Regional Plan Association to present Gateway Tunnel Report to Union County Freeholder Board, May 23rd 7pm – Raritan Valley Rail Coalition co-sponsors presentation, open to the public at County Freeholder Chambers in Elizabeth
The Regional Plan Association, a non-profit public policy agency that examines various issues, will present its report: “A Preventable Crisis, The Economic and Human Costs of a Hudson River Rail Tunnel Shutdown,” on Thursday, May 23rd at 7 p.m. to the Freeholder Board prior to its public meeting.
All residents are invited to the free presentation, which will be held on the 6th floor in the Freeholder chambers at the Union County Administration Building, 10 Elizabethtown Plaza in Elizabeth. Residents are also allowed the opportunity to comment on the plan during the general comments portion of the regular meeting that night. Parking is available nearby at the J. Christian Bollwage parking deck.
“Union County is a rail hub, and the stakes of not investing in train service improvements are high: if the tunnels fail, Union County could suffer as much as a $1.8 billion revenue loss,” said Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski, citing the Regional Plan Association’s report. “As elected officials, it is urgent that we make our voices heard for supporting the Gateway Tunnels Project and continue to work with organizations such as the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition and the Regional Plan Association toward that end.”
The Regional Plan Association’s report details the devastating impact that any extended closures of the rapidly, deteriorating 108-year-old Hudson River train tunnels would have on the regional economy, including Union County.
From reduced home values to gridlocked roads, the report portrays a grim picture of what New Jersey and the region could look like if the proposed Gateway Hudson River rail-tunnel project remains unfunded.
Bruce Bergen, the Chair of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, will also be on hand to introduce the Regional Plan Association.
“The Gateway Tunnels project is a regional emergency that demands the immediate attention of the White House, and the proper funding to move forward,” said Bergen, a former Union County Freeholder. “We are thankful to partner with an agency such as the Regional Plan Association that is able to present such a concise picture of the project and the impact of the failure to act.”
As part of her initiatives entitled “Empowering Union County” on behalf of the Freeholder Board for 2019, Chair Kowalski announced the County would take the lead on the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, a group of concerned citizens which represents 1.7 million residents along the Raritan Valley Rail line in four counties— Union, Somerset, Middlesex and Hunterdon Counties.
The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition was created more than two decades ago to campaign for a one-seat ride on the Raritan Valley Rail line. It also strongly lobbies for the creation of the Gateway Tunnels Project, a $13 billion proposal that would rebuild the Hudson Tunnels, the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, and add other significant improvements along the rails leading into New York.
For more information on the Regional Plan Association, please go to: http://www.rpa.org/
For more information on the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, please go to www.raritanvalleyrail.com
Letter from NJ Transit’s Executive Director to Freeholder and Chairman of the NJTPA Angel Estrada
Getting up off the mat
A conversation with New Jersey Transit executive director Kevin Corbett
By: David Hutter of NJBIZ
April 22, 2019 6:00 am
New Jersey Transit’s problems are well-known. It is one of the nation’s busiest public transportation systems, yet is chronically underfunded and understaffed. Commuters deal with the results of those shortfalls everyday. And special events can sometimes highlight the problems for the wider public, as happened recently when thousands of wrestling fans waited hours in the rain for trains to take them home from the WrestleMania event at MetLife Stadium.
Gov. Phil Murphy has vowed that he will fix NJ Transit “if it kills me.” The man charged with preventing Murphy’s untimely demise by getting the trains and buses to run more reliably is NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett. He recently sat down with NJBIZ reporter David Hutter and talked about what the agency is doing to improve service after years of decline.
NJBIZ: WrestleMania took place at MetLife Stadium on April 6, attracting more than 82,000 people. The event ran late. A lot of people are saying New Jersey Transit was not able to provide enough trains and buses to the crowd. What precautions did you have in place before the event?
Kevin Corbett: We have a very good working relationship with our friends at MetLife. We handle all the football games and they go smoothly. We consider what are expectations and what changes to scheduling are necessary. We have buses there, but to move three thousand people per hour by bus is not optimal for a number of reasons.
