disastrous response to Hurricane Sandy and, more recently, garnered bad press when football fans had to wait for up to three hours outside of Met Life Stadium when the Super Bowl ended. These were both avoidable problems, but no one seemed to care. It was surprising that no one in the upper echelons of management got the axe following the hurricane, but it seems as though the Super Bowl fallout will cause some heads to roll.
As Karen Rouse of The Record reported this past weekend, it appears as though enough is enough for New Jersey Transit. James Weinstein is ostensibly on the way out as the Executive Director of NJ Transit. As Rouse notes, Weinstein has been a loyal confidant of Gov. Chris Christie’s. He took on the burden of negotiating the cancellation of the ARC Tunnel and negotiated with the feds in coming to terms on a refund for federal funds.
Now, though, the failures have mounted — including one involving canceled NJ Transit trademarks — and amidst other scandals plaguing his administration, Christie is gearing up to cut loose Weinstein. Here’s Rouse’s story:
Weinstein now appears to be on his way out. His faithfulness may not have been enough to overcome a series of high-profile failures that occurred under his watch, most notably, the agency’s ill-fated decision to abandon nearly 400 railcars and locomotives in flood-prone rail yards during Superstorm Sandy and its clumsy handling of Super Bowl transportation. Thousands of football fans were stranded at MetLife Stadium for hours because NJ Transit was unprepared for the 33,000 football fans that overwhelmed the system.
He is expected to be replaced by Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim, a former senior vice president at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital construction program who is currently executive director at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. His pending departure comes amid growing dissatisfaction among NJ Transit employees, who complain of low morale and favoritism in the upper ranks; tensions with Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson, who, as chairman of NJ Transit’s board, is Weinstein’s boss; and a commuter rail and bus system so plagued with breakdowns that some customers have told the board it’s no longer reliable.
Weinstein declined multiple requests to be interviewed, but friends of the director say Christie’s tight control over NJ Transit has prevented Weinstein from effectively managing the agency’s operations. “Larger policy decisions, larger to medium-sized, the governor’s office is integrally involved,” said Martin Robins, a past deputy executive director at NJ Transit who considers Weinstein a friend. “That is a fact of life at NJ Transit.”
Rouse’s full story is well worth the read. She charts familiar ground in rehashing the problems surrounding the agency’s preparation and response to Sandy, but she delves into the internal state politics of New Jersey Transit as well. The battles between Simpson and Weinstein seem to have been a deciding factor as well.
From Rouse’s story, it doesn’t sound as though Weinstein’s ouster will change much at New Jersey Transit. It may improve morale on a day-to-day basis, but if Trenton is going to insert itself into every major decision, the person heading up the agency doesn’t have nearly enough autonomy to affect real change. Still, such a move shows that someone is watching, albeit symbolically. New Jersey Transit needed a change, and this may be a good first step. I’m not holding my breath for the improvements the railroad needs though.
A week ago, at this very hour, tens of thousands of football fans were awaiting relief. They were jam-packed outside of Met Life Stadium, hoping that some New Jersey Transit train would show up to bring them to Secaucus Junction where they could wait for another train to get them to Penn Station. Despite New Jersey Transit’s later proclamation of a great night, it was a mess, and both New Jersey lawmakers and the National Football League have vowed to conduct investigations into the situation.
It will be some time before the results of yet another investigation into New Jersey Transit’s poor operations procedures are available, but already, stories are leaking out of something between managerial negligence and managerial incompetence. Shocking, I know, but bear with me. Here’s the latest from the Daily News: New Jersey Transit had 100 buses ready to deploy but no one thought to call upon them. Pete Donohue reports:
While tens of thousands of Super Bowl attendees waited for hours to cram into trains after the game Sunday, at least 100 New Jersey Transit buses were on standby about 6 miles away but were never deployed. “They were lined up one after the other,” a source familiar with Super Bowl transportation plans and game day operations said of the buses. “They were staged and ready to go.”
But for some reason, no one called in NJ Transit’s cavalry of commuter coaches as legions of frustrated fans inched out of MetLife Stadium and waited in horrendously long lines for shuttle trains bound for NJ Transit’s Secaucus Junction station…
One source told the Daily News that in order to have staff available, drivers were called in on overtime and NJ Transit canceled vacation days for some workers. Yet despite the planning, no one ordered the rollout of what could have been a solution to the embarrassing postgame mass transit mess. The fleet of buses was viewed merely as a contingency plan in case problems arose at the Secaucus station, sources said. NJ Transit did send about 20 buses to the stadium from a nearby highway rest area, and they arrived not long after the game ended.
I don’t have too much to add here. Snarky comments don’t do this justice. It is, rather, yet another example of New Jersey Transit’s inability to operate a transit system into and out of some of the most densely populated areas of the country and some of the areas that most rely upon transit. Rolling out the buses wouldn’t have solved the problem for all 29,000 people, but such a measure would have been a no-brainer to attempt to tackle the problem.
