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PATH to get long overdue makeover


Of all the transit systems in the United States, none is relying on rolling stock that is older than PATH's. Its newest cars were introduced in 1986. And the oldest ones date from the mid-1960s when the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey took over the former Hudson & Manhattan Railroad. The cars average 33 years old, making them the oldest passenger rail fleet in the nation, Port Authority spokesman Mark Lavorgna said. That will change under a plan to replace PATH's 340-car fleet beginning in 2008 under a $499 million contract with Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. The average cost per car will be $1.46 million.

The new cars will have three sets of doors on each side of the train, like the ones added in the 1980s, that make getting on and off the train faster and easier. And in this post-9/11 world, there will be closed-circuit TV cameras. The new PATH cars also will have automatic station announcements, better signs and a way for passengers to communicate with the crew, according to the Port Authority. The heating, air conditioning and lighting systems also will be better than those on the current generation of trains.

The new cars will be based on the trains that run on the New York Subway's No. 6 line. But they'll be capable of running with one-man crews, Lavorgna said. "There is no question that the PATH system will become a more critical lifeline in the near future for the hundreds of thousands of daily commuters who travel between New Jersey and New York," Port Authority Chairman Anthony R. Coscia said in a statement. The car purchase is part of the Port Authority's 10-year, $3 billion strategic investment in PATH. Ridership on the system is expected to increase to nearly 85 million passengers by 2016, compared to today's 60 million, he noted. "It seems like they're getting a good price," said Douglas J. Bowen, president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers. "Overall, it's kind of hard to criticize getting new equipment." But Bowen said one amenity missing from all the electronics on the new trains is push-button door controls that passengers can use. They've proven popular on the River Line and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line, he said.

In peak service at busy stations, the conductor would control all the doors. But in off-peak hours, passengers would push buttons to open the doors when they are getting on and off the new PATH trains. Bowen said such a move would make passengers more comfortable while waiting inside a stopped car in hot or cold weather. It would also save energy, since the heating and air conditioning units wouldn't have to work as hard. The winner of next week's gubernatorial election is going to face a nasty situation next July when the state runs out of money for work on the state's highways and mass transit systems.

With property taxes and ethics dominating the campaign, neither Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine nor Republican nominee Douglas Forrester has spent a lot of time discussing how they'd fund the state's Transportation Trust Fund once its interest payments grow to match its annual revenue.

Both have spoken out against raising the state's 14-cent-per-gallon gas tax. There's also been discussion of leasing or selling the New Jersey Turnpike or borrowing against future toll revenue. The latter is like taking a cash advance on one credit card so you can make a payment on another.

None of the options are good, but neither are pot holes that can swallow sub-compact cars, or trains without air conditioning that break down in summer heat. And those are real possibilities if the state can't maintain its transportation infrastructure. That's just one more thing to think about when you step into the voting booth next week.


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