Discussion of NJTransit service expansion like MidTown Direct (MTD)

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Septa9739

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I think this question is tangential to the thread on Andy Buford and Penn Station expansion: Was Midtown Direct a mistake?

I think it was. In the biggest cities across the world, it seems plainly understood that multiple terminals are necessary to effectively manage passenger and train volumes. In approaching New York from the west, this was achieved from several private railroads operating only as far as ferry terminals and a connection available. The Pensy won for itself a huge advantage In completing the trans-Hudson tunnels. That advantage continued well after the Pensy faded into memory. The infrastructure that supported the project was only designed to hold so much capacity. It is my assertion that Midtown Direct, by moving over 150 trains to the ex-Pensy caused a severe disruption to the balance. Those extra 150 trains caused the hideous congestion Amtrak is now fighting and made New York into the chokepoint it is today, necessitating billions in otherwise unnecessary capital work. Those slots should have been retained to allow for more service on ex-Pensy services, that would have allowed better Secaucus connections, more intercity service, and most importantly, better maintenance. One-seat rides are not always possible and not always worth the expense of funding them. Sandy made Amtrak figure out they needed to replace the tunnels. Then they decided they needed four tunnels. Then they figured out the trains from four tunnels won’t fit, so they need a bigger station. It’s very Dave Gunn of me to say but sometimes the glamorous solution isn’t the best one. If Gateway were really only about Sandy damage, it would be done by now, but since it’s also, even more so about Paul quietly repaying Peter for Midtown Direct, the sell is much harder.
 
Gateway was never about Sandy Damage. Additional capacity plans to Penn Station from NJ actually predates Midtown Direct by perhaps a decade or more. It may be more accurate to say that Midtown Direct came about as people assumed that the capacity planned for Penn Station was going to happen. So there is a bit of tacit rewriting of history going on here, though the core point being presented is valid.

Rail access to large city core should be distributed among multiple terminals, something that is somewhat opposite to what has been going on in NY. But then, if you are playing from a premise that rail needs to be merely cut down to a maintenance mode since afterall it is a thing of the past, then one would arrive at such conclusions based on consolidation rather than expansion.

However, it is also worth noting that real estate owners vote, and people that they vote in decides what happens. People in Essex and Morris county are a powerful voting block and they wanted to go directly to Midtown, indeed they wanted to go to the Grand Central area. That is what started the whole ARC thing back in the 70s including the desire to connect Penn Station to Grand Central. Planners are merely creatures of their paymasters who at the end of the day are politicians, not technocrats, though we often delude ourselves to believe otherwise.
 
It’s take two to tango. Both Amtrak and NJ Transit were involved in these decisions. Even with political types applied pressure, anyone could of stop this project.

The tunnel in question were old and needed replacement or rebuilding long before Hurricane Sandy visited.
 
Midtown Direct service is overloaded because NJT service to Hoboken and PATH service from there to both their Manhattan branches all stink, especially weekends, and it is deliberate. PATH service overall is running at 20 year lows, despite boasts of 9 cars trains on the WTC-Newark line.

Unlike early ARC days, the Grand Central area is no longer mecca. Over the past 10 years, it has had the slowest job growth, and over the last 2 years, the poorest return to office rates in Manhattan. Forget about what's going on at the Roosevelt Hotel. LIRR Grand Central patronage is also underwhelming. They predicted 45% of passengers would go there; they got 35%. Every timetable tweak, they are diverting more and more trains back to Penn Station.
 
Unfortunately, the New York Tri-state area is now vying for the world's top spot in the world's most expensive, poorly planned and managed, poorly integrated transit system, and service between NJ and NY is a huge contributor to it
Exactly. The 4 methods of power acquisition is a Hobson's choice. Amtrak's wanting to wait till 2060 is puzzling. -will its 25 Hz wait that long?
 
Exactly. The 4 methods of power acquisition is a Hobson's choice. Amtrak's wanting to wait till 2060 is puzzling. -will its 25 Hz wait that long?

We were talking about ever crappier PATH and NJT service to Manhattan and Hoboken, which is not a function of voltages and cycles. But in any case, Amtrak has billions of dollars worth of constant tension catenary to put up before they worry about 25 cycle elimination. Look how long they dithered around and how much they spent just on Midway - Trenton. As far as I know, it's "green", being hydro-powered in southwest Pennsylvania.
 
I think this question is tangential to the thread on Andy Buford and Penn Station expansion: Was Midtown Direct a mistake?

I think it was. In the biggest cities across the world, it seems plainly understood that multiple terminals are necessary to effectively manage passenger and train volumes. In approaching New York from the west, this was achieved from several private railroads operating only as far as ferry terminals and a connection available. The Pensy won for itself a huge advantage In completing the trans-Hudson tunnels. That advantage continued well after the Pensy faded into memory. The infrastructure that supported the project was only designed to hold so much capacity. It is my assertion that Midtown Direct, by moving over 150 trains to the ex-Pensy caused a severe disruption to the balance. Those extra 150 trains caused the hideous congestion Amtrak is now fighting and made New York into the chokepoint it is today, necessitating billions in otherwise unnecessary capital work. Those slots should have been retained to allow for more service on ex-Pensy services, that would have allowed better Secaucus connections, more intercity service, and most importantly, better maintenance. One-seat rides are not always possible and not always worth the expense of funding them. Sandy made Amtrak figure out they needed to replace the tunnels. Then they decided they needed four tunnels. Then they figured out the trains from four tunnels won’t fit, so they need a bigger station. It’s very Dave Gunn of me to say but sometimes the glamorous solution isn’t the best one. If Gateway were really only about Sandy damage, it would be done by now, but since it’s also, even more so about Paul quietly repaying Peter for Midtown Direct, the sell is much harder.
I don’t want say MTD was a mistake, but it could be better. It contributes to growing the interconnectivity of the network. Because of MTD, M&E lines are present in Secaucus Junction. Members of my family made Radburn-Bernadsville, Ridgewood-Summit, Montclair Heights-Red Bank and Montclair Heights-Trenton trips as a result. Not daily commutes but not one-offs, either.

More tunnels is a good idea. Should already be done. Kind of embarrassing for that a political stunt got in the way.

Better Penn Station is an even better idea. Also an embarrassment. I’m there at least once a month and I still find my way from the subway to NJT by some combination of luck and The Force. How is it that I can’t get to NJT trains from the splendor of Moynihan, by the way? But I digress…

Back to interconnected networks…

The problem I see with MTD is that it was supposed to be two-way. In addition to opening up Penn to the M&E, MTD opened up Hoboken to the Pennsylvania/CNJ side of NJT. Hoboken’s ferry terminal and Hoboken Terminal in general are underutilized assets. There are more ferries than 20 years ago, so we’re doing better but could we do more? What if NY Waterways and NYC Ferry were better integrated? Or the same system? I would love it if it fast ferry could take me to LGA and/or JFK rather than the current convoluted options from NJ (connections suck with luggage 🙂). And…someone should figure out how to turn PATH lines into a true extension of the NYC subway. What if the #6 train terminated in Hoboken? Just spitballing here but there are opportunities with Hoboken that support your multiple terminals concept.
 
I think this question is tangential to the thread on Andy Buford and Penn Station expansion: Was Midtown Direct a mistake?

I think it was. In the biggest cities across the world, it seems plainly understood that multiple terminals are necessary to effectively manage passenger and train volumes. In approaching New York from the west, this was achieved from several private railroads operating only as far as ferry terminals and a connection available. The Pensy won for itself a huge advantage In completing the trans-Hudson tunnels. That advantage continued well after the Pensy faded into memory. The infrastructure that supported the project was only designed to hold so much capacity. It is my assertion that Midtown Direct, by moving over 150 trains to the ex-Pensy caused a severe disruption to the balance. Those extra 150 trains caused the hideous congestion Amtrak is now fighting and made New York into the chokepoint it is today, necessitating billions in otherwise unnecessary capital work. Those slots should have been retained to allow for more service on ex-Pensy services, that would have allowed better Secaucus connections, more intercity service, and most importantly, better maintenance. One-seat rides are not always possible and not always worth the expense of funding them. Sandy made Amtrak figure out they needed to replace the tunnels. Then they decided they needed four tunnels. Then they figured out the trains from four tunnels won’t fit, so they need a bigger station. It’s very Dave Gunn of me to say but sometimes the glamorous solution isn’t the best one. If Gateway were really only about Sandy damage, it would be done by now, but since it’s also, even more so about Paul quietly repaying Peter for Midtown Direct, the sell is much harder.
Midtown direct also massively increased ridership of NJTs commuter lines. I think it should have included extra tunnels at that time, and it is not good that it didn’t.

It really depends what one’s goals are when you wonder if a project is good or not. The Lackawanna Coalition, for example, is a group who advocates that no money be spent on anything but service; they have fought every useful capitol expansion project tooth and nail. To them, MidTown direct was a massive victory, given its low capital cost and greatly expanded service on their lines of concern… until they started cutting trains to Hoboken, which was a logical choice given nobody wants to go there, but makes them apoplectic.

Andy Buford’s proposal, which I have heard about nonstop for close to a decade or whenever it was that I decided to resign my officer ship at the LC and leave them to their… interesting world view, is a terrible idea. Running Penn as a through station from an operational standpoint has merit, but interlining is a ludicrous idea. Growing ridership requires growing capacity and growing capacity requires money.
 
I would not attribute all of M&E ridership increase to MDT. All NJT lines grew dramatically in the 1990's and 2000's when NJT has competent and proactive manangements, that also had regular meetings with advocate groups, who they respected. I live on the Raritan Line. Its daily loadings went from 6,200 when I first moved here in 1992 to 11,000 by the mid 2000's - by doing NJT doing absolutely nothing. M&E service frequency west of Summit is hourly. That is half of what the E-L and early NJT ran. They ran an hourly Dover or Morristown - Hoboken service until 2008.

It's easy to say nobody wants to go to Hoboken when you don't run a usable service there to begin with. Look at the weekend bi-hourly Montclair service - it sucks. You are better off driving to Newport. Since the pandemic, the last 3 of 5 Coast Line rush hour trains to Hoboken got the axe entirely from the timetable. There is now no Waterfront Connection service, except for a very early RVL train that really runs to brings employees to MMC. I used to board one of them at Newark Penn at around 8am. It was 8 Comet cars, half the train off, and half the train got on. Yes, many people waited for it on Track 3.

NJT thinks everyone works in midtown Manhattan., unaware there is such a thing as Exchange Place and lower Manhattan, which they just assume dump on the PATH NWK line and forget about them.

LIRR has the same flaw, thinking everyone works in mditown, then pandemonium hit with severe overcrowding when they shuttleized the Brooklyn service last January. Overall customer satisfaction has plummeted since from 85 to 68%, and for Brooklyn riders to 41%. When I was in school, 69 was failing.

Neither railroad knows or cares where anyone wants to go.
 
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Exactly. The 4 methods of power acquisition is a Hobson's choice. Amtrak's wanting to wait till 2060 is puzzling. -will its 25 Hz wait that long?
With modern technology there really is little reason to rush to move away from 25 hz. Look at Europe both Germany and Switzerland still use 16.7hz and do not seem to have plans to move away from it. I agree with the other post that constant tension catenary is the more pressing issue.
 
Midtown Direct was definitely not a mistake. However, as mentioned above, it has been overused, resulting in a lack of network fluidity. The original projections called for 42 trains to operate into NYP. Now, there are over 100 (including deadheads). Hoboken doesn't have the service levels to make it an attractive alternative. This is self inflicted and NJT has all but abandoned the long awaited Waterfront Connection.

It remains a great plan that has been poorly executed.

I live on the Raritan Line. Its daily loadings went from 6,200 when I first moved here in 1992 to 11,000 by the mid 2000's - by doing NJT doing absolutely nothing.

I think NJT not raising fares for over 10 years had a lot to do with increased ridership during that period. 😎
 
I would not attribute all of M&E ridership increase to MDT. All NJT lines grew dramatically in the 1990's and 2000's when NJT has competent and proactive manangements, that also had regular meetings with advocate groups, who they respected. I live on the Raritan Line. Its daily loadings went from 6,200 when I first moved here in 1992 to 11,000 by the mid 2000's - by doing NJT doing absolutely nothing. M&E service frequency west of Summit is hourly. That is half of what the E-L and early NJT ran. They ran an hourly Dover or Morristown - Hoboken service until 2008.

It's easy to say nobody wants to go to Hoboken when you don't run a usable service there to begin with. Look at the weekend bi-hourly Montclair service - it sucks. You are better off driving to Newport. Since the pandemic, the last 3 of 5 Coast Line rush hour trains to Hoboken got the axe entirely from the timetable. There is now no Waterfront Connection service, except for a very early RVL train that really runs to brings employees to MMC. I used to board one of them at Newark Penn at around 8am. It was 8 Comet cars, half the train off, and half the train got on. Yes, many people waited for it on Track 3.

NJT thinks everyone works in midtown Manhattan., unaware there is such a thing as Exchange Place and lower Manhattan, which they just assume dump on the PATH NWK line and forget about them.

LIRR has the same flaw, thinking everyone works in mditown, then pandemonium hit with severe overcrowding when they shuttleized the Brooklyn service last January. Overall customer satisfaction has plummeted since from 85 to 68%, and for Brooklyn riders to 41%. When I was in school, 69 was failing.

Neither railroad knows or cares where anyone wants to go.
Good points. The Hoboken Terminal is a spit away from the Jersey City waterfront which has grown tremendously in residential and office usage since the 1990's and is easily accessible by foot or the light rail.
 
Good points. The Hoboken Terminal is a spit away from the Jersey City waterfront which has grown tremendously in residential and office usage since the 1990's and is easily accessible by foot or the light rail.

Whether NJT is simply a relic of the 1980's, thinking everyone works in midtown, or cannibalizing Hoboken service to force-feed Penn Station down everyone's throat to make a business case for more Hudson River tunnels. I don't know which, or it is both. Slashing Hoboken service off the M&E, Raritan, and Coast Lines began in 2008 shortly before ARC was killed and several years before Gateway was designed.
 
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Whether NJT is simply a relic of the 1980's, thinking everyone works in midtown, or cannibalizing Hoboken service to force-feed Penn Station down everyone's thorat to make a business case for more Hudson River tunnels. I don't know which, or it is both. Slashing Hoboken service off the M&E, Raritan, and Coast Lines began in 2008 shortly before ARC was killed and several years before Gateway was designed.
This brings up a question in my mind. Has NJT done recent a comprehensive study of where people come from and where people go and use that information to plan service? Or is their service planning based on 1970's dogma alone? For example why do they completely ignore the development of circumferential service serving the myriads of large suburban office parks where more and more people go, and just concentrate o what amounts to the NEC/NJCL and MTD?
 
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There are periodic rail planning reports that mention traffic originating or terminating at each station, but not the full N by N traffic matrix, so it's hard to tell if they use that data, or even if they can reliably gather it. If people make connections it may be hard to identify them.

There are limited opportunities to establish new circumferential rail rights-of-way. I suppose you could go full Robert Moses, and bulldoze a bunch of housing. Or you could drive some multi-billion-dollar tunnels through the Watchung Mountains (some would call these hills). Or seize the Delaware and Raritan Canal towpath to build a cutoff between Bound Brook and New Brunswick. The Port Reading Secondary or the Sayreville Secondary might be more easily used, but the Port Reading, at least, has a lot of grade crossings.

Suburban office parks might be more easily served by buses.
 
There are limited opportunities to establish new circumferential rail rights-of-way. I suppose you could go full Robert Moses, and bulldoze a bunch of housing. Or you could drive some multi-billion-dollar tunnels through the Watchung Mountains (some would call these hills). Or seize the Delaware and Raritan Canal towpath to build a cutoff between Bound Brook and New Brunswick. The Port Reading Secondary or the Sayreville Secondary might be more easily used, but the Port Reading, at least, has a lot of grade crossings.
In many other countries where passenger railroad is more than a reluctant hobby, they would have considered building an elevated line above I-287 as the core of a circumferential. Afterall that is why I-287 was constructed in the first place. But I would never expect that here.

Places that are serious build thing like this:

944161-rrts-corridor.jpg

This is the double track RoW of the Delhi - Meerut RTS with pillars in the median of a highway. This is built through a densely built up area with no hope of finding an on the ground easement.
 
With the kind of low density sprawl you typically end up with in most suburban developments, a circumferential line would only work if there were multiple shuttles available to take people door to door. Many of these office parks are so auto centric that you can hardly walk around them, yet alone to a nearby train station. I found that out once trying to take the train to an office located near Metropark and it was a chore to actually walk to the office even though it was not that far as the crow flies.
 
Light Rail along I-287 won't work. Not only does it fail to serve local roads, it crosses the Morristown Line, Gladstone Branch, Raritan lIne, and the Northeast Corridor in the middle of nowhere. Interstate highways were deliberately routed away from anything of importance, requiring secondary roads to access downtowns and office parks.
 
