Today, with a day off from work and Michael out of school (gosh what a coincidence), I decided to make use of a very rare available weekday without the confines of work and of meeting the school bus, and went up to Newark to ride the light rail vehicles on the Newark City Subway for the first time, and also try AirTrain Newark. I was very curious how fares are handled there.
Since we got a late start, and I knew that Metropark's station garage would be hell to park in on a weekday, I drove to Trenton instead. Longer train trip, but no problem parking thanks to the existence of nearby Hamilton Station to pull some of those Pennsylvania licence plates right off I-95/295.
I decided to do the Subway first, since this is something I could not do on a weekend until they finish the Bloomfield extension. Our NJ TRANSIT train 3844 was a little delayed in leaving Trenton, and in fact it had some sort of "mechanical problem" which caused them to skip many stations and use the express tracks. For whatever reason, this train was able to stop only at Hamilton, Princeton Junction, Metropark, Newark, and New York. We in fact, did a good 90 mph through the New Brunswick station on the express track, much to my delight and to the dismay of those on the platform awaiting this train. (Same goes for those in Edison, Metuchen, Rahway, Linden, Elizabeth, and Newark Airport!) It's OK, I've been on the short side of things too, folks. I could not figure out why they could station at some places and not others, unless it was a switch problem, not a problem with the train.
Anyhow, after our "hot" arrival in Newark Penn Station, I went to pick up the latest AMTRAK National timetable, the Northeast Thanksgiving timetable, and a few NJ TRANSIT brochures in their customer service store.
Then it was downstairs into the subway. I enjoyed the smooth ride on the LRV. There still appears to be some work going on around Orange Street. While the center island platform is now in use, they have to remove the temporary wooden platforms that were used by the PCC cars. And there's still that annoying safety stop at the Orange Street grade crossing, which makes me wonder if they are going to stop at the grade crossings on the new extension, such as at the crossing of Franklin Avenue just after the current Branch Brook Park terminus.
I was surprised to see the Heller Parkway station still open. I thought that would be eliminated once Branch Brook Park was open. But then, there's plenty of construction work still underway at that station. The PCC loop is totally gone, and it looks like they are already redeveloping some of the land where the loop was. Today they were laying a new sidewalk along the bus driveway at the station. There is a long ramp leading up to Heller Parkway; once that opens I guess that is when the Heller Parkway station will close. Still, almost more passengers used Heller Parkway than Branch Brook Park in both directions.
At Branch Brook Park, there are three tracks, one a pocket storage track. There is a center island platform in between the two mainline tracks, but it is possible to board a car on the western side platform. Trouble is, there is no way to know from which track the next car is departing. But then soon this will no longer be an endpoint station. Although there are signs saying to walk to a small pedestrian crossing to access the center platform, it is also possible to walk though a train on the western track to access a train on the eastern track, as the doors are open on both sides. I am not sure whether this is normal practice.
We just missed an inbound car while we were purchasing and validating our return tickets, so we ended up on the same LRV that we had taken outbound. We were only challenged for proof-of-purchase once, and that was at the beginning of the inbound trip.
Once back in Newark Penn Station, we went to the ticket machines to purchase our first set of inflated tickets for the 2-mile trip to the airport station. My ticket was $6.65, and Michael's was $5.70 -- five dollars of which is for admission to AirTrain Newark. While NJ TRANSIT charges a little less than half fare for kid under 12, there's no such thing as a discount when it comes to obnoxious surcharges. Five bucks for everybody!!
The first train out of Newark happened to be a Long Branch local, 3247, one with standing room only. Those we were standing with in the doorway were also headed for the airport station.
The Newark Airport station is a 6-track affair, very much like Trenton. There are two island platforms, but for now trains are only using one side of the platform. No trains appear to be assigned yet to the outside tracks. The AMTRAK and NJT trains not scheduled to stop at the airport pass through on the two center-most tracks.
The platforms have elevators to the upper level, but one of the two escalators on the outbound platform was not working, this only 2-1/2 weeks into the life of the station. On the upper level concourse on the rail station side of the fare gates, there are NJ TRANSIT ticketing machines. But these are all to vend $5 tickets to those who have not paid the $5 surcharge built into their tickets. They are not for purchasing a NJT rail ticket.
Now you come to the fare gates, which are unique in that everyone in both directions is paying a standard five-dollar fare to pass through. The "fare" is paid by passing through the fare gate's slot your train ticket (which is not retained by the NJT conductor). The fare gate keeps the ticket and allows passage. The same happens for those who buy the tickets on-site. A sign directs AMTRAK passengers to show their ticket stub; I guess they are then handed a ticket for the fare gates.
Once on the AirTrain side of the fare gates, there is a very modern-looking departure board showing all NJ TRANSIT and AMTRAK trains in color-coded fashion. Beneath it is a rack of train schedules. To the left (north) are restrooms, and some small airline ticket counters, although it did not look like they were in use. To the right is a stairway, flanked by two escalators running in opposite directions, leading to the AirTrain platform. Neither of these escalators was in operation, so one has to walk or take an elevator.
The AirTrain runs every three minutes most of the day, so there is never a long wait. The AirLink station where one interchanges with NJT and AMTRAK is called "RailLink". The monorail starts out southbound, parallel to the Northeast Corridor, dips down under Haynes Avenue, then begins to climb and turn to the east towards the airport. It runs right through the parking lot of the Days Inn on US 1 & 9, and then crosses over the maze of roadways leading to, from, and by the airport. Our "new trackage" ended as we came into Station E, which is located adjacent to an almost-completed parking garage.
We were the only ones in our portion of the train until Station E, but from that point the train was crowded. Remember those going within the airport pay nothing to ride between the terminals and out to the long-term lots.
We then passed through Terminals C, B, and A. I decided not to go all the way to the end of the line in the long-term "D" parking lots; instead we alighted at Terminal A to look for a place to eat. The food court there is temporarily closed, so we hopped another train in the opposite direction to Terminal B. The food court here was recently refurbished, so we were able to grab a late lunch. We had a captive audience as we ate, since the line for the security checkpoint stretched through much of the airport and in fact doubled back in front of the food court.
After we ate, we headed from Terminal B back to the RailLink station. Again, this monorail was crowded throughout the ride, except for the last segment between Station E and the RailLink Station. If you happen to have time to kill at the airport, you can ride over this segment for free, as long as you don't pass through the fare gates towards the train platforms; then it will cost you ten bucks!
In order to pass through the fare gates in this direction, one must have a rail ticket. A set of NJ TRANSIT ticket machines is located on the right, near the departure board and timetables. My ticket to Trenton was $11.95, and for Michael it was only $8.05. How nice and convenient that I had to part with exactly one twenty-dollar bill, no worry about any spare change being left over!
Luckily we did not have much of a wait. AMTRAK Train 85 made a stop there first, and not long after it departed, our NJ TRANSIT train (3853) was next. We had to stand in a doorway again until after Elizabeth. This train made all the stops it was supposed to make. We got back to Trenton at 4:32 PM, just in time for that city's rush hour. Through clever use of back streets I avoided most of it.
It was nice to be able to hit the rails once again, and to be able to do some new things in Newark!