Posted by the Asbury
Park Press on 08/21/06
BY LARRY HIGGS
For riders of NJ Transit lines requiring passengers to change from diesel to electric-powered trains in mid-commute, a one-seat ride might be coming down the track.
NJ Transit officials are considering using dual-mode locomotives — which can be powered either by diesel engine or overhead electric wires — as a way to give an uninterrupted ride to passengers on the Raritan Valley Line and the proposed Monmouth-Ocean-Mid-dlesex line.
NJ Transit Executive Director George Warrington said dual-mode locomotives also could be used to extend service on the Montclair-Boonton line west to Port Morris, Morris County, and possibly for seven to eight miles on the Lackawanna Cutoff into Sussex County.
All this is predicated on the implementation of the hybrid locomotives and the building of the proposed $7.2 billion Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel, called THE Tunnel, which is gathering support and funding, Warrington said.
"We would be sacrificing a huge opportunity if we didn't plan the railroad system in New Jersey to use that capacity," War-rington said. Now, the only way lines such as the Raritan Valley or Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex could offer a one-seat ride is to install electric wire and power distribution systems on those tracks, which is prohibitively expensive.
While not common in the United States, dual-mode locomotives have been used on certain Metro North lines for 50 years. A new generation of dual-mode locomotives has been built for Metro North and Amtrak by General Electric.
Monmouth and Ocean county officials were asked to rethink March 2005 ridership projections for the Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex line based on the use of dual-mode locomotives that would run to New York through the tunnel. Plans for the line had been based on running diesel-powered trains to Newark, where riders would change trains to reach New York.
"We suggested to the MOM folks last summer to think about recalibrating the objective with the effort to build THE Tunnel," Warrington said. "We ought to think about modeling it on the ability to access Manhattan."
NJ Transit officials are developing locomotive designs and a plan for how many dual-mode locomotives will be needed for the rail system, NJ Transit spokesman Dan Stessel said.
Unlike dual-mode locomotives in use by
Metro North and Amtrak, NJ Transit would get electric power from overhead
wire instead of a third rail, he said.
In January, NJ Transit entered into a contract for design of the dual-mode locomotive, Stessel said. Those technical specifications are almost complete, he said. Yet unknown is what those locomotives will look like or if they'll be a modification of existing diesel locomotive design, officials said.
While costs haven't been formally estimated because the design phase is still under way, the cost of the hybrid vehicles could be between $6 million and $8 million each, Stessel said.
NJ Transit's board included funding in the fiscal year 2007 budget for continued work on the draft environmental impact study for the MOM line. Money also was allocated for the return of rail passenger service to the Lackawanna Cutoff in northwestern New Jersey.
"We've set aside funds to advance the concept of extending the Montclair-Boonton Line to Port Morris," Warrington said.
The trains originating at Great Notch would instead start at Port Morris to provide more frequent service on the western end of the line. Also to be studied would be extending service over the Lackawanna Cutoff to Andover in Sussex County, Warrington said.
"Dual-mode locomotives would allow trains to originate from Port Morris and for efficient utilization of trains to scoop up as many folks as possible from Port Morris east," Warrington said.
The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition also has been lobbying for dual-mode locomotives as a way to give riders for Somerset and Hunterdon counties a one-seat ride to New York.
But some advocates of the Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex line see the wait for THE Tunnel and dual-mode locomotives as a delay for Ocean County riders, who need additional transportation options.
"A one-seat ride is better than changing modes, but it delays implementation for another 10 years," said William F. Braden, chairman of the Central Jersey Rail Coalition. "What do we do between now and then?"
While Monmouth County residents have the option to drive to North Jersey Coast Line stations, Ocean County residents have two choices: drive their cars or take a bus, which is stuck in the same traffic as the cars, he said. And Braden worries that funding could be lost to another region.
"Everyone is clamoring for (rail) service," Braden said. "We haven't endorsed any route for MOM. Any route would be OK as long as it provides service for our area."
Larry Higgs: (732) 643-4277 or [email protected]
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