SCOTCH PLAINS-FANWOOD, NJ -- Riders along the Raritan Valley line have been able to enjoy one-seat (non-transfer) train rides into New York's Penn Station since March and had expected an expansion of that service into evenings to be announced in November.
Those plans came to a screeching halt this morning when NJ Transit tweeted: “At this time we will not be able to expand the #RVL direct service to NY during weekday evenings due to budgetary constraints.” NJT followed that tweet with another: “However, we are looking into potential alternate funding sources in the future to expand the #RVL direct service to NY.”
For decades, passengers from Fanwood, Westfield, Cranford, and other stops along the Raritan Valley Line have had to switch in Newark from diesel-fueled trains to electric-powered engines that are allowed in the tunnels leading into New York City. Direct trains leave Fanwood station for Manhattan at 9:12, 10:16, and 11:18 a.m., and 12:18 and 1:16 p.m. New Jersey-bound direct trains leave Penn Station at 10:44 and11:49 a.m., and 12:49, 1:47, and 2:39 p.m.
"Obviously, the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition is very disappointed with this outcome. However, NJ Transit has assured us that they are working on another source of money so that the after 8 p.m. 'one seat' ride can go ahead as planned," Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer, Chairman of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition (RVRC) following his meeting with NJ Transit this afternoon. "They should know in a couple of weeks if this will happen. We can only hope that they find sufficient funding."
"We've always been respectful of the challenges NJ Transit has faced in implementing equity for the Raritan Valley line when it comes to direct service into Manhattan. I was frustrated to learn about this change via breaking news on TAP as we were en route to our regularly scheduled quarterly meeting with NJ Transit," said Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, a longtime advocate for direct service into New York. "At our last meeting, we were assured that the additional costs of service expansion would not be an issue. Evidently, a lot has changed; it is likely a result of the state's reducing NJ Transit's budget in June."
"There is a cost -- estimated at about $600,000 -- associated to rolling out the expansion of the one-seat ride," said Mahr, adding that the RVRC will work closely with NJ Transit over the next several weeks to try to get the increased direct service back on track. "Hopefully, this is only a temporary setback."
Mahr said that getting people off the road and on the rails is beneficial and that Fanwood and other towns along the line have been doing exactly what NJ Transit wanted to help encourage train ridership.
"The numbers are going up, but at this point, we don't have equity with what other lines have," Mahr added.
In April, NJ Transit executive director Ronnie Hakim said that Raritan Valley Line "one-seat" service was targeted to expand to weekday evenings after 8 p.m.