We have [Federal Railroad Administration] regulations that train crews can only go 12 hours. In 99 percent of cases we coordinate with MetLife and that 12-hour window is adequate and that is why you never hear of problems. They also let the fans generally know that if you go to a game, the train takes you to Secaucus. And then you take a train to Port Jervis, Princeton, or the city. But you know where your connecting train is. Even if the game is going to end at midnight, but you know 12:20 is the last train to Port Jervis, “I will leave the game early because I do not want to miss the connecting train.”
We had a similar issue with the Jay-Z-Beyoncé concert. When they go unanticipatedly long at WrestleMania, we could have handled that load but we would have needed another hour. Which means we should have started the trains an hour later. If we had done that, there would have been no issue. We started with buses and then switched to rail. …
Six years ago MetLife hosted WrestleMania and the last train out carried 38 people at 12:20 at night. What we did not know is that WrestleMania has set up its own television network like the Yankees did with YES Network and they were broadcasting internationally.
They wanted it to run longer, which we would be delighted to support. It was not as though we were angry. We did not know that condition may give them an incentive to run longer. If we had known that, we would have said “Wait a minute. If there’s a chance you are going to run longer, we will build in an extra hour cushion.” It ran beyond our extra one-hour cushion.
NJBIZ: You ride New Jersey Transit on the Morris and Essex train line. What do you observe of your fellow Transit employees?
Corbett: I talk with conductors, engineers, and bus drivers. As they get to know me, they will talk to me off the record. You pick up Intel you would not get sitting in the corner office.
NJBIZ: You want to know what is actually happening so you can take action to fix problems.
Corbett: We need people to be advocating for NJ Transit. I ride on the system every day. I see the flaws and I see the good things. When I go to the “we are listening” forums, I hear people saying something and I respond “that’s not accurate” and I try to be as polite as I can. I have a pretty good sense of what is happening in their service.
A New Jersey Transit train rolls into Trenton Transit Center.
NJBIZ: What are you observing of your New Jersey Transit employees, especially when they do not know you are the executive director? Are they meeting your expectations in terms of being courteous, professional and communicative?
Corbett: A great majority of them are professional, courteous and like their jobs. Like anywhere with 11,000-plus employees [including] 10,000-plus unionized employees, you have some who really should not be in the customer service business. It’s one thing if you’re an engineer, as long as you are a good engineer and you do not interact much with the customer. We are looking to build training on the rail and bus side. But a great majority are good employees and those who are not, we need to call out on the carpet. And that means more supervision.
NJBIZ: Gov. Phil Murphy ordered an independent audit of New Jersey Transit. After getting the results of the audit in October 2018, Gov. Murphy vowed to improve the reliability of New Jersey Transit’s train and bus schedules. What progress have you made to date?
Corbett: I stress that we are going to live or die by our operations. That means we need bus operators and engineers. Unfortunately, on the rail side, engineers take 20 months of training. We started six classes that are currently in session for locomotive engineer training. We have one class of conductors that we can do in 12 months. By the end of this year, we will be in good shape on the engineers. On the bus drivers side, where you need a commercial driver license, we get them in our own training. That is a shorter time frame. We are approaching 500 new bus drivers. They are out on the road now. For our rail riders, it is going to be tough through this fall.
In the previous administration of [Gov. Chris Christie], they stopped training.
There is a myth that all our engineers are leaving for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. They pay 25 percent more than we do. But in fact we pay comparable salaries or in the ballpark of Conrail and [Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.] …
This summer should not be as bad as the past two summers. We are adding a dozen engineers next month. We are watching the [Family Medical Leave Act.] A great majority of engineers are not trying to game the system but there are a few bad apples who want to play games and use FMLA and other kinds of unexcused absences.
NJBIZ: For what purpose?
Corbett: To take off work.
NJBIZ: Is that not fraud?
