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‘It’s Complicated’: Raritan Valley Rail Coalition Meets for Update on One-Seat Ride to NYC

Peter Palmer, RVRC Chairman and Somerset County Freeholder with Westfield Councilmen David Oliveira and Keith Loughlin. Credits: K. Brochu
Legislators, elected officials, transportation professionals and the public were invited to join the RVRC meeting, Monday. Credits: K. Brochu

CRANFORD, NJ — The Raritan Valley Railroad Coalition met Monday evening at the Cranford Community Center to provide an update on the status of the Coalition’s one-seat ride efforts.

“I have good information, but the news in not particularly good,” said Peter Palmer, RVRC Chairman and Somerset County Freeholder.

Palmer later noted the heavy Westfield presence in the room.

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“There is a strong contingent here from Westfield,” he said. The town was represented by Mayor Andy Skibitsky and Councilmen Mark LoGrippo, David Oliveira and Keith Loughlin.

In the first quarter of 2017, the trustees of the RVRC pushed for a schedule enhancement that would not run up against any of NJ Transit’s previous objections including budgetary constraints and logistical complications. NJ TRANSIT offered an “after 8 p.m.” one-seat ride that he described as less than ideal.

“While the RVRC is pleased that NJ TRANSIT launched the after 8 p.m. weekday ‘one seat’ ride, the first train out of NYC is currently 8:50 p.m,” said Palmer.

After careful analysis, the RVRC was able to determine a possible solution for an earlier train, which they said is a step in the right direction for the ultimate goal of securing a consistent one-seat ride schedule.

“It’s the next step — it’s progress,” said Mindy Scarlett, partner and marketing strategist of Scarlett & Ryan Consulting, which represents RVRC. When asked what the public could do to push the one-seat ride forward, Scarlett urged everyone to sign and share the RVRC’s petition that can be found online at https://raritanvalleyrail.com/petition/.

“It’s not just about convenience for our commuters; it’s about growing our towns,” said Scarlett, reminding the public that a one-seat ride would have a beneficial impact on the community overall, likely increasing property values by 15 percent and aiding in the health of local commerce.

“Leave comments — it will make it harder for politicians to ignore us,” she said.

Currently, the petition has 3,000 signatories, but with a strong social media strategy, RVRC hopes to increase that number until they gain the attention of the transit decision-makers — attention that the community feels is well-deserved.

“We should get at least 10 percent of the one-seat rides going into the city. We should get our fair share,” said BJ Kowalski, RVRC trustee and Union County freeholder.

While ridership on the Raritan Valley line makes up nearly 10 percent of all ridership into Penn Station, overall and projected values were not available. Community members urged the need to get NJ TRANSIT to realize potential value of a one seat ride. The Raritan Valley ridership has increased at a greater rate than all other lines.

The RVRC also discussed the future plans of Penn Station and the coalition’s hope that long-term benefits will be considered.

“Any plan that buries Penn Station under the Garden is not good planning,” said Palmer.

Both the Hunter Flyover and PATH to Newark Airport were briefly discussed with the hopes that construction of these projects will be planned together so that construction of one will not preclude construction of the other.

It was also reported that the renewal of the Transportation Trust Fund will lead to an increase of about $100 million additional dollars annually for NJ Transit capital. $32.5 million of funding will be allocated for Positive Train Control — a system that is designed to prevent certain train accidents. This initiative gained renewed focus after the fatal crash at the Hoboken Terminal in September.

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