MAPLEWOOD AND SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - Monday morning, July 10, was the first day of what has been called the "Summer of Hell" for NJTransit commuters, when service on NJTransit is greatly reduced while Amtrak rail work is being completed. Both Maplewood and South Orange had refreshments and local officials on hand to send-off commuters on the first day of the new schedule.

Early on Monday morning, former New Jersey Governor/Senator Richard Codey arrived at the Maplewood train station, with two of his staff bearing coffee and donuts to help see the commuters off on their first morning of service reductions on the Morris and Essex line. Shortly after his arrival, Deputy Maplewood Mayor Nancy Adams and Maplewood Committee members Frank McGehee and Greg Lembrich arrived to serve refreshments, converse with commuters, and provide information and encouragement to the early morning commuters.

The last train direct to New York Penn Station from Maplewood each morning during the construction period is the 6:21 a.m. train, which departed on schedule Monday morning.

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Codey shared his thoughts on the train service reduction, stating ”this all happened through a lack of money – money had been allocated to the New Jersey Transit budget but it was taken away to do other things with it, to do other things by our 'famous governor.' The people should never have been put through this."

Maplewood's government officials shared their thanks for the direct busses, and additional trains, which they said were the result ofthe efforts of Mayor Vic DeLuca and our legislators John McKeon, Mila Jasey and Codey gaining these additions through negotiations with New Jersey Transit. NJ Transit originally did not have plans for additional trains, and buses to New York City.

McGehee shared that he was planning to take the 7:33 a.m. train to Hoboken, transfer to the Path to 33rd Street, and then walk to his office. On Tuesday he plans to take the same train to Hoboken, but to try the ferry to 39th street to see which is the better way to travel.

In addition to the commuter send-off at the Maplewood train station, there was also one at the South Orange Train station, the busiest stop on the Morris & Essex train line.

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum and several South Orange trustees were there to see off the commuters, as were local police, and fire chief Dan Sullivan. South Orange municipal employees, including administrator Barry Lewis and deputy administrator Adam Loehner, were there to answer commuter questions and give words of encouragement.

"It's a wonderful morning," said Collum, "and in the absence [of being able] to make any more substantial changes to the schedule to accommodate our riders, we decided to throw what can be seen as a 'Summer of Hell Soiree 'for the South Orange Commuters. We’ve got coffee, juices, bananas, granola bars, doughnuts, bagels – at least we’re putting a smile on the faces of the commuters before they enter what’s going to be a very stressful two months.” The few additional trains that ran before 7am, and the extra busses direct to New York Port Authority, were the result of the negotiating efforts of South Orange Village President Sheena Collum assisted by our legislators.

There was also an opportunity for commuters to visit with members of SOMA Action who had a table set up to encourage people to lobby the U S Transportation Department to Invest in the Gateway Project (which was suspended by Governor Christie about 6 years ago). SOMA Action's message was the direct: "People over politics!"

One commuter, Denise Stennett, mentioned that one early morning train which arrived in South Orange after picking-up passengers in Maplewood, had standing room only, and that she had decided to wait for the next train. The subsequent train arrived shortly later, and had plenty of room, as it had not made any stops before South Orange. 

There were also many commuters boarding buses in South Orange, which were going to NY Port Authority.

Are you commuting during the "Summer of Hell?" We want to hear your stories! Let us know about your commute: email Anna Sandler at asandler@tapinto.net.

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