A Day on New Jersey Transit
November 5, 2002
This was a simple day trip on NJ TRANSIT's rails. The main goal of this trip was to ride over the new Montclair-Boonton Line, and to utilize its new service into New York's Penn Station.
Election Day was chosen because Michael was off from school, yet it provided what I felt was the greatest potential to allow others to possibly join us. And this particular trip had to be done on a weekday.
Besides being our first time over the Montclair-Boonton Line, it would also be our first time using the new NJ TRANSIT concourse at New York Penn Station. That was part of the basis for beginning and ending our travels there.
Trenton to New York
But we really did not begin there. I parked in Trenton and we took NJ TRANSIT to New York, a super express NJT train that made no stops from New Brunswick to Newark Liberty International Airport. I took advantage of the Interline fare, which meant that I paid only for our Trenton-New York fares; the journey out west to Mount Olive from New York was essentially free. The family fares were not in effect so I had to pay the "half" fare (really about 45%) for Michael.
Michael and I got to New York's Penn Station a little before 9:30 AM, and as planned we headed for the McDonald's next to the LIRR ticket windows. After breakfast we went up the escalator and across the main 7th Avenue concourse into the new NJ TRANSIT area. The pink marble floors are impressive, but just how necessary were they? The decorations on the walls and the mosaic in the middle of the room are nice "Jersey-ish" touches.
New York to Summit
At about 10:00 AM we met Alan Burden. Nobody else was able to make it, which is understandable for what was really a regular workday for most. The three of us headed down to our train on Track 3 for Train #6221, the 10:17 AM Midtown Direct to Dover. We could change at Newark-Broad, Summit, or Dover for our next train; I picked Summit because it held the most potential for finding a place to eat in a relatively decent neighborhood. Train #6621 had the new Comet V cars with the white walls and red seats, pulled by an ALP-46 engine. Another first for Michael and me -- we had not travelled in revenue service yet with this equipment.
We had a little mishap after Newark-Broad. Street. At Roseville Avenue, our train was almost misrouted to the Montclair-Boonton Line. Luckily the engineer noticed the error and stopped in time before the switch. We lost a few minutes there. With our train approaching on time, there really was no excuse in this day and age for that to happen.
We got to Summit a few minutes after 11 AM, and went upstairs to walk around a bit before returning to the station. While there were quite a few businesses open around the station, there really was noplace to get a decent but quick lunch in the time we had available. We returned to the station to await our next train.
Summit to Mount Olive
Right on time at 11:30 AM, our diesel train, #851 from Hoboken to Mount Olive chugged into the Summit station behind a GP-40. We noticed something peculiar about this train -- it had some older coaches with low level doorways. Since Summit has a high-level platform, these doors on these cars could not be opened. Only a small child or a midget could fit through the space had those doors opened. Luckily, there were cars where the doorways could accomodate men of 6 feet in stature, so we boarded one of those.
We noticed here that the crew far outnumbered the passengers. Not to many people were going to Mount Olive today. And I knew beforehand that Mount Olive is not much of a destination, unless you work in one of the industrial buildings in the Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ). And this train would get there at about lunchtime.
That almost changed when we got to Convent Station. Class was very much in session for this school, and seemingly the entire student body boarded our train. About 40 or so young ladies were headed home to stops at points between Morristown and Dover. Not surprisingly, none were going to the Mount Olive FTZ like we were.
I had wanted to see the Lackawanna Cutoff as well, at least the right-of-way for it. It looks like the parking lot of the Lake Hopatcong station will have to be removed if and when the Cutoff is reactivated. The tracks were entirely pulled up but you can make out the clearing between the trees where the right-of-way still exists.
Our train made a crew-only stop at a yard at Port Morris, just past where the Lackawanna Cutoff was. And all too soon at 12:33 PM we came to a stop at an inappropriate end-of-line station, Mount Olive. Save for newspaper machines and a dumpster, as well as a grade crossing for the road into the FTZ, there's nothing there. I was hoping for at least a hot dog wagon for the workers, but nothing was obvious from where we stood. We only had 15 minutes dwell here before turning around to start our journey back to the Big Apple.
