WESTFIELD, NJ — The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition’s efforts to fund a study the group hopes will lead to expanded “one-seat ride” train service into New York received a boost on Monday as Assemblyman Jamel Holley of Roselle pledged his support.
Assemblyman Holley of Roselle, who represents the 20th Legislative District that includes Roselle and Union, two stops along the line, spoke at the RVRC's monthly meeting in Westfield.
The RVRC hopes to increase “one-seat ride” service into New York City beyond the current daily mid-day and evening service currently available on NJ Transit's Raritan Valley line. During peak hours, passengers must switch trains in Newark to get into Manhattan.
The group’s first order of business is to fill out weekday “one-seat” service with another early morning train, leaving Plainfield about 8 a.m. and Westfield at 8:30 a.m. and other trains leaving New York City at 4 and 8 p.m. The group’s next priority will be to press for weekend “one-stop-ride” service, according to Martin E. Robins, former director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University and Union County’s representative to the RVRC Board.
One of the challenges, Robins noted, is that there currently only are 19 “slots” for trains entering New York, and the NJ Legislature does not want to take slots away from current lines going directly into the rail tunnels in order to accommodate Raritan Valley trains.
The study, estimated to cost about $1 million, would be needed to convince New Jersey lawmakers and New Jersey Transit of the economic advantages and feasibility of expanded Raritan Valley service.
Robins pointed out that the expanded one-seat servicee would increase property values into communities such as Fanwood/Scotch Plains, Westfield and other towns along the Raritan Valley line, as it has for Summit, which already has direct service via the Midtown Direct line.
Holley said his fellow 20th District legislators, Senator Raymond J. Lesniak and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, already have signed a letter in support of the study and support also has been received by Senator Thomas Kean, Jr. and Jon Bramnick of the 21 District, which includes Westfield.
It also was pointed out at the meeting that Assemblymen Jerry Green, Michael Dougherty and Jack Ciatterrelli support the study.
Robins said once the precise parameters of the expanded service proposal are pointed out to the state in the initial study the next step would be obtaining the estimated $3 million to $4 million needed to implement the changes.
One of the challenges, audience members noted, is providing parking at the local stations for the increased number of rail travelers who would use the train service. New Jersey grants for the development of central business districts and Urban Enterprise Zones might help meet some of the costs.
Holley said he wasn’t aware of the use of those funds specifically for developments related to the expansion of “one-seat-ride” rail service.
One audience member, noting that Plainfield appeared to be a “weak link” in the system, suggested that the counties and state should be pressed to finance a parking authority for that city in order to encourage economic development there.
Audience member Bill Nierstead noted that the Queen City recently approved a 212-unit apartment complex as part of its Transit Village plan.
Nierstead, a Garwood resident, also pressed for more service to Garwood, where only five Raritan Valley trains currently stop all day.
Peter S. Palmer, RVRC chairman noted that another long-term goal of the coalition, is the addition of another railroad tunnel into Manhattan because the current two tunnels leading into New York City are reaching capacity.
He estimated the proposed new Gateway Tunnel project would take another 10 years before it is completed and the rehabilitation of the current tunnels to better serve New Jersey riders would take additional four years. The cost for those projects would be about $10 billion, Palmer said.
Additionally, the replacement of two portal bridges along New Jersey Transit lines would cost about $1 billion and the upgrading of New York’s Pennsylvania Station would cost about $10 billion, he added.
It was noted that both Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker have been pressing hard to keep the Gateway Tunnel project moving.
A member of the audience said a more immediate solution to the Raritan Valley problem might be enabling trains to come into Newark Penn Station at the same level as Northeast Corridor and other trains bound for Manhattan so that passengers transferring to New York City trains would not have to rush downstairs to make their connections.