WESTFIELD, NJ — Don’t like the Newark Penn Station train transfer heading into New York City? Change could be afoot in this town where figures show double the percentage of commuters take public transit when compared to municipalities statewide.
NJ Transit would have to take a hard look at bringing full-time direct train service (also known as the one-seat ride) into New York City to the Raritan Valley Line under a bill headed to the governor’s desk. The bill passed the state Assembly 76-0 Monday.
“It really enables them to do a lot of modeling, to figure out if it could be provided how if could be done, and what the impact would be on NJ Transit,” said Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle, who co-chairs the Raritan Valley Line Mayors Alliance, which is advocating for one-seat ride rail service.
The proposed legislation requires NJ Transit to complete the study within six months of the law’s adoption and include findings on why direct train service was suspended, the historical and expected ridership for direct rail service into New York City are, as well as detail the actions the transportation agency would have to take to restore the service.
The state restored off-peak direct train service to New York City from the Raritan Valley Line in November, something that had been initially brought to Westfield and surrounding train stops in 2014 but was suspended due to a staffing shortage at NJ Transit while the agency implemented the federally-required safety requirement for positive train control.
In June, the state senate had previously approved the measure 37-0, legislative records show. This week, Sen. Tom Kean Jr., R-Westfield, a sponsor of the measure, spoke to its importance.
“RVL riders deserve a one-seat ride to New York Penn,” Kean said in a statement. “We’ve succeeded in restoring off-peak, one seat rides, but that doesn’t help the thousands of commuters in my district who are catching the train to work during rush hour each day. This study will help us better serve NJ Transit riders, leading to shorter, smoother and safer commutes.”
Bruce Bergen, chairman of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, had last month, been among those to call on NJ Transit’s Board of Commissioners to work toward restoring one seat-ride service.
“I understand that there needs to be a feasibility study done,” Bergen told the commissioners in a video posted to social media. “So I urge you to please start the process. Let’s start the process, so we know what has to be done to create fair and equitable one seat ride [service] for the riders along the Raritan Valley Line.”
One-seat ride service has been a sticking point in Westfield. A recent planning update from the town notes that as of 2017, 22.3% percent of riders took public transit, nearly double that figure from across Union County and statewide, Census Bureau figures show.
“Continued investment in passenger rail service is needed by state transportation agencies to assist Westfield workers to get to regional employment centers,” the update to the town’s guide for development states. “In particular, this means a one-seat ride during peak commuting hours to and from New York Penn Station, and ensuring service is reliable with minimal delays.”
A financial statement on the bill states that the cost of the study would be nominal.
“The costs are expected to be nominal because most of the information required for the report appears to have largely been released already to the public in various ways and will only need to be compiled,” the statement says.
Brindle said restoration of the service is about reallocating dual locomotive trains to the line, which serves commuters in Union, Somerset and Hunterdon counties.
“You never know what the end recommendations are going to be,” she added. “But everyone I have been talking to, especially at NJ Transit, has said this is a critical next step to getting to where we want to be.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh