Secaucus, N.J. – NJ Transit, overwhelmed by the post-9/11 shift in
commuting patterns, may delay opening the Secaucus transfer by as
much as a year.
Ken Miller, a spokesman for NJ Transit, said yesterday that the agency
will not open the transfer in December as originally scheduled. And it may
be forced to link the opening of Secaucus to that of the new temporary
PATH station at the former World Trade Center in December 2003.
"Our current ridership surges on New York-bound trains do not give us
enough room to handle the number of [potential] passengers transferring
at Secaucus,'' said Miller, explaining the new PATH station will ease
some of the overcrowding on its trains.
The new $450 million transfer in the Meadowlands will connect 11 rail
lines and give commuters from Orange and Rockland counties, as well
as many parts of New Jersey, the option of transferring to trains bound for
Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, for the first time, or continuing to
Hoboken as they do now.
Metro-North Railroad and NJ Transit have committed millions of dollars
to upgrading stations, expanding parking lots and buying new equipment,
in anticipation of a surge in ridership once Secaucus opens. Metro-North,
which now has about 3,000 riders on its Port Jervis and Pascack Valley
lines, projects a 60 percent increase in ridership over five years as
commuters abandon their cars or buses to take the train to midtown. The
railroad contracts with NJ Transit to operate its west-of-Hudson service
and has contributed $54 million to Secaucus.
"We're disappointed, of course, but we will continue to work with NJ
Transit to open Secaucus as quickly as possible," said Margie Anders, a
spokeswoman for Metro-North.
Before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, NJ Transit's
three lines that have always traveled into Penn Station carried 33,700
commuters during the morning rush. By Oct. 1, that number had jumped
to 48,500. Today, it is 44,000.
The sudden increases pushed the already notoriously overcrowded
trains, on the Northeast Corridor, Morris and Essex and North Jersey
Coast lines, to 145 percent of capacity. On many days, conductors don't
collect tickets because people are packed so tightly into the cars that
they can't get through. These are the trains to which commuters on the Port Jervis and
Pascack Valley lines and other New Jersey lines will transfer when
Secaucus opens. "People ask why we can't add more cars to the trains and we can't
because the trains would be longer than the platforms at Penn Station,''
said Miller, adding NJ Transit is using every piece of equipment it owns
pending delivery of hundreds of new cars.
Amtrak, which owns the only tunnels beneath the Hudson River to Penn
Station, allowed NJ Transit a modest increase in their use after 9/11. The
two railroads are negotiating another increase that would permit NJ
Transit, once new equipment arrives, new signal systems are installed
and Secaucus opens, to run more trains more frequently into midtown
Miller, however, said the agency doesn't know exactly when or how all
these disparate pieces will come together to make Secaucus work. As a
result, it will be analyzing changes in commuting patterns and train
capacity on a continuing basis to determine exactly when it can open the
new transfer and get everybody through the tunnels effectively.
"The biggest piece of that [equation] is the WTC station,'' he said.
Thousands of the NJ Transit commuters riding into Penn Station today
used to transfer at Newark to PATH trains to the World Trade Center.
Now they are staying on NJ Transit and using city subways, buses and
shoe leather to reach their offices downtown rather than switching to the
remaining PATH line to 33rd Street – and then getting on a subway.
Thousands more have been relocated to midtown. How many of them
will eventually return downtown is anybody's guess – and a key reason
that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has moved so quickly
to rebuild the PATH system and prevent it from becoming an excuse for
companies to relocate.
At least 20 percent of the 600,000 jobs in lower
Manhattan were held by people who live west of the Hudson River.
More than 60,000 commuters took PATH to the World Trade Center
before 9/11 and 25,000 took PATH to 33rd Street. Now, 41,000 use the
33rd Street line and some of its stations are so crowded that people
can't enter and exit at the same time.
Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said contractors
have been on the $300 million job since January, gutting and repairing
the tunnels. As soon as the remaining debris is cleared from the pit – as
the World Trade Center site is called – later this month, work will begin
on the station.