Corbett: Certainly in my book it is not honest but to the degree that it is fraudulent, they have to document it. And I think the grievance process takes months. But I think this year we’ve really tightened up in identifying all the metrics, who is using all their vacation time, who is using every possible thing in the system to make sure there are no abuses. We will be much better prepared than last summer to make sure that people who are working are not working somewhere else, moonlighting somewhere else, and collecting sick days here. We are watching out for that. We are better prepared on where we can use yard foremen.
NJBIZ: What are some other important aspects of your job that are not discussed during board meetings?
Corbett: We are the nation’s third largest transit system and we are in the nation’s [11th] largest state. I appreciate everything Gov. Murphy has been doing advocating for Transit but within the state budget, in a state that has a billion-plus dollar deficit, it is tough to give us the resources we need as the third largest transit agency.
I think one of the things I really look for is where is the advocacy and the dedicated funding? Our funding has been very unsustainable, ad hoc sort of band aid funding over the last decade; slashed capital funds between $5 billion and $6 billion were raided to go to our operations. That meant we were eating our seed corn. Not only were we not making the capital investments we needed, that ate up our operating expenses. We were in a bad cycle and we needed to break that.
My real concern longer term is we are putting together a five-year capital plan. We are in the process of accessing our facilities so that by this time next year we will have a detailed capital plan and know what our needs are as a first-class transit agency.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Legislation would require NJ Transit study on restoring Raritan Valley/NYC rail service
By: David Hutter NJ BIZ
March 12, 2019 6:30 am
Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd District, is proposing legislation that would require New Jersey Transit to conduct a feasibility study on restoring the one-seat ride from the Raritan Valley Line to New York City.
The legislation, if passed, would require New Jersey Transit to issue a report to the Legislature detailing findings of the study.
“The loss of the one-seat ride to Manhattan has been felt throughout my district and surrounding counties,” Scutari, who represents Middlesex, Somerset and Union, said in a statement. “The Raritan Valley Line is a large rail operation with strong ridership numbers and it is perplexing to me, and to those in the area, why NJ Transit would view this passage to New York City as expendable.”
“Our businesses, our residents and our economy are feeling the effects of this loss every day. The continued temporary loss of revenue, the loss of time and the loss of tax dollars cannot continue to persist without incurring permanent losses,” he added.
The Regional Plan Association conducted a study on the impact of the one-seat ride service into Manhattan in relation to the effect on the towns surrounding the rail line. The study revealed that towns are more desirable and see increases in their residential property values.
These towns greatly benefit from workers traveling through as well, Scutari said. Salaries for jobs in Manhattan are 60 percent higher than the same jobs in New Jersey, he said.
This consumer spending correlates to strong local economies with healthy business districts, and attract new
Raritan Valley Rail Coalition invites Public to presentation on Gateway Project, Tuesday, March 26th in Cranford – Jerry Zaro, the New Jersey Trustee to the Gateway Development Program, will discuss and update the public about the project. NJ Transit officials invited
Bruce Bergen, Chairman of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition addressed the New Jersey Transit Board at their public meeting yesterday, and questioned why one-seat ride trains had not yet been reinstated on the Raritan line and urged Board members to provide a date when that would occur.
He referred to a letter sent from Union County Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski and himself, urging the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure the Portal Bridge was not opened at times that would interfere with rush hour trains and asked the Board to pursue that issue as well. Finally, he thanked the Board for the progress they, with the help of Governor Phil Murphy, had made over the past year, after 8 years of neglect, but reminded them of how much more work was left to remedy train cancellations and delays and to ensure continued progress on the Gateway Tunnel project.
Senator Bob Menendez and Congressman Tom Malinowski announced millions of dollars to keep the Gateway Tunnel project on track is included in the new Federal spending bill. #gateway
“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.”
A few days after the Senate committee passed a similar measure, an Assembly Committee approved an agency that will supply funding–issue bonds and accept grants—for the construction of the Gateway tunnel. Thanks @SpeakerCoughlin and Assemblyman Benson.
Governor Murphy today announced upgrades at NYC Penn Station designed to reduce overcrowding, and expand amenities for passengers…