Thousands of commuters who use the Raritan Valley Line will once again be able to take a one-seat ride directly to midtown Manhattan, outside morning and evening rush hour, over a year after the Murphy administration’s controversial decision to cut the service.
On Nov. 4, New Jersey Transit will reintroduce off-peak direct service to New York Penn Station via the Raritan Valley Line for all five midday routes and three of four evening routes.
Riders have had to switch at Newark Penn Station to head into New York Penn Station since the cuts were made back in September 2018, and will still need to do so for the fourth evening route.
NJ Transit reworked its scheduling to cut down the wait time, from 24 minutes to eight minutes, for connecting New York-bound riders, Gov. Phil Murphy said at the Monday morning announcement at the Westfield Train Station.
The move would mean “the elimination of major headaches for thousands of train riders,” the governor said. “It means more time getting to where you need to go and less time waiting,” he added, flanked by roughly a dozen mayors and local officials.
Roughly 23,000 riders are affected by the RVL, which snakes through Union, Somerset and Hunterdon counties, representing some of the state’s most affluent and wealthy neighborhoods. With transit-oriented development springing up in towns where the RVL train stops, that number is expected to explode, said Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, one of the mayors present on Monday.
Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti assured that few, if any costs, would be added to NJ Transit for the full-service restoration as the equipment and personnel already exist – the agency would just have to reorganize – for the Nov. 4 start date.
Additionally, the agency has seven train engineers in the pipeline who will graduate this week, Murphy said, on top of another seven training classes being held concurrently, all to clamp down on staffing shortages which lead to nonstop delays for riders.
The Murphy administration announced last year that it would be cutting off-peak rides as it made a mad dash to install the positive train control emergency braking system in time for a Dec. 31, 2018 deadline.
Service was cut entirely on the Atlantic City Line and Princeton “Dinky,” but was restored in late May. Even still, riders fumed that they were given little notice about the service cuts.
RVL’s off-peak service was supposed to be restored in early 2019, but according to Gutierrez-Scaccetti, it was pushed back because the agency’s trains had to be retrofitted for PTC, while Amtrak was hounded by a heavy load of summer work on its lines.
“Those were not easy decisions to make, although they were the right decision given the status of positive train control,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.
The closure of the lines prompted an oversight bill of NJ Transit, which Murphy signed last December, requiring transit officials to hold a series of public hearings, at times when most of the public can attend such as evenings, if they want to suspend rail service on a line.