Montclair State University station: a disappointment with a future?

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Did we really need the clocktower?

Montclair State University station has been a bust, you could say.  NJ Transit opened the station in 2004 with high hopes, located just off Route 46 at Clove Road. The station is massive. It has a full-length completely covered high level platform, a climate-controlled bridge over the tracks accessible by four elevators, a huge clock tower, and a parking structure with 1,530 spaces.  All of this at the cost of $26 million.

The ridership never materialized. Despite 1,530 parking spots, average daily ridership was just 592 passengers in 2014.  Some of the spare capacity is used as parking for Montclair State students.  Here’s a sign of how disappointing ridership has been.  Originally, there was a small shop built into the parking structure selling coffee and pastries.  The shop has since closed.

The station is grossly overbuilt.  It didn’t live up to expectations mainly because of its poor location.  For one thing, it isn’t even very convenient to the university.  Most of the campus is actually closer to Montclair Heights Station, or at least an easier walk.  The area near the station has a few dorms and sports fields.

Here’s what Montclair State university tells visitors:

The Montclair Heights train station, located at the south end of campus, is just a few steps away from the main body of the campus. The Montclair State University train station, located at the northwest end of campus, has a campus shuttle service to the main campus area.

In other words, the station is so far from the campus it’s named after that they recommend taking a bus.

The station doesn’t provide time-competitive service to New York.  Midtown Direct trains take about 55 minutes to get to Penn Station.  In comparison, the Wayne/ Route 23 park-and-ride is about 40 minutes from the Port Authority, and it’s several miles farther away. Its 1,100 space parking lot regularly fills up and there’s an overflow lot a few miles up the road.

Furthermore, the station doesn’t have access to Route 46 west.  Clove Road is currently only an exit on 46 east.  It’s easy for suburbanites from Little Falls, West Paterson, and other towns to drive to the station, but getting back involves a 5+ minute detour on local roads, or taking 46 east, getting off the highway, making two left turns, and merging back onto 46 west. But this is about to change. Continue reading

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Speculation on what a partial tunnel closure would look like

In addition to further reliance on ferries, the PATH, and Lincoln and Holland tunnels, closing one of the North River tubes to Penn Station would mean tough decisions on how to use the remaining capacity.  From NJ.com:

The next question is who gets the little commuter rail capacity that’s left?

“The first question is who get those 6 trains?” Zuppan said, who assumed Amtrak’s two hourly trains would continue running. “NJ Transit has four instead of 20 (trains). The big question is what lines get them?

Would that mean two trains an hour each get allocated for the Northeast Corridor, and Morris & Essex lines, he questioned.

“There will be economic ramifications,” said Amtrak’s Schulz. “Regardless of  how the numbers shape up, there will be a reduction and people still need to go to work. How we do it, remains to be seen.”

NJ Transit’s multilevel cars have about 140 seats.  If we assume a heavy load of 50 standees per car, a 12-car train with two locomotives could hold (140+50)*12=2,280 passengers. Multiply that by 4 trains, and we get 9,120 passengers per hour

2013 hub-bound travel data shows that about 48,000 passengers enter Manhattan on NJ Transit trains between 7am and 10am. 22,000 of these people arrive between 8am and 9am. That leaves NJ Transit with a capacity deficit of about 13,000 people between 8 and 9.

One of the tricks that NJ Transit could pull out of its sleeve could be to remove seats from its trains to create more standing room.

The above assumptions are that a single track would allow 6 trains in an 6 trains out per hour.  This could change to 8 trains in and 4 trains out in the morning, which could be done during the peak, but would require changes to equipment staging. During the morning, outbound commuter numbers are much smaller than the number of inbound commuters.  In the PM rush, the number of inbound passengers is higher, so it would be more difficult to change the balance between inbound and outbound slots.

To create alternatives, NJ Transit would have to make crossing the Hudson via ferry or PATH more attractive.  We could see an increasing number of Coast Line and Northeast Corridor Trains terminating at Newark Penn Station, and increased service into Continue reading

New Penn Station departure board tells riders to “check schedule”

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This is one of NJ Transit’s new departure screens at New York Penn Station.  It’s supposed to show every station on the NJ Transit system and what train to take in order to get there.

The only problem is that the information is incomplete.  About a quarter of the stations show “*see schedule for next trip.”  There’s no departure information for the Raritan Valley Line or Port Jersey Line. Only spotty stations on the Main, Bergen County, and Pascack Valley Lines is displayed. For instance, Allendale on the Main/Bergen is shown, but there’s no departure listed for Broadway – Fair Lawn.

This is a shocking failure of public information.  Consider this:  If you walked up to an information booth and asked the employee for the next train to Bridgewater, and she said “Check the schedule,” it would seem either downright rude or just incompetent.

The information on the screens isn’t even the same as what’s in the printed timetables.  This picture was taken at 5:16 pm. According to the Bergen County Line timetable, someone going to Allendale should get the 5:35 pm departure, and change at Secaucus.  For some reason, the screen says to get the 5:21. Departure screens are supposed to show the latest possible departure, not the earliest.  Otherwise, someone who misses the 5:21 wouldn’t know that they can take the 5:35, causing them to miss the connection.

The screens also fail to show all transfer opportunities.  For instance, it shows the next departure to Chatham at 5:43.  This train gets in at 6:31.  But by getting the 5:18 train and transferring at Summit, it’s possible to get to Chatham at 6:14.  A rider going to Chatham might think that there’s not way to get back home until the 5:43 train, and then spend 15 extra minutes in transit, even if he is in a hurry.

In this case, incorrect information actually has negative value. Some people will always prefer to take a direct train and get home 15 minutes later, but there is also a group more time-sensitive of people who are willing to transfer if it means they can get home sooner.  There are two options here, but the screens only show one. Instead of letting the passenger make the decision, the screen effectively makes that decision for the rider.

But at the same time, the screen tells East Orange passengers to take the 5:30 to Montclair and change at Newark. This might be because East Orange is only served by trains from Hoboken, but Chatham gets Hoboken and Midtown Direct service.

Compare this to the LIRR’s station-by-station departure board:

Continue reading

Manual door operation on NJ Transit

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This conductor opens the door just as the train is pulling into the station

Most commuters don’t like NJ Transit’s electric multiple unit cars.  These are the stainless steel sided rail cars that have built-in electric motors, rather than being pulled by a locomotive.  If you’re a regular rider, you might know these cars by their dated 1970s interiors with brown faux wood paneling and brown faux leather seats.

These cars also have a unique feature:  manual door operation.  Using a key, the conductor can open the end doors of the car ahead of time, often 10-15 seconds before the train comes to a complete stop.

At low-level platform stations on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines, this is a standard practice. The conductor opens the door a few seconds early, and walks down to the bottom step as the train is coming to a stop.  The conductor jumps off the train just as the train stops.  Passengers can board or alight as soon as the train stops.

All of the other cars in NJT’s fleet have interlocking doors.  A circuit prevents doors from opening until after the train has come to a complete stop. Only a second or two after this happens, the doors begin opening.  It takes about 1-2 seconds for the doors to fully open and the conductor to begin stepping off the train.  Then, after the conductor has gotten out of the way, boarding/alighting activity begins.

All in all, opening the train doors while the train is pulling into the station saves about five seconds.  This is a mere trifle in time, but stop after stop, it adds up. A local from Hoboken to Gladstone makes 23 stops.  23×5=115 seconds, or nearly two minutes.

Other ways of cutting two minutes off a train’s running time can include engineering work to upgrade the tracks and switches, at the cost of millions of dollars, or by straightening curves on the right of way, which could cost even more.

Manual door operation saves time, but it’s a dying practice.  Continue reading

Data Dump: NJT’s farebox recovery rate by line

In a document submitted to the state legislature for budget hearings, NJ Transit made public detailed information about fare recovery ratios for all of its lines.

The fare recovery rate is the ratio between a line’s cost of operation and fares received.  A bus line that costs $3 million dollars a year to run and takes in $750,000 in fares every year has a fare recovery rate of 25%.

A line with a low fare recovery rate requires high subsidies.  A line with a fare recovery rate of 100% breaks even and doesn’t require operational subsidies.

Here are the fare recovery ratios for the rail and light rail side from fiscal year 2014.  I will save the data on buses for another time.

Newark Division:

Northeast Corridor Line:   88.4%

Coast Line: 54.7%

Raritan Valley Line:  39.9%

Atlantic City Line: 19.6%

Hoboken Division:

Pascack Valley Line: 47.8%

Main/Bergen County Lines: 43%

Montclair-Boonton Line: 42%

Morris and Essex Lines: 48.6%

Light Rail:

Hudson Bergen LIght Rail: 33.2%

Newark Light Rail: 29.5%

River Line: 10.0%

Bear in mind that there is a certain amount of estimation that goes into calculating fare recovery rates because of a few factors:

  • Tickets are honored across lines.  A commuter holding a pass from South Orange to Newark can ride the Newark Light Rail for Free.  A one way ticket from New York to Edison is good for travel to other stations in zone 13, so i can be used for travel to South Amboy, for instance.  It’s unclear how revenue is allocated in these situations.
  • On many lines, the majority of passengers transfer to complete their trip.  When  Main and Bergen County Line riders board a train to New York at Secaucus, The revenue might be allocated to the Main and Bergen County Line, but they are also taking up seats on trains to the Montclair-Boonton or Coast Lines.
  • This is an average farebox recovery rate. It’s an average for the entire week.  The Northeast Corridor Line might have a weekday fare recovery rate of 95%, a Saturday rate of 70%, and a Sunday rate of 50%, with an overall average in the 80s.
  • Some Lines share stations, like the Northeast Corridor and Coast Line between Rahway and New York.
  • The Gladstone Line and Morristown Line are grouped together, as are the Main and Bergen County Lines, and the Northeast Corridor and Princeton DInky.

Continue reading

7 proposed infill stations on the NJ Transit system

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 11.41.36 AMBuilding a new station on an existing rail line is usually  cheaper than extending the line farther out.

This type of development is called an infill station, so called because it fills in a gap between existing stations.

Since it took over the statewide rail system, NJ Transit has built some very successful infill stations.

On the Northeast Corridor Line, some of the busiest stops were only recently built. Hamilton, with its massive parking structure, opened in 1999 and Newark Airport opened in 2001. The Raritan Valley Line’s last stop until Newark used to be Roselle Park until 2004, when Union station opened adjacent to Kean University. It’s now one of the busiest stops on the line.

NJT’s progress in building new infill stations has slowed in the past couple years as funding has dried up.  The most recent infill station to open was the Pennsauken Transit Center, a connecting the Atlantic City Line and River Line, in 2013.  It might be too early to judge the success of this station, but it was used by an average of 75 passengers per day in 2014.

There have been proposals for several other infill stations on the NJ Transit system:

1. North Brunswick This stop would be situated on the Northeast Corridor Line between Jersey Avenue and Princeton Junction-  currently a gap of 14 miles between stations. The station depends on NJ Transit’s mid-line loop project, a proposed flyover that would allow trains to cross over all 4 tracks.

Funding has been allocated for the station in NJ Transit’s capital budget. Completion could come as early as 2018.  A transit village development is also proposed for the site.

(wikimedia)

(wikimedia)

2. Wesmont will be a station in Wood-Ridge, NJ on the Bergen County Line, opening in 2015 or 2016.  Construction on the station is mostly finished.

The nearest station is Garfield, one mile to the north.  Like North Brunswick, this station would also be accompanied by a major transit-oriented development nearby.

3. 18th Street, Jersey City would be the an infill station on the Hudson Bergen Light Rail, near the border with Hoboken. In 2012, NJ Transit received $400,000 for a study on the new station.

The site is in an industrial, redevelopable area of Jersey City that has been branded “SoHo West” by real estate interests. The station would only be financially feasible if NJ Transit received a contribution from nearby developers.

4. 17th Street, Hoboken Continue reading