UNION COUNTY, NJ — A new video by the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition featuring Westfield, Fanwood and Union County representatives shows the dream of the one-seat ride into New York City is alive and well across the county, even though it remains a long-term goal that will need more funding to be fulfilled.
“We’re partway there, but it takes more money, and we need to all work together to get the money in place,” said Bruce Bergen, who was recently appointed as this year’s Chairman for the Board of Chosen Freeholders. “It’s important for all of the elected officials — local, county, state — to find the funding for New Jersey transit, so that the Raritan Valley line can have a complete, one-seat ride.”
More than 200,000 New Jersey commuters travel into the city on a daily basis, according to the coalition, and many of them live along the Raritan Valley line, including residents in Westfield, Fanwood and other surrounding towns.
In recent years, New Jersey Transit has run pilot programs in Westfield and Fanwood for the one-seat ride. Commuters in Westfield have been able to get into the city on a train running at 9:16 a.m., too late in the morning for most people who have to get to work, while Fanwood has benefitted from several other one-seat ride initiatives, according to Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr.
“We’ve been advocating for direct train service to Manhattan, and thanks to this push, in March 2014 New Jersey Transit introduced a pilot program of the one-seat ride, mid-day, on weekends. Then, in January of 2015, they gave us one-seat ride service after 8 p.m.,” said Mahr.
But a lack of funding has stymied the town’s hopes of regular, one-seat ride service, she added.
“This is all about equity,” she said. “We are the only line that has connectivity into Manhattan, but does not have peak service, one-seat ride.”
As it is now, many train lines in the area send commuters to the always-cluttered Newark Penn Station before heading to New York City, which frequently creates slowdowns and delays. But there aren’t many rail lines which directly head into New York City, excluding Fanwood, with Sen. Cory Booker characterizing the existing tunnels as “chokepoints.”
To remedy that, the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition is working on getting funding for strategies such as The Gateway Project, which originated in 2012. It would improve the existing rail infrastructure and create four mainline tracks in the Northeast Corridor, an idea that the coalition says would ultimately double the number of passenger trains running between New Jersey and New York City.
In addition to making life easier for commuters, the video — published on Saturday, Jan. 27, on the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition’s Youtube page — highlights how access to a one-seat ride can improve a town’s quality of life through increased property values, economic development and downtowns with more foot traffic.
The existing infrastructure in New Jersey, however, has been under fire from outspoken critics and commuters for years.
The coalition of rail unions working for New Jersey Transit has worked without a contract since 2011, which has caused tension and constant fears of a strike. In 2012, Gov. Chris Christie halted construction of a potentially new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.
As recently as last summer, New Jersey Transit faced a funding crisis which led to another fare increase. And earlier this month, a study found that New Jersey Transit commuter trains failed four more times than the U.S. average in 2014, according to Bloomberg News.
For years, the Raritan Valley Line Coalition has been lobbying for New Jersey Transit to add more one-seat rides to the Raritan Valley line.
That goal is still on the horizon, and with the rail infrastructure in place crumbling and underfunded, more money is going to have to be found to make it a dream come true in towns like Westfield and Fanwood.
“It’s going to be a long-term crusade, and we’re at it, and we’re not going to give up. The time is definitely now,” said Martin Robins, a former executive director at New Jersey Transit. “All we need is serious attention to this need, and working to get this service woven in a way so that the one-seat ride can be available for more Raritan Valley customers.”