Business & Finance

Raritan Valley Rail Coalition Continues to Press for One Seat Rides to Manhattan from Somerville

1ff922f69ddf810fee63_sompixnjtransittrain.jpg
The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition is continuing to lobby NJ Transit to add more one seat trains so that commuters don't have to switch trains in Newark for the ride to Manhattan Credits: Courtesy Raritan Valley Rail Coalition
1ff922f69ddf810fee63_sompixnjtransittrain.jpg

SOMERVILLE, NJ – New Jersey commuters have a lot riding on the future of rail service to and from New York City, but finding viable solutions is as tough as finding a seat on the 5:39 p.m. out of Manhattan bound for Somerville.

It’s an adventure, aggravated by a mad dash up-and-down the stairs at Newark Penn Station to make the switch from the Northeast Corridor train in time to catch the Raritan Valley Line - on a different track.

The Raritan Valley Railroad Coalition, which has had some success in NJ Transit’s implementation of one-seat service met in Somerville to review last year’s accomplishments and look ahead to 2016 and beyond.

Sign Up for E-News

Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer, recently elected to a two-year term as RVRC chairman, led the discussion which focused on the massive bi-state Gateway Project and construction of a new tunnel beneath the Hudson River; the proposed Hunter Flyover outside Newark’s Penn Station; and replacement of the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, a 105-year-old swing bridge that often malfunctions and stops trains in their track.

All of these projects are undergoing environmental and engineering studies, with construction several years away.

Funding is also a challenge, with billions of dollars needed; the Portal Bridge project is pegged at $1 billion, according to Palmer.

Following years of lobbying, the RVRC convinced NJ Transit to implement a one-seat ride during off hours in March 2014. Nine months later, NJ Transit added a direct service train at 8 p.m.

But because of the added expense of running more trains and limited time slots, NJ Transit has delayed adding more one-seat rides.

“We’re not willing to wait 15, 20 years for new tunnels to be built before we get one-seat rush hour service,” Palmer said.

Palmer is working with state legislators in five districts encompassing towns along the Raritan Valley Line to lend their support to the RVRC's ongoing lobbying effort to increase the number of one-ride trains.

The RVRC, formed almost 20 years ago, is just one of several public and private agencies searching for consensus to clear the choke points on the Northeast Corridor -  the main rail line shared by Amtrak and NJ Transit -  and finding the necessary funding to improve the critical rail connection to New York City.

Many of the 200,000 New Jersey train commuters who travel to New York City daily live in towns along the Raritan Valley Line.

Ridership on the the Raritan Valley Line has increased more than all of the other NJ Transit lines that funnel into New York City, according to Palmer, with the biggest increase coming from stations between Union and Cranford. Westfield commuters comprise the biggest number using the Raritan Valley Line, he added.  

The RVRC yesterday also previewed two videos promoting the Gateway Project and One Seat Ride initiative. The narrative of both productions underlines convenience, economic benefits and urgency.

Somerville Councilman Thompson Mitchell suggested the videos be made available to local access cable channels.

The videos were produced without charge by videographer Aimee Nuzzio.

Here are details on the three major projects discussed:

  • At Hunter Interlocking, the NJ TRANSIT Raritan Valley Line joins the NEC just west of Newark Penn Station. Currently, peak-hour Raritan Valley Line trains headed east to Newark must cross three to four Northeast Corridor main line tracks at grade to access the eastbound tracks at Newark Penn Station.

With 40 Newark-bound trains per day, Raritan Valley Line trains create conflicts on one of the busiest stretches of the entire NEC. During the morning rush, Raritan Valley Line trains are often delayed as they wait for a “slot” to make the complex crossing, while Amtrak trains must occasionally wait for the trains to complete the crossing.

To solve these issues, Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT intend to partner to construct the Hunter Flyover, which would carry Newark-bound Raritan Valley Line trains up and over the six-track NEC main line. This new flyover would remove many directional conflicts between trains and dramatically reduce delays for NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak.

  • The Gateway Program is a proposed set of strategic rail infrastructure improvements designed to improve current services and create new capacity that will allow the doubling of passenger trains running under the Hudson River.

The program will increase track, tunnel, bridge and station capacity, eventually creating four mainline tracks between Newark, NJ, and Penn Station, New York, including a new, two-track Hudson River tunnel.

The program also includes updates to, and modernization of, existing infrastructure, such as the electrical system that supplies power to the roughly 450 weekday trains using this segment of the NEC, and rebuilding and replacing the damaged components of the existing, century-old Hudson River tunnel, which was inundated with sea water during Superstorm Sandy.

By eliminating the bottleneck in New York and creating additional tunnel, track and station capacity in the most congested segment of the NEC, the Gateway Program will provide greater levels of service, increased redundancy, added reliability for shared operations and additional capacity for the future increases in commuter and intercity rail service.

The Gateway Program is still in the planning and design phase and a reliable program cost estimate has not yet been developed. Amtrak has directed more than $300 million, mostly from federal sources, to the Gateway Program since 2012. This includes approximately $74 million for planning and pre-construction work and $235 million to the Hudson Yards concrete casing from federal Sandy Resiliency funding under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.

  • NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak have completed final design and federal environmental review to replace the century-old, swing-span Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River with a new, more reliable, fixed-span bridge.

The existing Portal Bridge, which hosts about 450 trains per day traveling between Newark, NJ and New York Penn Station is a major bottleneck and source of delay of train traffic. The aging mechanical components sometimes malfunction while opening and closing for maritime traffic. 

The two-track replacement bridge, known as Portal Bridge North, is designed as a high-level, fixed-span bridge, eliminating the movable components and risk of malfunction.

The new bridge is estimated to cost approximately $1 billion and will proceed with the cooperation of NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak, as soon as funding can be secured, according to Palmer.

The recently completed design process involved a preliminary design phase, for which costs of $31 million were shared between NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak, and final design, funded by a Federal Railroad Administration grant of $38.5 million. 

A second, two-track Portal Bridge South span is proposed as part of the Gateway Program and when complete will double train capacity along this critical length of the Northeast Corridor.

Planning and design of Portal Bridge South will be finalized following the completion of the federal NEC Future study and environmental review process. 

If work were to start tomorrow on the massive Gateway Project, it would take 15 years to complete, according to Sen. Corey Booker, D-NJ, one of several public officials interviewed in the videos.

Martin Robbins, RVRC trustee mentioned “ the elephant in the room” - the obvious challenge of finding the necessary funding to move the project along.

Gov. Chris Christie and state legislators have not agreed on a method to fund the state’s ailing New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund, which will run out of money in June.

Until that problem is fixed, moving forward with any transit project will be difficult, Robbins said.

Underlining the problems with NJ Transit, trains on the Raritan Valley Line were running one hour behind schedule during the peak of Monday’s morning rush hour; service on the Gladstone line had been suspended because of ongoing problems caused by the weekend blizzard which dumped more than two feet of snow across New Jersey.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Bridgewater/Raritan

Upcoming Events

Fri, April 20

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Les Photos de Bernie at the Wayrick ...

Arts & Entertainment Green

Fri, April 20, 2:00 PM

Bridgewater Township Library, Bridgewater

Backyard Birds

Education Home & Garden

Sat, April 21

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Les Photos de Bernie at the Wayrick ...

Arts & Entertainment Green

New Jersey Association of School Librarians Urges BRRSD to Keep All Librarians

April 18, 2018

To the Editor:

The following letter was sent to the Bridgewater-Raritan school superintendent as well as members of the school board from the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL).  

As the statewide organization for school library media specialists, the organization advocates for strong school library programs for all students.  NJASL is disheartened to learn that a ...

Bridgewater Police Arrest Two for $600 Theft at Lord & Taylor

April 14, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Two were arrested March 31 for a theft of over $600 worth of merchandise from Lord & Taylor, in the Bridgewater Commons Mall, according to a report from Bridgewater Township Police.

Mariam Erkomaishvili, 35, of West Orange, and Mikheil Jalali, 38, of Brooklyn, were arrested for shoplifting after they were allegedly found with $624 worth of ...

Hidden in Plain Sight Program to Provide Tips on Recognizing Drug Use in Teens

April 18, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater-Raritan High School, on Garretson Road, will be hosting "Hidden in Plain Sight," a program to help parents recognize the signs a child might be using drugs or alcohol.

The program will be held April 24 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium. There will be a light dinner at 6:30 p.m.

DEA Agent Tim McMahon will speak to parents and students about the signs to look ...

Hillsborough Rotary Fair: Fun Place to Do Business

April 17, 2018

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - The Rotary Club of Hillsborough will provide local businesses multiple opportunities to showcase their services and connect directly with customers at its 11th annual Rotary Fair, scheduled this year for Aug. 14–19.

More than 15,000 people from Hillsborough and surrounding communities are expected to visit the weeklong family event held at the Hillsborough Promenade, ...

'The Sting' shimmers and shakes at Paper Mill

‘The Sting ‘slithers and shakes at Paper Mill Playhouse

By LIZ KEILL

MILLBURN, NJ – In a premiere production of “The Sting,” Harry Connick Jr. commands the Paper Mill Playhouse stage in Millburn.

Based on the sensational Paul Newman/Robert Redford film in 1973, the 1930s plot centers on a con game and gambling, sometimes on a train between New York and ...

Bateman Bill to Require Training, Licensing for Pet Groomers

April 15, 2018

TRENTON, NJ - Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R-16) will introduce legislation to increase protections for family pets by requiring pet groomers to be properly trained and licensed following the deaths of three dogs in five months at different New Jersey pet salons.

“It is sadly far too common for us to read of dog grooming deaths in the news,” said Bateman.