Photos by John Corbett except as noted
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How it began
JerseyFest 2002 was yet another gathering of railfans, who got together to ride various modes of rail transit. This group, whose nucleus is the Prodigy Trains Community, included both members and non-members of Prodigy. It was another in a string of meets held several times a year. Previous outings in the past two years have been held in Washington, DC, New York City (2), Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Boston.
I had always wanted to do a Fest totally within the state of New Jersey, but we lacked new things to ride. Along came a string of openings of various projects, and eventually there was enough to put together a day of activities. The idea was to take advantage of the new Newark Airport rail station along the Northeast Corridor, as well as the extended monorail line, renamed AirTrain Newark, and ride it in its entirety. In addition, in another part of Essex County, the Newark City Subway had its fleet of PCC cars upgraded to modern light rail vehicles while its route was also being extended one mile into Belleville and Bloomfield. Finally, I figured we would end the day with a ride down to Princeton Junction, and ride the not-so-new shuttle train to Princeton, something many have never done before.
The first element to fall into place in late August of 2001 was the new equipment going into service on the Newark City Subway. Two months after that, the airport rail station opened up, and AirTrain Newark's new section went into service. The only element left was the subway extension to Bloomfield, which had originally had been scheduled for November. Along with that opening would be the return of weekend service, another crucial element to our having a weekend meet.
Assuming the November opening would take place, JerseyFest was originally scheduled to take place in January of 2002. When it became apparent that the Bloomfield extension would be delayed, JerseyFest was indefinitely postponed, and replaced with a hastily-prepared second AppleFest in New York City.
As things turned out, NJ TRANSIT did not open the subway extension until June 22, 2002. Since we already had the Boston "T" Party preparations well underway for mid-July, JerseyFest had to wait still longer.
Then, NJ TRANSIT announced still more openings, including the Hudson-Bergen light rail system (HBLRT) finally making it to Hoboken Terminal on September 29th. It was decided to hold JerseyFest one weekend after this, in order not to conflict with NJ TRANSIT's festival in Hoboken, but to take advantage of yet another bit of new trackage to add to the allure of our event.
The itinerary was made up to include the entire HBLRT, a PATH ride between Hudson and Essex Counties, a round trip on the Newark City Subway to Grove Street in Bloomfield and back, and a few commuter rail rides taking us down to Princeton and back, interrupted by an AirTrain Newark round trip at the Newark Airport rail station.
As usual I had an official website for the JerseyFest. Updates to the itinerary and guest list, as well as lists of transit costs and places to eat were kept current there, and also e-mailed to potential participants.
Since this was a low-key event with fewer than ten people expected to show, I decided not to do route guides. A few events in my life in the late summer and early fall also focused my time elsewhere.
Friday, October 4, 2002
Our trip up to Jersey City
My son Michael and I decided that rather than getting up early to make a 9:30 AM meeting time in Hoboken, we would sleep in the area the Friday night before. The Doubletree Hotel in the Newport section of Jersey City would be perfect, as it is just two stops away from Hoboken on the newly-extended HBLRT. It was quite expensive, but my outlook was that it was well worth it:
Newark subway fare....$1.10
Being able to sleep later and get to JerseyFest on time...PRICELESS.
So we left home on Friday evening, October 4th, and parked overnight in Metropark, taking an 8:13 PM NJ TRANSIT train from there to Newark, and then a one-seat ride on PATH to Pavonia-Newport station. It was only a two-block walk to our hotel.
One of the benefits of staying at the Doubletree is the free chocolate chip cookie given to each guest. Unfortunately, they were out of them when we checked in, so we got rain checks. A cookie would have topped off the day just right -- oh well.
We were lucky to get a north-facing room on the tenth floor, so that I looked directly down on the HBLRT line, as the trolleys came in and out of the Pavonia-Newport station. We could even hear the LRV's sounding their horns for the grade crossing just south of that station. But we did get a good night's sleep in our spacious suite.
Saturday, October 5
Getting to the Fest
Michael and I checked out of the Doubletree, and used our rain checks for the cookies on departure. They would represent part of our breakfast.
So instead of having to travel the farthest from among those in the New York area, we instead had the shortest trip. In fact, the Doubletree Hotel is immediately adjacent to another HBLRT station, Harsimus Cove. With 7-1/2 minute headways, I did not have to consult a timetable to know we would make it to Hoboken with ease and a minimal wait.
Michael and I were the first to arrive at Hoboken Terminal about 9:15, and we went to a store and got drinks to wash down our cookies, and I got a banana. We then ate and drank while standing at our meeting spot, which was near the HBLRT ticket machines.
I had my trusty cellular phone with me in the station, but with the train action it was impossible to hear it ringing. So I was surprised to see that I had missed a call. It was Mike Hammond, calling all the way from Cleveland to wish us well. Mike was doing his own railfanning around Ohio on the same day. I also got a message from Owen Sindler, who had told me he would not be able to make it. He also wished us a good time.
First Alan Burden arrived, and then Ellis Simon. They had come from New York City by PATH, but Ellis was on the train after Alan's. I also received a cell phone call from John Corbett, who was still in the city. He was in the 33rd Street PATH station, and would be on the train after the one Ellis had taken. John would not make our start time, so we agreed he would meet us at the Liberty State Park station later on.
