WESTFIELD, NJ — NJ Transit riders and transportation advocacy groups brought a bevy of concerns to NJ Transit leaders who visited the South Avenue train station Wednesday, only to be told there is going to be more discomfort for commuters down the line.
The riders, joined by county, state and local legislators, lobbied for the faster return of direct train service to Manhattan, known as the one-seat ride, and improvements to certain basic commuter services. The NJ Transit and the state Department of Transportation leaders, however, cited a shortage of trains and engineers, along with the implementation of a federal safety requirement, as among the reasons why riders are going to have to continue to wait.
“I know it’s been very painful,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett, speaking to the concerned riders. “There will still be pain through this summer.”
Bruce Bergen, a former Union County freeholder who chairs the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, told the NJ Transit officials that the Raritan Valley Line deserves more of NJ Transit’s resources based on the number of riders along the Raritan Valley Line.
“If you were taking the rail system as a whole and designing it from scratch, the Raritan Valley Line would have some one-seat rides because everybody else does,” Bergen said. “So it’s a matter of fairness. When you look at the whole system, we’re not getting our fair share based on ridership.”
Corbett said that the on-time performance for the Raritan Valley Line is among the best across NJ Transit’s system, something that prompted objections from the riders.
Lisa O’Dwyer, a Westfield resident, presented a slate of concerns from herself and other riders, many of whom were still traveling during the 5 p.m. meeting. O’Dwyer conveyed reports of repeatedly late trains and canceled trains, and expressed concern about municipalities basing their development around train services, which have been reduced.
“Why have they encouraged towns to build transit villages such as in Union and Cranford and soon Garwood, only to make commuters pay?” said O’Dwyer. “It’s irresponsible.”
She came to the forum with a sign showing stick figures saying, “Stuck in Newark. Again!” and “I’m sooo Hangry!”
Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle, who co-chairs the Raritan Valley Line Mayors Alliance with Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, said the news is spreading that there is no peak one-seat ride along the train line, and it is diminishing people’s desire to move into the region.
“This is about the reallocation of the dual locomotives lines in an equitable way that actually makes it so that we’re not the forgotten line,” Brindle said.
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Cranford’s Deputy Mayor Ann Dooley, a daily rider herself, noted an influx of housing slated to be built along the Raritan Valley Line. Dooley said she is concerned the train service will not be able to handle the increased ridership that will come with the residential development.
“Are you looking out for us?” Dooley asked the transit officials. “Is this on your drawing board? Because I don’t want to have to wear Velcro and throw myself against the train to get to work in the morning.”
State DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scacetti promised to address the concerns, even if she could not answer each question at the forum in Westfield. Gutierrez-Scacetti cited as among the issues a federal mandate for safety improvements, known as positive train control, which the state had not begun to install since last year.
“We won’t run away from this issue because it’s our job,” Gutierrez-Scacetti said. “It’s our responsibility.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh