CRANFORD, NJ - The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, a rail-advocacy group representing 1.7 million residents in four counties along NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Rail line, will sponsor a free presentation on the Gateway Project beginning at 7 p.m, Tuesday, March 26th at the Cranford Community Center.
“It cannot be understated: the Gateway Project, and related work, which has been long postponed, comprise the most significant economic impact project in the nation. It is urgent to New Jersey, the northeast, and in fact the entire country, that Federal funding be secured and the project proceed expeditiously,” said Bruce Bergen, a former Union County Freeholder and chairman of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition. “The regional economy would be dealt a catastrophic blow if one of the two existing tunnels, which have seriously deteriorated, fails or is forced to close for a substantial period of time for repairs.”
The forum is free and open to the public. The Cranford Community Center is at 220 Walnut Ave., with onsite parking.
Jerry Zaro, an attorney with Sills, Cummis and Gross P.C. in Newark, serves as chairman of the Gateway Development Corporation and will be the featured speaker.
The GDC oversees the Gateway Project, the multibillion-dollar infrastructure initiative to build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River, rehabilitate the already-existing 108-year-old tunnels which were badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy, build a new Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, expand New York’s Penn Station, and related projects. It would be the largest current infrastructure project in the United States.
Peter Palmer, former Somerset County Freeholder and current RVRC Trustee, said that commuters continue to suffer from delays and cancelations from an over-burdened and antiquated train system in dire need of upgrades. Somerset County has five train stations along the Raritan Valley Rail line, including Somerville..
“Our residents who rely on train service are being pushed to their limits,” said Palmer. “Further delay in making desperately-needed improvements to train service will damage regional economic development. The Rahway Rail Coalition will continue to advocate as strongly as possible on their behalf."
Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp noted: “Reliable train service, including a one-seat ride to New York, is key to the continued revitalization of New Jersey’s urban centers, and the economic well-being of our residents and businesses. Funding must be secured to complete these initiatives, rebuild our roads and bridges and keep our cities moving forward.” Plainfield has two train stations on the Raritan Valley Rail line.
Bette Jane Kowalski, chair of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and a RVRC Trustee, is promoting Union County’s efforts on the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition this year as part of the Board’s 2019 initiatives. Union County has eight stations on the Raritan Valley line, including one in Cranford, where she lives.
“We have heard from many residents who have been personally impacted by the delays and cancellations,” Kowalski said. “We will continue to make our voices heard for the completion of the Gateway Project and the restoration of the one-seat ride for direct service to New York.”
Hunterdon County Freeholder J. Matthew Holt, a RVRC Trustee, added: “Both the Gateway Project and restoration of the one seat ride on the Raritan Valley rail are crucial to the economic vitality of our region. Making these improvements would not only make the commute better, but bring economic benefits to the region---including increased home values, and increased commerce.” There are four train stations along the Raritan Valley rail line in Hunterdon County.
George Ververides, director of County Planning for Middlesex County, and RVRC Trustee, said: “Middlesex County strongly supports the completion of the Gateway Project and the restoration of the one-seat ride on the Raritan Valley Rail line. Transit delays are impacting productivity and the economy. It is also a public safety issue and major quality of life issue as well for residents who commute.”
The Gateway Project improvements are in the heart of the Northeast Corridor, the most heavily used passenger train line in the United States, which accounts for 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). It’s estimated that 10 percent of U.S. GDP depends on transit between New York and New Jersey alone.
The Northeast Corridor carries more than 800,000 passengers in 2,000 trains daily across eight states, and Washington D.C. A 2016 Amtrak report found that implementation of the full Gateway project could generate $3.87-worth of economic benefits for every $1 spent.
The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, which represents Union, Somerset, Middlesex and Hunterdon Counties, was created nearly two decades ago to campaign for a one-seat ride on the Raritan Valley Line, which has 23,500 passengers daily, making it NJ Transit’s third most-used rail line. While track connectivity existed into New York, Raritan Valley riders always had to get off in Newark and switch trains because their diesel engines were not allowed into the tunnels under the Hudson River.
That changed in 2014, when NJ Transit began using dual-mode locomotives that could switch from diesel to electric power, making it possible to have a direct ride into New York City. NJ Transit introduced limited, one-seat ride service during off-peak hours in January, 2015, but then suspended it last year.
The Coalition, which also consists of a Mayors’ Alliance and of County and State officials, can be reached on email at info@Raritanvalleyrail.com; the website is raritanvalleyrail.com/. The Facebook link is at facebook.com/raritanvalleyrail/, and Twitter, twitter.com/rvrailcoalition.