Ultimately, still, everyone at New Jersey Transit who was employed before the Super Bowl still has his or her job just like all of those upper-level executives were completely botched the agency’s response to Sandy still have their jobs. There is no accountability at New Jersey Transit, and this carelessness seems to run all the way up to Trenton where Gov. Chris Christie said he was “really proud of the work” New Jersey Transit did during the Super Bowl. As hard as it is to believe sometimes, New Jersey Transit is a vital part of the network that ensures congestion in New York City and its environs is kept to a minimum. It deserves better than this.
In all of the promotional materials leading up to the Super Bowl, mass transit played a key role. The build-up to the game, much to the chagrin of New Jersey politicians, focused around New York City, but the anti-climactic Super Bowl happened out in the swamps of Jersey. So for weeks on end, organizers urged patrons to take the train to the game as parking would be limited and traffic bad. Little did anyone realize that everyone who took the train to the game would also have to take the train home from the game.
For New Jersey Transit, Sunday night’s debacle in which hordes of football fans waited in close confines outside the Meadowlands train station for up to three hours after the game ended was just another in a long list of problems. This is, after all, the same agency that ignored weather forecasts and moved trains into low-lying, flood-prone areas ahead of the region’s worst hurricane in decades. No one has been held responsible for that mess, and the same people were in charge for last night’s mess.
So here’s what happened: The Super Bowl organizers offered a $51 bus from Met Life Stadium into the city, but those tickets did not sell as briskly as planned. Instead, people who didn’t want to pay for parking or suffer the hassles of driving to the stadium took the train. As per usual, the ride on the way out was crowded, especially at Secaucus Junction, but tolerable. After the game, all hell broke loose. Few fans who paid for the experience of seeing a Super Bowl left early, and so when 30,000 fans headed to the train shortly after the Seahawks won, it was a giant mess.
That crowds piled up long after the game ended isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s tried to take the train home from a concert. New Jersey Transit stresses the convenience of travel to the games, but in nearly five years, they haven’t been able to move crowds away from the stadium when events let out. My first experience came during a Springsteen show in 2009 when we had to wait nearly an hour just to get a train that would take us to Secaucus. Since transfers aren’t timed properly, we had to wait until 40 minutes before a Penn Station-bound train arrived. I haven’t taken NJ Transit to Met Life again.
In dissecting Sunday night’s problems in an interview with The Times, NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein issued some of the most inane comments you will hear from someone tasked to run a transit agency. Noting that nearly 20,000 more fans used the trains than expected, Weinstein seemed more keen to issue zingers than to take responsibility for the mess. Matt Flegenheimer reports:
The reasons, transit and National Football League officials said on Monday, were varied; even the weather, which had been the greatest concern of staging the Super Bowl in the Northeast, may have conspired against the rail system. James Weinstein, New Jersey Transit’s executive director, said in an interview that many fans seemed to have decided on train travel at the last minute, suggesting that a cooler day might have kept some at home. “If today’s weather was yesterday,” he said, referring to Monday’s slushy snowfall, “I think it’s legitimate speculation that the turnout for the Super Bowl would not have been as robust.”
…Still, despite riders’ frustrations — and an acknowledgment from an N.F.L. spokesman that organizers “fell short” of their transit goals — delays almost certainly could have been worse. New Jersey Transit suffered no major breakdowns or other complications. And the agency’s estimate on Sunday evening that about 12,000 fans could be moved per hour proved largely accurate. “It’s not Star Trek,” Mr. Weinstein said, noting the system’s constrained capacity. “You can’t beam people from one place to the other.”
When the agency realized how many people had taken trains, he added, extra buses were summoned to help ease the postgame crush, carrying about 1,800 passengers. “Can we figure out better ways to handle it? I’m sure we can,” he said. “What those are, I’m not sure at this point that I’m able to articulate them.” Mr. Weinstein was asked how he might prepare differently if the Super Bowl returned. “I’d shoot myself,” he said, waiting a beat. “I’m only kidding.”
Hours after the drama unfolded, New Jersey Transit’s Twitter account seemed oblivious to controversy, and it’s stunning to hear Weinstein say they don’t know what they’d do differently. The Meadowlands stop is a dead-end stub that sees service only during peak events and can’t seem to handle post-event loads. It cost over $200 million to build, and somehow, moving out 33,000 fans over the course of three hours is a victory. The decision to kill the ARC Tunnel wouldn’t have solved Sunday’s problems but could have addressed capacity issues on a line that can’t do what it’s designed to do. And somehow, New Jersey Transit thinks this is all one big victory. That’s pathetic.
Even picking on Weinstein, the teflon man behind the response to Sandy, may be a moot point soon. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may soon remove Weinstein from his spot, and if the embattled governor doesn’t act on his own, other Garden State politicians and columnists are starting to make more noise that should lead to Weinstein’s ouster. Even the NFL, notorious for exercising tight control over every element of the Super Bowl, wants to conduct its own investigation.
This wasn’t the “world class transit experience” Weinstein promised fans a few months ago. This was instead business as usual for New Jersey Transit. Anyone who has to rely on that agency’s trains would have expected nothing more, and the New York/New Jersey region pays the price for this service on a regular basis.