- IN THE TOWNS
- ARTS / LEISURE
By: Yael Katzwer - Staff Writer
SOUTH ORANGE — When NJ Transit changed its train schedule in October, South Orange commuters became enraged, as the new schedule provided less service, resulting in delays and long waits.
After village meetings — both with and without representatives from NJ Transit — and a petition started by residents on change.org, progress is slowly being made.
“Last month, four residents and myself met with NJ Transit officials,” Mark Rosner, South Orange Board of Trustees member, said via email correspondence this week. “The residents were Scott Greenstone, David Solomon, Lee Pollock and Steve Kitzenger. The officials from NJ Transit were John Leon, Tom Morgan, Paul Wyckoff, Sallier Morris and Anthony Grieco.”
“They have promised to gather data during the first two full weeks of January and re-evaluate the schedule before the end of the month,” Rosner said. “We have another meeting set up for Jan. 29. At the very least we expect some changes to the schedule, reducing some of the stops on the locals to South Orange as an interim measure.”
“We will be out there in the next couple of weeks, counting customers at each stop. We will follow the change with an adjustment if necessary,” John Morgan, senior director of rail service planning, said at the Oct. 22 board meeting. Morgan said NJ Transit already has representatives counting passengers at each stop, but said it is unable to make promises about what will be done to resolve the situation.
Although NJ Transit will be conducting the evaluation, South Orange plans to be involved in the process.
“When they complete the first two weeks of the analysis in January — as taking counts during this holiday time yields little overall value — village officials will sit down with them and report back to the community what was found, and if their data suggests any changes, the village, alongside state and county officials, will strongly advocate for this,” Village President Alex Torpey said via email correspondence last month.
According to Rosner, at last month’s informal meeting, he, the residents present and the NJ Transit officials discussed the changes made to the schedule. “Basically, they eliminated express trains to South Orange altogether and two of them are now ‘super’ locals,” Rosner said. “NJ Transit officials kept pointing to data that says this was done to ease overcrowding, yet there is no evidence the changes have alleviated that problem and actually added significant travel time to all the peak-hour trains in the evening.”
The village, in the hope of increasing service to South Orange commuters, and others who use the station, is looking into altering the stops for one of the express trains that passes by South Orange. According to Torpey, the village received a commitment from NJ Transit at the Oct. 22 board meeting that NJ Transit will look into adding South Orange as a first stop on at least one express train.
“South Orange is a transit village with about 3,800 daily passengers using the station, servicing riders from West Orange, Livingston, Orange, Maplewood and South Orange,” Rosner said. “So the reduction in express service was puzzling at best and certainly not in the best interests of the commuters or NJ Transit.”
According to Torpey, the village has also asked NJ Transit to provide extra cars and to begin using double-deckers on train stops still experiencing overcrowding.
Torpey admits that these changes may be difficult to implement because NJ Transit is still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, which destroyed train tracks and caused flooding. The Morris & Essex Line, which services South Orange, was shut down for approximately two weeks following the storm.
Yael Katzwer can be reached at 908-686-7700, ext. 127.