An earlier version of this story was published Feb. 19.
A public forum with a state Department of Transportation official on Wednesday, March 6, in Westfield will also be streamed live on the Raritan Valley Line Mayors Alliance Facebook page.
WESTFIELD, NJ — Standing at the Westfield NJ Transit station Tuesday, Chris Iafolla waited for his 9:37 a.m. train to work.
The 36-year-old New York City marketing executive from Westfield said he often works while on the train, so he’d rather not transfer at Newark Penn Station, but that is what he and his fellow riders have been doing since the suspension of NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line direct service into Manhattan, known as the “one-seat ride,” last September.
“It definitely adds hassle having to switch, find a track and all of that, so being able to have the single-seat ride would be good and for someone like me, it would give me more productive time on the train,” Iafolla said.
He is not alone.
State and local officials have been advocating for the return of the one-seat ride from the Raritan Valley Line since the off-peak service was suspended last September, including Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle, who co-chairs the Raritan Valley Mayors Alliance, which is dedicated to improving public transit options along the line.
When NJ Transit had announced off-peak one seat ride would return to Westfield and surrounding towns in the first quarter of this year, local officials interpreted that to mean by February.
“They had originally committed to it being back in February,” Brindle said Tuesday. “And now they’re just giving these vagaries of: ‘It will be back in the spring and summer.’” The Raritan Valley Alliance had sent a letter to the state officials expressing the disappointment in the service, she previously said.
The mayors are working in coordination with the Raritan Valley Coalition. Started in 1998 to lobby for the one-seat ride and rail transit issues, the coalition represents 1.7 million residents in Union, Hunterdon, Somerset and Middlesex Counties, including municipal and county officials.
The coalition first reported the news of the state Department of Transportation's March 6 listening session in Westfield through an announcement on its Facebook page, which has received comments from public asking why the DOT is having the meeting so early in the day. It is set for 5 p.m.
“We certainly advise residents to make their voice heard at this meeting,” said Raritan Valley Rail Coalition Chairman and former Union County Freeholder Bruce H. Bergen. “The restoration of the limited one-seat ride is only the first step toward our goal of having permanent, full-time one-seat service. We have received only vague answers and must continue to keep the pressure on.”
What does NJ Transit have to say?
A spokeswoman for NJ Transit, Nancy Snyder, said Tuesday that the service suspension is the result of the implementation of the federally mandated positive train control, among other factors. The GPS technology improves rail safety by automatically controlling train speeds, thus reducing possible human error.
There are also staffing issues, Snyder said.
“The agency continues to address a continuing shortage of locomotive engineers, as well as equipment availability, as positive train control installations, maintenance inspections and testing continues,” she stated. “NJ Transit will communicate updates as new information becomes available.”
State Legislators have set public sessions at which the public will be given the opportunity to voice concerns and hear from state Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti. The first was last month in Princeton.
Legislators last month announced the public forums, which include the one to be held at the Westfield train station.
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The public hearings on service changes are coming shortly after the Raritan Valley Line Mayors Alliance joined with the Build Gateway Now Coalition, a group of 35 civic, business and labor leaders advocating for construction of the Hudson Tunnel Project, also called the Gateway Tunnel.
“The need for building a new trans-Hudson tunnel and Portal North Bridge are no longer open for debate,” Brindle said in a release announcing the partnership. “It is unreasonable to expect people to accept the current level of train service.”
Last month, she noted that restoration of direct service to Manhattan also could result in higher property values for Westfield and surrounding municipalities.
“There are definitely quality-of-life issues, but there are also significant economic development issues,” Brindle said.
Iafolla and many of his fellow Raritan Valley Line commuters would like to see that quality-of-life benefit implemented. He noted such just before his train rolled into the Westfield station.
“The real change would be once we get it during peak hours, during commuting time, rather than after,” Iafolla said.
If you go
Riders will have the opportunity speak to a state Department of Transportation official about the restoration of the NJ Transit one seat ride at a forum to be held at the Westfield Train Station, South Avenue and Summit Avenue, at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6.
The Raritan Valley Line Mayors Alliance announced Tuesday that the forum will be streamed live on its Facebook page, where those who can't attend will be able to submit questions in real time.
Additional upcoming public sessions will be held as follows:
Somerville NJ Transit Station
March 6, at 6:30 p.m.
Urban Drive at foot of Division Street 1 block west of South Bridge Street. Somerville, NJ
Morristown Municipal Building
March 11, at 6 p.m.
50 Woodland Ave. Morristown
No RSVP is necessary. If residents have any questions, they may contact NJ Transit at 973-275-5555, press 4.
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh