WESTFIELD, NJ — Direct midday train service into New York City will return to the Raritan Valley Line next month, officials said Monday.
Initially brought to the Raritan Valley Line in 2014, NJ Transit temporarily suspended the service in September 2018 amid a shortage of trains and engineers. Officials announced the restoration of the midday weekday service at a news conference at the Westfield Train Station.
“This service restoration means the elimination of major headaches — I don’t have to tell you this — for thousands of train riders,” said Gov. Phil Murphy, who was flanked by state, local and federal officials. “It means that the staffing and equipment required for reliable and sustainable service have been secured.”
All five midday one-seat Raritan Valley Line round-trips that operated prior to September 2018 will be restored on Nov. 4, and three of the four evening round trips will be restored, Murphy said. The final evening round trip — which departed Raritan at 9:53 p.m. and departed New York at 12:08 a.m. — will not be restored due to the need to inspect and prepare dual-powered trains for the next morning’s service, he said.
Local and county officials have made restoration of the service a key goal. In March, Westfield surrounding municipalities officially lodged their support for the service restoration as part of the Raritan Valley Line Mayors Alliance of 32 mayors in Union, Somerset, Hunterdon and Middlesex counties.
Co-chair of the Raritan Valley Mayors Alliance Colleen Mahr, of Fanwood, flanked by mayors from Cranford, Clinton, Bound Brook, along with dozens of other local, state and county officials noted that without the direct service 23,000 riders on the line must transfer trains to get into New York City.
“They face a commute that includes changing trains and platforms in Newark, adding well over half and hour to their commute all because our line does not have any midtown direct service despite have equal or greater to ridership of lines with that direct service,” said Mahr, who leads the alliance along with Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle.
She said more than 10,000 residential units are slated to be built along the line, something anticipated to increase the demand for direct rides into New York City.
Daily riders were scarce at the 10 a.m. news conference occurring on Columbus Day when many people were off from work. As of 10 a.m., 13 trains were canceled that day, something officials said was the result of engineer shortages.
Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, said that NJ Transit anticipates it will have its engineers at full staff by the spring of next year as it trains new ones.
“We continue to run classes,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “I think we’ve run more classes in the last 20 months than we have in the last 20 years so at the end of the day the numbers are building but for us to get to a place where we feel comfortable where we can cover all of these call outs along the lines and cover our union obligations, I think that you’re seeing the spring of next year as the target.”
Westfield Councilman Mark LoGrippo, a member of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, which has long advocated for improved service along the line, has been among its members to petition for the service restoration.
"From the moment our service was suspended, I have been proactive in advocating for its return with the addition of peak service, lobbying state legislators, collecting more than one thousand petition signatures, and meeting with local organizations," LoGrippo said.
State Sen. Tom Kean, R-Westfield, said it is good to have the service restored but noted that legislators are seeking more progress.
“There were still cancellations because engineers today decided not to show up to work,” Kean said afterward. “We still have inefficiencies at NJ Transit that need to be corrected and people on the Raritan Valley Line and throughout the state realize that more needs to be done to ensure that they have predicable commutes, whether its to New York City or any other destination.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at email@example.com; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh
John Mooney of TAPinto Scotch Plains-Fanwood contributed to this report.