WESTFIELD, NJ — The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition (RVRC) held a public meeting in Westfield on Monday morning, attended by a record number of people from various government entities, nonprofits, businesses and private citizens.
RVRC Chairman and Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer emphasized the need to get the word out about the coalition and its mission to get the Raritan Valley train line a “one-seat” ride into New York City. For years the RVRC, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, has pushed for a direct train into Manhattan along the Raritan Valley line that runs through Fanwood.
“Getting a one-seat ride to Manhattan … is going to be an ongoing crusade,” said Palmer. While a one-seat ride may seem like just a convenience for some commuters, the reality is that it would foster great economic growth along the whole corridor. The original concept of more tunnels under the Hudson was scuttled in 2010 when Governor Chris Christie rejected the ARC Tunnel project.
Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr said that the Raritan Valley line “does wonderful things” for her town and she noted that, had the ARC tunnel project not been killed, Fanwood would have seen a 30 percent rise in property values.
While the ARC project is still on hold, NJ Transit has purchased dual locomotives that run on both diesel and electric making a one seat ride at least possible. Testing of these locomotives is currently being conducted.
“There is a large constituency that truly wants a one seat ride,” said Mahr, who offered to lead a coalition of mayors for the towns in the four counties along the Raritan Valley line to make sure “we are given a priority” when it comes to assigning the new locomotives.. She asked those in attendance to talk to their mayors and let them know she would be contacting them soon, and that she wants to get them together.
In the meantime, working the Raritan Valley Line into the schedules would take a lot of thought on the part of NJ Transit, noted Martin Robins, director emeritus of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers.
Getting slots during off-peak hours and on weekends is likely, but “The rush hour is what people are really interested in,” noted Palmer. Palmer noted that the peak hour slots are what could raise home values—the average home value goes up $3,000 for every minute saved commuting based on information out of Morris County.
While the RVRC doesn’t know when the dual-powered locomotives will be out of the testing phase, Robins said it was important to mount whatever effort they could by the end of next year.
Local leaders expressed the desire to publicize the RVRC’s efforts, including Scotch Plains-Fanwood TAP Licensee Mindy Scarlett and Plainfield TAP Licensee Jeffery Dunn.
“We’ve got to start working together, talking together,” said Dunn. “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.”
Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director Heather Robinson encouraged the meeting’s attendees to talk about the one-seat ride at events such as Union County Women Mean Business and the June 11 GWACC networking dinner.
“Certainly, we’re going to be sharing it on our social media, too,” said Robinson.
Freeholder Kowalski told the group, “The County Freeholders totally support whatever we can do for the one-seat ride.”
The RVRC will be putting together a strategy for communications and public relations over the next few months to further direct supportors in how best to get the message across to NJ Transit and to politicians that the one seat ride is very important to the entire Raritan Valley.