Alan and Ellis purchased their light rail tickets, and validated them. They are good for 90 minutes, so we would need two tickets to get us through our entire travels since we were covering both branches. I already had a valid ticket, since Michael and I had just come to Hoboken from Harsimus Cove.
HBLRT: Hoboken Terminal to East 34th Street, Bayonne
The four of us walked the long walk to the Hoboken Terminal HBLRT station, and we boarded our first official vehicle of the Fest, a light rail vehicle (LRV) going to Bayonne's East 34th Street.
First and foremost we rode over new trackage (although we actually did get to ride it just 6 days before on its opening day at the Hoboken Festival). For Alan, he had never been on the HBLRT before. We rode down to Liberty State Park from the Hoboken Festival, but he would be completing his new trackage on the branches that run south and west of Liberty State Park. Ellis had ridden the system on one of our unofficial previous gatherings (I didn't call it a "Fest") in December of 2000, not long after the HBLRT was extended from Exchange Place to Pavonia-Newport.
We rode down to East 34th Street. Very impressive was the walkway that carries pedestrians from the station to the other side of Route 440. We could see beyond the station where the right-of-way has been graded for the Phase Two southern extension to East 22nd Street.
HBLRT: East 34th Street, Bayonne to Liberty State Park
We returned on the same LRV to the Liberty State Park station, so that we could transfer to the other branch. This trip ran a couple of minutes late for no apparent reason. Standing on the platform as we arrived was John Corbett. Our group was now five.
HBLRT: Liberty State Park to West Side Avenue
The schedule is such that there is a West Side Avenue-bound trolley in the Liberty State Park station at roughly the same time as a Hoboken-bound trolley that has come from Bayonne. Had we been earlier, we might have caught the earlier trip to West Side Avenue. It was in my itinerary, however, that we would wait at this station for 15 minutes, and that is exactly what we did.
After letting a Bayonne-bound trolley pass us by, right on time a West Side Avenue trolley came, and we were on our way once again on this shorter branch. Because this branch is shorter than the one to Bayonne, more dwell time is available here. We all made sure our second tickets were validated, and we posed for some group photos next to the trolley. Unlike the MBTA, nobody complained when we took pictures on company property.
HBLRT: West Side Avenue to Hoboken Terminal
Our half-hour ride back to Hoboken Terminal retraced steps we had already traveled. During this trip, I received e-mail on my cell phone from David Warner, wishing us well and expressing his regrets he could not join us.
Once back in Hoboken, the seven minutes I had allotted between HBLRT and PATH was just enough.
PATH: Hoboken Terminal to Newark Penn Station
One of the ironies of the post 9/11/01 PATH system is that the remaining routes are better served. There is less need to make transfers than there was when the World Trade Center line was open. And so, it was a one-seat ride from Hoboken to Newark, a 22-minute trip aboard what may be the oldest heavy rail transit vehicles running anywhere.
Lunchtime in Newark Penn Station
We broke for lunch here, partaking of the many eateries the station has to offer. Even though Michael was upset by my decision, we steered clear of the McDonald's, known to be one of the worst branches of the chain. We agreed to meet in about 40 minutes, at the top of the stairway entrance for the Newark City Subway, next to the McDonald's.
There was one more participant in our JerseyFest. John Sietsema drove up from Columbia, MD, to Princeton Junction, the place our Fest would be ending later in the day. He took an NJ TRANSIT train up to Newark, but it was delayed. I got a call from him while we were in Newark Penn Station, saying that he was on a train that was stopping in Linden. We waited for him, at our meeting place, but could not find him.
I decided that we would take one trip later on the subway, leaving at 12:53 PM instead of 12:43 PM. We had about half an hour dwell in our itinerary back at Penn Station after the Newark City Subway trip, so we could afford to wait ten minutes. We still did not see him by 12:47, so we headed downstairs, validated our tickets (Alan pre-purchased them for us while we waited), and headed down to the platform.
Newark City Subway: Newark Penn Station to Grove Street, Bloomfield
Now underground, I was unable to make a call or receive any. We wondered what had happened to John Sietsema.
Our ride was uneventful. It was the first time over the new extension for most in attendance. As expected, the last mile, between Branch Brook Park and Grove Street, was extremely slow. Like the HBLRT, this line seriously needs signal preemption at the grade crossings.
When we got to Grove Street, we were met by John Sietsema. Somehow he had passed us by at Penn Station, and had boarded the trip originally intended on the itinerary, the 12:43 trip. He waited for us there at Grove Street.
Probably the most interesting thing to see at the end of the line is the maintenance facility, with its double loop tracks. Several now-retired PCC cars were visible as well as spare LRV's. One PCC car was the #10, which we had seen on the flatbed at the Hoboken Festival the previous Sunday.
We did not spend much time at the end of the line -- instead of dwelling here 15 minutes, we went back on the same vehicle, which was the same trip that had been planned in the itinerary. We now had reached our maximum number for this Fest, six.
Newark City Subway: Grove Street, Bloomfield to Newark Penn Station
The six of us validated our second tickets, and returned back towards Penn Station. I had expected to see fare inspectors at the foot of the escalator when we arrived back at Newark Penn Station, but they were not there. In fact, not once had we been challenged all day on either the HBLRT or the Newark City Subway by the fare inspectors. I hope they are out there somewhere; otherwise once this catches on, people will ride for free and get away with it.