All aboard to get seats

Published in the Asbury Park Press 5/30/02

NEWARK -- Rail commuters can expect more seats on NJ Transit trains within a month and 33,000 extra seats within four years through a combination of schedule changes, longer trains and new equipment showcased yesterday.

Gov. McGreevey joined other officials to highlight service changes they hope will provide relief to the 4,000 "standees" who lack seats on their daily commute to Manhattan.

The governor said these changes will cut in half the number of "standees" -- a problem he called intolerable -- by mid-June. By September, all riders should have a seat, he said.

"In order for NJ Transit to reach its full potential, it must be seen as a convenient choice, not just an available option," Transportation Commissioner James Fox said, standing alongside two gleaming new Comet V rail cars and a high-powered engine that will be put into use when electrification of the Montclair-to-Boonton line is completed Sept. 30.

Passengers waiting at the Aberdeen-Matawan station yesterday afternoon said adding more rail cars is a good idea.

"It's crowded in the morning, and coming back it's crowded," Kelso Anderson, 27, of Matawan said. "I think it will be a good move, especially during the evening."

Eliot Klien, 17, of Matawan said more people will be encouraged to use trains when they realize NJ Transit is making efforts to improve services.

"It will definitely be convenient and essential for riders going and coming from the city," Klien said. "With more space the rides will definitely be better."

George Weir, 45, of Keyport said the extra capacity is greatly needed.   "I've noticed that it has gotten more and more crowded since Sept. 11," Weir said. "A lot of times you can't find a seat."

The immediate goal, McGreevey said, will be to add 6,000 seats on weekdays and 7,300 on weekends over the next four months by adding cars to the North Jersey Coast and Northeast Corridor lines and working with Amtrak to allow some NJ Transit passengers on that company's Clocker service, officials said.

NJ Transit officials also will work to beef up nighttime service, making it easier for New Jerseyans to take in a show or dinner and still get home by train, McGreevey said.

Rail use in the state has grown 30 percent since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks altered commuters' routes by sealing off the downtown Manhattan PATH station and prompting car pool requirements at bridges and tunnels.

NJ Transit Executive Director George Warrington said the changes will cost "several hundred thousand dollars" and will be paid for through NJ Transit's existing funds. The quasi-autonomous state agency has an operating budget this year of $1.14 billion, $260 million of which comes from the state general fund.

In addition to the new coaches on the Montclair-Boonton line -- which will add 9,500 seats -- McGreevey said NJ Transit will begin adding specially designed bilevel cars to various routes in fall 2005. Once all 231 of these cars, which have 30 percent more capacity than traditional coaches, are in place, 33,000 seats will have been added for the system's nearly 400,000 daily riders, officials said.

The first 100 of the bilevel cars will be paid for with $250 million from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; the rest will be funded through NJ Transit's capital budget. Port Authority Chairman Jack Sinagra said the funding is likely to be approved at a board meeting today.
The upgrades drew praise from Janine Bauer, a spokeswoman for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, who said Warrington appears to be making good on long-standing promises to better use equipment.

"We're pleased and excited. These are great changes," Bauer said. Partnering with Amtrak is "a good example of two transit systems working together -- something we haven't seen enough of in this region."

Other rail passenger advocates were dubious.

"We'll believe it when we see it," said Douglas Bowen, president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers.
Bowen said that the changes are a good start but that nothing short of new rail access to Manhattan will truly solve the problem.
"And that's something that would cost billions of dollars," he said.

Staff writer Rodney Point-Du-Jour and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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