After weeks of mounting frustration, two canceled meetings and an impromptu sit-in by angry local and state officials at New Jersey Transit’s Newark headquarters, the company’s leaders have agreed to a face-to-face meeting on Wednesday to discuss an action plan to address the “summer of hell” expected from the disruption of Morris & Essex train service to and from New York City.
“[South Orange Village President] Sheena Collum and I are happy to report that NJ Transit has confirmed the Wednesday afternoon meeting with elected officials representing communities on the Morris & Essex train line,” wrote Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca on Facebook.
However, the mayors appear to be reserving their enthusiasm until after Wednesday, with DeLuca expressing cautious optimism and Collum wondering if the meeting is a “bait and switch” that will not lead to concrete solutions.
After being taken by surprise by last month’s announcement of NJ Transit’s plans to suspend M&E trains to Penn Station to complete Amtrak track work, DeLuca, Collum and other state and local officials demanded NJT consider alternatives that would not force one line’s commuters to bear the brunt of the repair work. In the face of intense scrutiny at two hearings last week, transit authorities agreed to some concessions, including adding back several direct morning rush hours Midtown Direct trains to New York City and providing additional express buses into and out of the city at South Orange Train Station.
DeLuca told Village Green Monday night he was “cautiously optimistic that we will make some progress at this meeting. Time is running out and I want to deal with specifics about how we can get equity in Transit operational plans. I also want our commuters to be fully informed so they can make the best decision regarding their travel to and from NYC.”
While Collum said she was grateful to have finally received “the courtesy of a response,” she said the only details NJ Transit has so far confirmed is that Wednesday’s meeting will likely occur at the rail operations headquarters in Kearny.
“The location raises questions because I’m not interested in a tour of why certain decisions were made,” said Collum. “I want a working session with the Executive Director [Steve Santoro] and senior NJ Transit officials with the goal of moving the needle forward on ways we can mitigate impact on our riders and provide them a comprehensive communications plan. All the mayors have many suggestions to offer to this process seeing as though we’re five weeks out. I hope this isn’t a bait and switch with us for the purposes of saying a meeting was held.”
DeLuca said he and other officials would request that NJ Transit provide:
- More direct NYC trains from 7am to 9am and in the evening.
- Train transfer options at Newark Broad St. either to Montclair direct line or through Northeast Corridor lines at Newark Penn.
- Transfer options at Hoboken that include ferry service to 39th St with cross honoring NJT tickets.
- Path cross honoring NJT tickets at all NYC stations – Christopher, 14th, 23rd & 33rd with NJT personnel assigned to each station.
- Express bus service for Maplewood as well as South Orange
- NJT personnel assigned to South Orange and Maplewood train stations during rush hour during the first week of construction.
- Communication plan with commuters so everyone knows their travel options.
Village Green will follow up on this story and report back after Wednesday.
Read the two recent letters Collum and DeLuca sent to NJT’s Executive Director Steve Santoro:
June 5, 2017
Steven H. Santoro
NJ TRANSIT Corporation
One Penn Plaza East
Newark, NJ 07105-2246
I’m writing you on behalf of the South Orange Board of Trustees and the 4,000+ commuters who use our train station daily, making us the busiest stop on the Morris & Essex line, servicing primarily South Orange, Livingston, and West Orange.
As the Executive Director of NJ Transit, you and your agency have taken “full responsibility” for the disruption in services that our riders will disproportionately experience this summer, as per your testimony before the joint hearing of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee and Assembly Judiciary Committee last Wednesday.
You also directly heard from many mayors who testified demanding a meeting with you, which is yet to come to fruition. In fact, the opposite has occurred, you’ve cancelled/postponed two meetings—one which was scheduled for Friday, May 24th due to the “level of interest,” and then Tuesday, May 30th due to “extenuating circumstances,” which we found unacceptable. As you know, several mayors and elected officials including state representatives still showed up with the hope of collectively working together and improving upon your agency’s proposed plan. You didn’t even give the group the courtesy of coming downstairs, and instead treated this delegation of concerned elected officials representing thousands of your customers as if we were solicitors or trying to sell you candy. There are no words for that level of disrespect.
Throughout this series of non-responsiveness, deflection, and delay, your office confirmed a meeting would take place with all interested parties this Wednesday, June 7th. I sent a follow-up email this past Friday attempting to confirm the time and location. This has been met with radio silence and yet again shows the level of contempt you have for elected officials with no regard to our schedules. Please advise immediately whether or not you plan on hosting this meeting or if your plan is to simply hope we go away—which I can assure you will not be the case.
Sheena C. Collum
June 4, 2017
Dear Director Santoro,
I am writing to confirm the time and place for the June 7th meeting with elected officials on the Morris and Essex Train Line. As you know, there is great interest by the Maplewood Township Committee and commuters in our community in NJ Transit’s plans for the Penn Station track work that begins on July 10th.
Our two previous scheduled meetings – Friday, May 24th and Tuesday, May 30th – were cancelled by Transit. On May 24th, elected officials received an email from John Leon, Senior Director of Government and Community Relations, stating the following:
We know that you and your constituents are deeply interested in how Amtrak’s extensive and disruptive summer Penn Station track work will affect you, and in receiving more information about NJ TRANSIT’s plan for providing summer service that will continue to move the most customers safely and as reliably as possible.
In order to ensure that all communities along the Morris and Essex lines can be included, NJ TRANSIT will be pleased to offer in-depth briefings on the Amtrak track work and the summer schedule we have developed in response to Amtrak’s work.
Due to continuing extenuating circumstances, the meeting scheduled for Tuesday is being postponed. However, we ask that you hold the date of Wednesday, June 7th available, so we can schedule an effective session (a separate meeting for Legislators is also being planned for Tuesday, June 6th). We will contact you with a specific time and briefing location shortly. (Italics added)
As of Sunday, June 4th, five weeks before the track work is to begin, we have not been informed of the time and place for the June 7th meeting. Please respond on Monday, June 5th with the meeting information.
Thank you for your anticipated response.
Victor De Luca