CRANFORD, NJ - Union County Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski joined Bruce Bergen, chairman of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition (RVRC), members of the public, and elected officials from various towns and counties along the Raritan Valley Rail Line to discuss mass transit improvements at a RVRC Public Meeting in Cranford.

The Raritan Valley Line is NJ Transit's the third most daily-used rail line, with Somerville as one of its stops; it does not have a one-seat direct ride to NY Penn Station. The RVRC was created over two decades ago to advocate for a one-seat ride. Steps were taking towards that goal on March 3rd, 2014 when The Raritan Valley Line received an off-peak, mid-day one-seat ride. Ten months later on Jan 12, 2015, an after 8 p.m. week day one-seat ride was added. However, in the fall of 2018, these one-seat rides were temporarily suspended due to work required by NJ Transit to complete its Positive Train Control project (PTC). Though it was deemed "temporary," the suspension remains in effect to date. 

Currently, trains into and from New York City travel through the North River Tunnels, which opened for service in 1910. In 2012, these tunnels suffered severe damage from Superstorm Sandy as they were flooded with salt water, causing the concrete walls to corrode. According to Nat Bottigheimer, these tunnels have approximately 15 years left until they are unserviceable. 

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With the uncertainty of the tunnels looming, the RVRC has also advocated for funding for the proposed Gateway Tunnel Project, which would build two new tunnels under the Hudson River. Once the two new tunnels are completed, the North River Tunnels could be taken out of service and necessary improvements and repairs could be made, eventually resulting in double the amount of trains capable of traveling in and out of New York City.

Bottigheimer, of the Regional Plan Association, a non-profit public policy agency that examines various issues, presented information from their report, “A Preventable Crisis, The Economic and Human Costs of a Hudson River Rail Tunnel Shutdown.” 

If funding for the Gateway Tunnels does not come to fruition, the North River Tunnels would have to be taken out of service one at a time for repairs, which would result in more than a 50% reduction in train service as trains entering and leaving New York City would need to share one tunnel. 

According to Bottigheimer, if a partial shutdown were to occur, the entire transportation network would be interrupted as NJ Transit riders would resort to taking the bus, ferry, PATH, or drive themselves. According to his presentation: 

  • 170,000 PATH and bus riders would experience more crowding and delays
  • 245,000 drivers will see their commutes increase by at least 10 minutes.
  • 100,00 dirvers will see their commuters increase by more than an hour a day.

Though the building of the Gateway Tunnels would not immediately result in the Raritan Valley Line receiving a one-seat ride, it would be a substantial step in that direction.

According to the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition:

What is a one-seat ride?

The Raritan Valley Line (RVL) is the only NJ TRANSIT line connected by tracks to Penn Station New York whose passengers for most trains must transfer to a second train at Newark to complete the ride into NYC.

Why does the Raritan Valley Line need a one-seat ride?

When commuters on the Raritan Valley Line have to change trains in Newark in order to get to Midtown Manhattan, it is not an easy process.

This transfer often requires passengers to change platforms, meaning that hundreds of people are hurrying, sometimes even running, downstairs and back up to another train platform in order to continue their journey into Midtown. It is a very stressful experience. In addition, the transfer adds fifteen minutes in travel time to Midtown.

Why haven’t we had a one-seat ride before and what has changed?

Raritan Valley Line operates with diesel locomotives and is not electrified. Diesel trains are not allowed to operate in the Hudson River tunnels into Penn Station New York due to fire regulations.

After the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Tunnel project to build new Hudson River train tunnels was cancelled, NJ TRANSIT purchased dual-powered locomotives. These allow a train locomotive to switch from diesel to electric for power. So Raritan Valley Rail trains can run on diesel and then switch to electric power for use in the train tunnels.

The arrival of the dual-powered locomotives have opened new opportunities to reach Penn Station New York directly. The final obstacle to overcome is the limit on the number of all trains allowed in the Hudson River tunnels in any one hour. The construction of new tunnels will help address this issue and are large part of the Gateway Project.

How will a one-seat ride service benefit housing values and the local economy?

The impact of a one-seat ride service has been studied in a report published by the Regional Plan Association. The report shows its impact on towns surrounding the train line.

Rail lines with one-seat ride service into Manhattan are more desirable and encourage more redevelopment and development of residential housing units, retail stores and offices located near existing train stations. The benefits include:

  • Increased residential housing values
  • Increased property taxes collected by the town resulting in more revenue to provide services for town residents
  • Increased sales taxes collected since jobs in Manhattan pay an average of 60% more than the same jobs in New Jersey. Towns with the one-seat ride service have fewer store vacancies and a more diverse and economically viable selection of restaurants, stores and offices in downtown.

How can I support implementation of the one-seat ride for the Raritan Valley Line?

The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition one seat ride campaign encourages you to take the following actions.

  • Read about the one-seat ride service and its benefits to towns and residents alike.
  • Click on one of the several sample letters on the Action Page of this site and e-mail and mail a hard copy of each letter to Mr. Kevin Corbett, Executive Director NJ TRANSIT to your municipal and county governments and your state legislative representatives.