Until 2009, the Montclair-Boonton Line was the only line on the NJ Transit rail system without weekend service. After intense lobbying from leaders of Montclair, Glen Ridge, and Bloomfield, NJ Transit began a “demonstration” weekend service from Hoboken to Bay Street, with transfers to New York at Newark Broad Street.
The demonstration continues to this day. But ridership has increased by over 50%. When it launched, the service attracted an average of 750 riders on Saturdays and 650 on Sundays. By the end of 2009, the weekend trains were getting an average of 950 riders per day.
That increase has not slowed down. In the fall of 2013, those numbers stood at 1,450 riders per Saturday and 1,200 per Sunday. By fall 2014, patronage rose to 1,550 every Saturday and 1,350 on Sundays, for an average of 1,450. That’s a 50% increase in 5 years.
Weekend ridership shows no signs of abatement. Bay Street station has a large parking deck, and downtown Bloomfield is in the middle of a transit-oriented development boom.
NJ Transit implemented limited service on the Montclair-Boonton Line as a demonstration. That demonstration has been an enormous success. Currently, the trains only serve four stations on the line, and run every two hours. Future expansions could be:
- Hourly service. Hourly weekend trains are the standard on most of NJ Transit’s rail lines. The Montclair Line currently uses one train set on the weekends, but hourly service would require two. This would take a budgetary commitment that the agency most likely cannot afford right now.
- Extension to Montclair State or Wayne/Route 23. With two train sets, it would also be possible to run service at the current frequency, but extend it further down the line. Montclair State University is one of the largest destinations on the line. While it has always been a commuter school, MSU has added thousands of residents in the past few years. Students have already petitioned for weekend train service. MSU station has lots of parking near a highway, as does Wayne, but beyond that, potential ridership is minimal.
- Extension to Watchung Avenue. Weekend Montclair-Boonton trains were originally possible because NJ Transit ran a shuttle from Newark to Hoboken every two hours. This train would spend an hour laying over at Newark, enough time to run to Montclair and back. The current train has a 15 minute layover at Bay Street, which is enough time to make the 5-minute trip to Watchung Avenue and back, plus a 5-minute layover. Crews would still have a 30-minute layover at Hoboken. This would extend service to Watchung Avenue and Walnut Street, the two stations with the highest ridership after Bay Street, Glen Ridge, and Bloomfield, which are already served.
After five years, we can confidently declare weekend trains on the Montclair-Boonton line a success. But it’s time to expand the limited “demonstration” to full service.