SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – South Orange plans to create an advisory “working group” to continue meeting with NJ Transit about restoring express train service to the village.
Village President Alex Torpey announced the plan at Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting, which was attended by representatives of NJ Transit.
“We’ve realized ... that this is going to be an ongoing issue," Torpey said. “I'll be reaching out folks that have been interested (in the issue).”
The meeting got under way a half hour late due to the lack of a quorum. The board was able to conduct business only after Trustee Janine Bauer joined the meeting via teleconferencing. Trustees Michael Goldberg and Nancy Gould were absent.
Paul Wykoff, chief of government and external affairs for NJ Transit, said that changes announced Jan. 24 to the 6:19 p.m. train from Penn Station will shorten the commute to South Orange.
Beginning in March, that train will no longer stop at Secaucus and Broad Street Newark, “Taking two stops off that train will reduce the time (from 40 minutes) to 34 minutes and make that a reliable 34 minutes,” he said.
“This change is a step, but it's only one step,” he told the crowded meeting room. He said NJ Transit will continue “to look for ways to affect other trains and make them more efficient."
“A number of people have asked why we can't just restore the pre-October schedule,” Wykoff said. “The trains were rearranged to take care of a problem on the Gladstone train. One of the side consequences was lengthening the South Orange trains. We had to look for a solution, at least an interim solution, that would help South Orange while not overcrowding those trains again.”
He said that any further changes to train schedules could not be made until June.
Residents expressed their frustration with the slow response to complaints that arose after express train service to South Orange during the evening rush hour was eliminated in October.
Scott Greenstone, who organized a petition drive to urge NJ Transit to restore express service to South Orange, said: “I also want to point out that one train does not define this village. The whole issue is that it encompasses the two- to three-hour rush-hour period. Each train is eight to 10 minutes later and longer than what they were prior to October.”
He quoted fellow resident William Blake: “It’s as if New Jersey Transit came with a forklift, took South Orange, and put it farther west than Short Hills.”
Lee Pollock commented, “I think you should strongly consider making changes faster than you're proposing."
Wykoff noted that ridership from South Orange is the largest of any stop on the line, and it is the ninth largest in the NJ Transit system.
“I know (the change does) not go as far as customers would like,” Wykoff said. “It will get people home quicker, before 7 o’clock, and more reliably. But our commitment is also to keep working with the folks who have been meeting with us ... to keep going over what potential changes we can make as time goes on.”
Individuals interested in the proposed working group should contact Torpey at firstname.lastname@example.org.