Train, Ferry Commuters Take Summer Disruption In Stride

July 17, 2017
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Commuters board a NJ Transit commuter train in Red Bank as they cope with disruptions and
delays from work being done at Penn Station in New York City.

By John Burton  ||

As a NJ Transit commuter train left the Middletown station a couple of days after commuters had to address renovations at Penn Station, the train conductor offered a shrug and commented, “So far, so good.”

For some taking NJ Transit’s North Jersey Coast Line to work or for day trips, the sentiments expressed by the conductor who declined to give a name, seemed to sum it up.

Donna Garvin, Middletown, was waiting for the train, which she takes to Newark, for her work. She’s grateful not to have to travel into Manhattan and will avoid some of those recent delays and disruptions. But she’s noticed a few things that are different, though minor, in her commute. “You know it’s been getting kind of busy,” more than usual, she said, suspecting other riders are taking alternative routes to work.

“It is what it is. What are you going to do?” Margret Belletta of Middletown said with a shrug of her own, as she readied to make her way to work on the train.

Some of these commuters observed that traffic has been light, chalking it up to that it’s mid-July and many people are probably on vacation, avoiding some of these issues.

“I was wondering how it’s going to be,” after vacations, Garvin said.

Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, which owns and operates the more-than-a-century old commuter rail hub, Penn Station, in midtown Manhattan, began its long-planned repair project on Monday, July 10.

The project is intended to repair and upgrade infrastructure, such as some electrical and track work to the aging facility, which has been plagued by delays and other problems – regularly causing agita for harried travelers. The project is expected to take until early September, transportation officials announced, and is expected to cause delays to NJ Transit, Long Island Railroad, Amtrak and local subway service operated by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), while a number of tracks are out of service.

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The anticipated disruptions have caused some New York media outlets to hang the moniker “Summer of Hell” on the project.

But as Edward Poplawski, a Red Bank resident awaiting the train at Red Bank’s commuter station, observed, “It’s not been terrible,” for his daily trek to work in New York. He has a theory, explaining, “There’s been so much news about it, I think people have found alternative routes.”

Poplawski, too, did a little planning, preparing for what this could mean for his daily commute. “I’ve taken an earlier train to avoid some of it,” he said, observing there appeared to be fewer people or about the same and schedules have been pretty steady.

“It’s been nothing out of the ordinary,” said Monmouth Beach resident Richard Coplan, waiting at the Red Bank stop. “In both directions. The same as usual.

“I’ve had no disruptions,” Coplan said, adding “yet.”

Work was taking Red Bank’s John Cusick into New York, not a normal occurrence for him. “When I realized I had to go in today I thought I would take a later train,” he said, “to avoid the rush crush.” And it appeared to be working so far, he observed, given the lighter than usual crowd at the rail station.

Debbie Docs, Little Silver, too, was taking the later train, what she dubbed “the under-achievers train,” as opposed to the earlier ones dominated by New York-bound movers-and-shakers.

“Throughout the system that seems to be the account,” that things are running relatively smoothly, said Nancy Snyder, a NJ Transit spokes- woman. And that, she continued, “is the result of weeks of preparation,” among NJ Transit and the other groups involved.

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In addition, “Most of our customers have done their homework mapping out their travel pattern,” she observed, giving them a leg up on the process.

Some have opted for the ferry service. Regular NY Water ways rider Ed Schweitzer noticed the difference this week.

As his 5:10 p.m. ferry docked at the Belford terminal Tuesday, streams of riders hurriedly made their way off and home. “There’s many, many riders,” Schweitzer said. And given that, “They’re doing the best they can,” he concluded, referring to the ferry company.

The issue isn’t so much the ferry, but with the available parking around the terminal, due to the extra ridership. That has forced Schweitzer to leave his car at his Middletown home, relying on his wife to pick him up, he said.

“There’s competition for the seats,” he has noticed on his two daily trips. Schweitzer said he’s been assured as a long- time customer (13 years, since the terminal opened) he would have his place on the boat. “I buy the 40-ride book (of tickets) every month,” he said. “So, I think that’s fair.”

“Any business will be loyal to its customers,” confirmed Pat Smith, a spokesman for NY Waterways. “If we have a loyal NY Waterway customer we’ll take them first, over somebody who showed for the first time today.”

But the company has taken additional steps to accommodate what Smith confirmed has been a bump in ridership. That has included contracting with NJ Transit by operating a specific ferry line, with two boats, from Hoboken to the 39th Street terminal intended for NJ Transit customers, with NY Waterways cross-honoring tickets. The ferry company has an additional boat “that can jump from different routes,” as needed, Smith said.

“We’re dealing with all of it,” he said. “The point is to take everybody we can.”


This article was first published in the July 13-20, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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