Commuter Rail New York

A Misunderstanding in New Jersey

Today’s New York Times included an editorial criticizing New Jersey Transit for the way in which it had constructed the Secaucus Transfer Station. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

“Ever since it opened it 2003, the sprawling Frank R. Lautenberg railroad station next to the northern end of the New Jersey Turnpike in Secaucus has left everyone inclined to use it scratching their heads in bewilderment.

“There is no place for commuters to park their cars within miles of the station, which was intended as a transfer station only.”

The station cost a total of $450 million – an insane number for just one elevated stop on the state’s commuter rail lines. But viewed from some perspectives, it serves an important role in the rail network. Basically, it allows commuters on the Bergen, Main, Port Jervis, and Pascack Valley lines – which currently terminate at Hoboken, rather than Midtown Manhattan – to switch directly to other lines in NJT’s system, which do service New York’s Penn Station directly.

In this way, the Secaucus Transfer does play an important role – albeit only for the small number of people who are inclined to need the connection it provides.

But where the Times has it wrong is in its focus on automobile commuters. The location of the station is in the middle of New Jersey’s Meadowlands – there are few people in the immediate surrounding area, and few people for whom driving to another station is any harder. The development of thousands of parking spaces in the surrounding area is likely to only increase congestion on the Jersey Turnpike. The excuse that the parking is to be provided for new development on the Meadowlands doesn’t make any sense, either: the land is swampy and the environmental consequences will be negative for the wildlife. To make matters worse, people using new buildings there are more likely to be drivers than train-takers. Maybe new development would make more sense in inner-city Newark, which deserperately needs more investment.

But back to New Jersey’s decision to build the station in the first place. The problem with the plan is that it is quite easy for commuters on the rail lines that do not head to Midtown Manhattan to transfer to PATH trains at the Hoboken terminal – and get better access to Manhattan. So perhaps no one needed the station initially…

One reply on “A Misunderstanding in New Jersey”

If a PATH train service were to be provided from Secaucus Junction directly to the WTC downtown area this would improve the usability and value of the Secaucus Junction station. Passengers could then take either a Penn Station or Hoboken bound train, whichever is the most convenient for them, and then transfer at Secaucus Junction if necessary, to get to either Midtown or Downtown.

This could be provided at relatively low cost requiring some track and signal work north-west of Journal Square Path station. Such a PATH link can be extended to the Meadowlands Xanadu, Giants/Jets stadium and park-and-ride facility, providing a one-seat ride to/from Manhattan.

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