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Secaucus transfer delayed due to Sept. 11 aftermath

By Judy Rife, Times Herald-Record   Tue May 21

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 Manhattan. 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.


The Exchange Place station, in New Jersey, will come on line first, in June 2003, and the World Trade Center station, in December 2003. Exchange Place is not only the turnout for World Trade Center trains but also the gateway to New Jersey's "Gold Coast" of corporate offices and a destination for many reverse commuters from Manhattan. Stations along the 33rd Street line will also be renovated to boost their capacity "We've written incentives into the contract to get the work done faster but how much faster when it's an already accelerated schedule, I don't know,'' said Colemen. "Regardless, we're committed to those dates." Without paying a premium for fast-tracking, the Port Authority estimates the work would have taken upwards of four years rather than two to complete. In the interim, it has also spent millions to build new docks on both sides of the Hudson so that NY Waterway could expand ferry services and relieve PATH – and it has. Almost twice as many commuters, 28,000, are taking ferries from various points in New Jersey to the city since Sept. 11.


Meanwhile, Miller said, construction of the Secaucus transfer remains on schedule and shouldn't be an issue in its opening at any date. The work, which began in 1995, has been largely invisible because it is done at night to avoid disrupting the 400 trains that pass through Secaucus every day.

http://www.recordonline.com/archive/2002/05/21/jrsecauc.htm

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