We were talking about ever crappier PATH and NJT service to Manhattan and Hoboken, which is not a function of voltages and cycles. But in any case, Amtrak has billions of dollars worth of constant tension catenary to put up before they worry about 25 cycle elimination. Look how long they dithered around and how much they spent just on Midway - Trenton. As far as I know, it's "green", being hydro-powered in southwest Pennsylvania.
I stayed in Newark last April and counted on PATH to get into NYC.
OK the first day, but the 2nd day PATH went down with a signalling problem, and finally after 20 minutes or so, they announced that NJT would cross-honor. Then after 30 more minutes, the first NJT train came in, and through sheer luck, I got the last seat in the car I got on. Jammed full train, inched along to Penn Station, praying along the way for the Portal Bridge, finally got there, and got lost three times due to construction and inadequate signage. Finally found my way out of the mines of Moria, but Lothlorien was nowhere in sight, just 8th Avenue.
I ventured back onto PATH to get back to my hotel that night, and made it to Newark, and then couldn't figure out how to get to the hotel, as the bridge was closed, and there was no info about how to get there.
I was relieved to get on my train back to Petersburg the next day.
I did get to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge the first day, one last time, I think, as I am 73 and a bit disabled, but that was fine.
 
This brings up a question in my mind. Has NJT done recent a comprehensive study of where people come from and where people go and use that information to plan service? Or is their service planning based on 1970's dogma alone? For example why do they completely ignore the development of circumferential service serving the myriads of large suburban office parks where more and more people go, and just concentrate o what amounts to the NEC/NJCL and MTD?
Office parks seem to me more of reflection of 1960's development than 2020's. Many around the NY region have been struggling since the 1990's.
 
Office parks seem to me more of reflection of 1960's development than 2020's. Many around the NY region have been struggling since the 1990's.
Whether office parks are in or out is less important than knowing what the aggregate travel patterns are today and meaningfully trying to projects what they might be ten years hence. That is why I was wondering whether NJDOT even has upto date information, and plans based on that.

NJ needs to do an intrastate exercise akin to what FRA is doing for the nation. I have not seen much evidence that NJDOT has indulged in such. What routings and modes are used is a step that comes after that, unless of course the entire strategy is to opportunistically kill rail and replace them by Bus or some such.

Frankly NJDOT and NJTransit leaves me pretty puzzled about what they are upto. NJDOT has not published a statewide transit and rail development plan for a long time now. Heck even Florida has published an updated Rail Plan in 2022, and it is a surprisingly informative and almost visionary document.
 
Whether office parks are in or out is less important than knowing what the aggregate travel patterns are today and meaningfully trying to projects what they might be ten years hence. That is why I was wondering whether NJDOT even has upto date information, and plans based on that.

NJ needs to do an intrastate exercise akin to what FRA is doing for the nation. I have not seen much evidence that NJDOT has indulged in such. What routings and modes are used is a step that comes after that, unless of course the entire strategy is to opportunistically kill rail and replace them by Bus or some such.

Frankly NJDOT and NJTransit leaves me pretty puzzled about what they are upto. NJDOT has not published a statewide transit and rail development plan for a long time now. Heck even Florida has published an updated Rail Plan in 2022, and it is a surprisingly informative and almost visionary document.
How do they sell tickets? Vending machines, mobile app, and classic ticket-window agents in a few places, right? If the data gathered by those sources are managed well, they have a better-than-statistically significant set of origin-destination pairs.

Then, one might consider bus and LRT transfers. Really, transfers of any kind, because you would need the ride-share component to have the true O/D pairs. But I’m sure it’s informative on the rail data alone if you want know how the NJT rail offerings should evolve.

The x-factor is interest. Do they care enough at the executive level to dig into whatever data they have?
 
How do they sell tickets? Vending machines, mobile app, and classic ticket-window agents in a few places, right? If the data gathered by those sources are managed well, they have a better-than-statistically significant set of origin-destination pairs.

Then, one might consider bus and LRT transfers. Really, transfers of any kind, because you would need the ride-share component to have the true O/D pairs. But I’m sure it’s informative on the rail data alone if you want know how the NJT rail offerings should evolve.

The x-factor is interest. Do they care enough at the executive level to dig into whatever data they have?
Whatever data they have is pretty useless in my mind for figuring out how to serve the unserved potential routes/flows best. Naturally they have no current meaningful ticket sales data for service that is currently not available. The absence of circumferential that was mentioned earlier falls in that category. To go from Morristown to Edison you have to cart yourself all the way to Secauscus/New York to change trains to get there. Meanwhile I-287 is completely jammed. And any ticket sales data that NJT may have will show that hardly anyone goes through the pain of using NJT for this journey.
 
NJ Transit has a slick 10-year strategic plan document from 2020 here. It's very high-level, and the only extension of passenger rail routes that I see mentioned is actually extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into Bergen County. I don't see mention of the work on the Lackawanna cutoff section to Andover, or the Light Rail into Glassboro.
 
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