Passaic-Bergen and Northern Branch Corridors would improve cross-county connections
New Jersey, it seems, is excited about its transit systems. Just a day after Delaware River Port Authority officials announced that they’d be pursuing a major expansion project in Philadelphia’s suburbs, New Jersey Transit reached an agreement with a private railroad operator to connect Hawthorne and Hackensack with a transit line. The Passaic-Bergen connection, if built, would run eight miles on an existing freight corridor and stop at nine stations in Hawthorne, Paterson, Elmwood Park, and Hackensack in two counties.
The project will use diesel multiple unit (DMU) light rail cars and cost between $150 and $200 million to build. It will serve an estimated 1,800 riders a day. The line won’t require significant track work, because the corridor is already operated by the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway (NYS&W); in all likelihood, NJ Transit will negotiate to run passenger trains during the day and freight trains at night, much like the River Line, which only operates until 10 pm on weekdays. Work on stations and sidings could begin in the next few months, with operation by 2012. A connection to a Main Line commuter rail station will be within walking distance in Hawthorne; the line will pass over or under the Bergen County and Pascack Valley Lines, but there will be no transfers for lack of adjacent stations.
The project’s low projected ridership has much to do with a variety of structural problems with the line: few people are expected to need to take the eight mile (or less) journey between the affected towns, and the connection to the Main Line rail corridor will still leave these commuters fifty minutes or more away from New York Penn Station, including a transfer at Secaucus Junction. The 2017 opening of the ARC tunnel, which will allow Main Line trains direct access into Manhattan, will shorten commutes, but not by a huge amount. The construction of the Passaic-Bergen connection, in other words, isn’t going to change commuting patterns dramatically.
But what if the project were extended towards the Hudson River to shorten commutes and improve accessibility between areas that currently lack a fixed-corridor transit option? As illustrated in the map above, NYS&W’s tracks extend down to North Bergen at the terminus of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system, and then extend to Croxton, near Secaucus. With a future extension of this project towards North Bergen, commuters in Hackensack and Paterson could have a direct connection to the Gold Coast of Hoboken and Jersey City. With a prolongation further south and a few hundred feet of new track, the system could head straight into Secaucus Junction, where connections to all of New Jersey could be made. In short, this project could be the start of a brand new day for transit in North Jersey.
This is where the Northern Branch Corridor, also pictured on the map, comes in. This line would extend north directly from the North Bergen light rail terminus to Tenafly, hitting the towns of Fairview, Ridgefield, Palisades Park, Leonia, and Englewood along the way. Though that project isn’t as far along and remains in planning, its construction in conjunction with the extension of the Passaic-Bergen line would make North Bergen Junction into a veritable grand central. Trains could operate on the Northern Branch using the same vehicles as planned for the Passaic-Bergen line, because both projects will be designed to use DMU trainsets.