SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – The village trustees, state legislators and South Orange commuters all took two representatives of NJ Transit to task at Monday night’s Board of Trustees meeting over the elimination of express trains during evening rush hour.

The changes went into effect Oct. 14. Trains leaving Penn Station between 5-7 p.m. now make a minimum of three stops before South Orange, making the evening commute longer. In addition, NJ Transit moved the departure time of one train from 5:54 p.m.to 5:48 p.m., forcing more commuters to wait for a later train.

Paul Wyckoff, NJ Transit spokesman, originally said nothing could be done until the agency completes its evaluation of the schedule change, expected to take a month. However, when pressed by Village President Alex Torpey to consider reinstating at least one express train, he said, “We’ll try to get you an answer this week.”

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Wyckoff also said, however, that any changes to the schedule are not likely to occur before January.  “We don’t usually make changes past Thanksgiving,” he said, noting that ridership patterns are different during the holidays.

“It’s almost like a Rubik’s Cube,” he said in describing the scheduling process. Each spring and fall, he said, NJ Transit negotiates with Amtrak over schedules. This fall, because those talks ran late, NJ Transit did not notify community leaders in advance of the changes.

Tom Morgan, senior director of rail service planning, said that South Orange is one of the busiest stops on the line, carrying about 3,600 riders a day. Trustee Mark Rosner, who commutes, said stations farther west got “vastly improved” schedules.

“We stepped up to the plate as a transit village,” Trustee Deborah Davis Ford commented in expressing trustees’ dismay over South Orange’s treatment by NJ Transit.

In addition, adding to the length of the commute has an impact on the housing market, according to Trustee Nancy Gould. She said one feature that sells South Orange is the fact the commute is shorter – an advantage that disappears when riders can get to Summit in the same time it takes to commute to South Orange.

Former Gov. Richard Codey concurred. “Let’s not fool anyone,” he said. “(Train service) makes this town more attractive.” He has met with NJ Transit officials, along with Assemblyman John McKeon and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, who represent the 27th District.

McKeon said, “We are confident the situation will be resolved to the satisfaction of our constituents.”

In other action, the Board of Trustees:

  • Voted 3-1 in favor of awarding a no-cost contract to Redflex Traffic Systems for so-called red-light cameras. Trustees noted this is the first step in a 12- to 18-month process of getting state approval for the installation. Trustee Mark Rosner voted against the contract. Trustees Deborah Davis Ford and Howard Levison were absent.
     
  • Approved changes to the village code that would make it easier for residents to build additions, decks and patios without violating the rules regarding the amount of “impervious coverage” on the lot – surfaces that create runoff rather than allowing water to pass through. The vote was 4-0.
     
  • Heard a report from Trustee Michael Goldberg about a resident’s request to close off Finlay Avenue (see related story here). Goldberg said the village cannot close the road because it is a through street.
     
  • Decided to make another effort to talk with a fitness trainer whose clients exercise in Meadowbrook Park early in the morning, which has generated complaints from residents who live across the street. (See related story here.)

The reporter is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.