When my family moved to Westfield in 2008, the fact that the town is on the train line and so close to NYC played an important role in our decision. We envisioned a shorter, more comfortable commute for my husband. We quickly realized how poor NJ Transit service is, with routine delays and canceled trains. Commuters from Westfield must transfer from a diesel train at Newark to an electric train that is able to travel through the tunnel to NYC. The Newark transfer can be difficult: rush-hour commuters rush up and down two flights of stairs, and sometimes not knowing which track the next train will be on. The transfer adds 15 minutes in each direction, and stress to the start of the workday. My husband tried the train commute a few times, and eventually found the bus commute more reliable and comfortable.
Several years later, NJ Transit purchased dual-powered trains that were able to switch from diesel to electric. Riders on these trains would no longer have to make the dreaded transfer at Newark. In March 2014, Westfield finally was able to get a ‘‘one-seat ride.’’ I remember the excitement and the positive buzz around town. No more running up and down stairs, no more panicking about which track to transfer to.
Unfortunately, there was a catch: the Raritan Valley line, which includes Westfield, had only been able to secure a few time slots on these trains — some weekend trips, and non-rush hour trips into the city. So, if you were leaving Westfield at 10 am on a weekday, you could enjoy a direct ride into the city. Three years later, no progress has been made and I, like many others, am frustrated.
Of the many one-seat rush hour trains that were added to the schedule, the Raritan Valley line was not allocated any. Raritan Valley line riders make up 10 percent of NJ Transit commuters and should have been fairly represented in the rush-hour scheduling. What efforts did our town leaders make, if any, to ensure that our town was adequately represented in these scheduling negotiations? Why did other towns get more than their fair share of direct, rush-hour access into the city?
Why is it so important? One-seat rides provide a shorter, more enjoyable commute. Towns with one-seat rides enjoy improved economies in their downtowns, and property value increases of approximately $30,000-$50,000.
And yet, the current administration points to the ‘‘one seat ride’’ into the city as one of their great accomplishments. I disagree. The only meaningful one-seat ride is one during rush hour, and that remains, for the current administration, elusive.
It is time for a change in advocacy for this and other issues impacting Westfield residents. Therefore, I will be voting for Shelley Brindle (Mayor) and Dawn Mackey (4th ward town council). Shelley, a former executive vice president tasked with innovation in a changing world, and Dawn, with her strong history of advocacy and leadership skills, will be able to network and engage stakeholders to bring us closer to the peak, one-seat ride that Westfield deserves.