The same equipment that arrived as #851 turned as #1028, running from Mount Olive to Montclair Heights. We would be with this train over its entire run. I noticed in the schedule that for all the trains to Mount Olive or Hackettstown, those that come out west on the Morristown Line as we did, go east on the Boonton -- er, Montclair-Boonton Line, and those that come east via Montclair and Boonton return via Morristown & Summit. I guess it's just variety for the crews.
Mount Olive to Montclair Heights
Train #1028 departed Mount Olive at 12:48 PM, now in "push mode". We made all the same stops as before to Denville. Denville is where the Morristown and Montclair-Boonton Lines split, and each has its own platform.
Alan pointed out a few places along the former Boonton Line where stations had been redeveloped alongside the single-track line, so that it would be impossible to ever double-track the line without ripping out either platforms or parking lots. Once again it seems that NJ TRANSIT had poor foresight here.
Meanwhile we noticed how close the line runs to the parking lot of the Willowbrook Mall, which is one of the biggest employers and destinations in Passaic County, yet there is no station there, nor is there a decent connection to the mall from the nearest station at Mountain View/Wayne.
At Great Notch, which has a station but is not served by off-peak train such as ours, we could see the yard facilites to our right. A few trains with electric locomotives were sitting there. Catenary towers and wires began a little before the Great Notch station, but of course we would continue a couple more miles to the Montclair Heights station before we could get an electric train.
Our diesel let us off at 1:50 PM on the left-side track (what would be expected to be the westbound side). Since this was not designed to be a transfer station, we had to walk west to a grade crossing, cross over, and then walk east to a shelter to wait for our next train. We'd passed the Montclair State University station, which is still under construction. With its island platform, that will be the official transfer station once it opens.
The scheduled dwell at Montclair Heights was about 10 minutes. I commented that we would probably get another consist of Comet V's with an ALP-46 engine. Somebody heard me and commented that they stopped using the ALP-46's once the media frenzy surrounding the new line died down.
Montclair Heights to New York
Sure enough, at exactly 2 PM, an ALP-44 leading a consist of older Comet coaches came around the bend and picked us up. This was the last official conveyance of our little trip: Train #6238 would run from Montclair Heights to New York over Midtown Direct, and we would again be part of this train's entire run.
And what a run. There are 6 stations in the town of Montclair, spaced closely together. Making all those stops is reminiscent of some SEPTA commuter lines within the city of Philadelphia. Between the fifth and sixth one, we got to utilize the Montclair Connection. We could see where we curved off to the new alignment, and where the old Boonton Line still has one track connecting with the outbound track. Bay Street is the only Montclair station on the old Montclair Branch; the first five we saw were on the Boonton Line. The connection is only 500 feet of track; before we knew it we were at Bay Street.
We also made stops in Glen Ridge and then two in Bloomfield before the tracks merge at Roseville Avenue back with the Morristown Line (ex DL&W Mainline).
It was then a stop at Newark Broad Street, and our passing through Midtown Direct onto the Northeast Corridor, followed by an on-time arrival at 2:49 PM at New York Penn Station. We had been travelling 4-1/2 hours, and had covered over 100 miles on 4 different trains.
We were ravenous by then, and we raided the Pizza Hut Express in the food court. Following our very late lunch, we went back to the NJ TRANSIT concourse to wait for the 3:36 PM train to Trenton, an express between Newark Liberty International Airport and Rahway, making local stops beyond there to Trenton.
New York to Trenton
Our train's assignment to Track 13 exploited a big problem with the new concourse: It only has entrances to Tracks 1 through 12. To get to those beyond Track 12 one must go down a short stairway into the Long Island Railroad area (which is much older than the NJ TRANSIT concourse) and down another stairway to the appropriate track. We said goodbye to Alan here, and boarded our train back to Trenton.
We were able to just beat New York's rush hour, and successfully avoided Trenton's by taking back streets to the highway.
It was a successful, pleasurable, and interesting little excursion, with a lot of firsts for us.