BLOG: One Commuter’s Tale from the Rail

BY  |  Thursday, Dec 26, 2013 9:30am  |  COMMENTS (22)

nj transit

Let’s start at the beginning. I am not an apologist for New Jersey Transit.

There are any number of things we can agree on: the age of their fleet is shameful, their communication skills are sorely lacking, and we all know that as soon as they send around a customer survey there will be single-tracking into Penn, Midtown Direct will be diverted to Hoboken, and something will have happened to something on/around/at the Portal Bridge.  Add to this the fact that the Montclair Boonton line is the bastard stepchild of NJT and you have yourself a perfect storm for commuting hell.


I was a die-hard Manhattanite, swearing never to move to NJ, swearing never to relinquish my NYC cred for the suburban life of malls, Stop ‘n Shop, and most importantly, commuting into town.  I wanted only ever to be within one subway ride (no transfers!) between home and work, and if I could walk to work on a glorious Spring morning, so much the better.

But as John Lennon wrote, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Lo and behold, I find myself in Montclair, commuting to work every day on NJT, and trying … trying … to turn that frown upside down.

When the quiet car was introduced during rush hour it was as if the Universe had sent a message to NJT just for me.  When Candy Crush was invented, I knew I could while away the time, desperately trying to clear the jellies and bring the fruit down (damn you ever multiplying chocolates!). Letting Mark Maron on his WTF podcast be the voice of anger and pique so that I didn’t have to be made the ride slightly more palatable.

nj transit

But… but. When NJT sends around an email saying that delays on a Monday morning are the result of Amtrak doing track maintenance, I have to cock my head and marvel at the ridiculousness of the statement. Amtrak scheduled maintenance on  a Monday morning during rush hour in the winter. Really. Really?!

I am the least patient in the person in the world so living in the most populated area makes a great deal of sense for me. But, I have to be realistic. The infrastructure is shot, the Portal Bridge slated for restoration/repair shall never be so, and Governor Christie has shot down any hope we had of additional rails into Manhattan.

Add to this that I don’t really have a viable alternate mode of transport. DeCamp is a non-starter, and driving into NYC every day is lunacy, so the train it is. What is the answer? More money of course. New trains, new tracks, new bridges, new tunnels.  In my fantasy, I’m commuting into NYC on the Orient Express, in the dining car, reading the paper, sipping my irish coffee. (Really, my fantasy is that I live in a brownstone in the West Village and don’t have to commute at all, but that’s a different story for a different day.)

Let’s find a different enemy.  I say we beat up Amtrak.   In the meantime, perhaps New Jersey Transit will try to do whatever it can to make our commute more pleasant… hell, I’d settle for a train arriving on time.

A girl can dream.


  1. POSTED BY relax people  |  December 26, 2013 @ 11:20 am

    I’m not sure I got the point of this lament. Whining about the train? Never heard that complaint before…

    And really, can we dispense with the patronizing “city girl moves to Jersey” routine. We get it. You are too sophisticated for the suburbs. Blah blah blah.

  2. POSTED BY stayhyphy  |  December 26, 2013 @ 11:58 am

    It might be time to move back to Manhattan. At least you recognize Decamp is a complete non-starter.

  3. POSTED BY mandy939  |  December 26, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

    Oh my heavens! You gave up your NYC cred for little old Montclair? And now you have to commute???? (and feel the need to write about it?) You poor thing!
    What can we do to help you out here? Listen to your pointless complaining? Can we maybe hear some more about how much better your life was before giving it all up to live in Montclair? Would that turn your frown upside down?
    Go, get that Brownstone, get your cred back, go walk to work on Spring mornings.
    Really, just go.

  4. POSTED BY herbeverschmel  |  December 26, 2013 @ 1:35 pm


  5. POSTED BY walleroo  |  December 26, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

    But as John Lennon wrote, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

    Lennon ripped that line off from someone else.

  6. POSTED BY walleroo  |  December 26, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

    This is not a fake, it is real footage from the Boonton line on Monday morning.

  7. POSTED BY paolo  |  December 26, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

    NJ Transit’s equipment is a mix of older (1970s era electric multiple unit cars) and newer multi-level cars pulled by 2007-2011 electric motor units. For various reasons, Hoboken trains get the older equipment, Penn trains get newer equipment.

    The infrastructure is worn out, plain and simple. Amtrak has been talking about repairs to its 1910 Portal Bridge for at least a decade. And updating the overhead wires, which date from the 1930s. In heavily used service, that stuff is of the Jurassic era. Same thing with the signals, which allow just one train in each direction, rather than new systems which allow inbound train on both tracks. (Empties continue east from Penn into the yard) Or, improved egress from the platforms. And, on and on.

  8. POSTED BY friedchix  |  December 26, 2013 @ 6:07 pm

    Thanks for posting. NJT has been extra hell – like lately.
    Many folks don’t seem to care…thought I was only one
    expressing outrage with public transit.

  9. POSTED BY runnergal  |  December 26, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

    yes please move back to manhattan.. you can have your smelly urine soaked subway cars with panhandlers and lack of personal space.. as well as overpriced micro sized apartments.. sorry you are relegated to lovely and beautiful montclair

  10. POSTED BY bonas80s  |  December 26, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

    Why are people in NJ always so sensitive to criticism or the observations of others????? Some of us, although not from NJ, may just have a different point of view or actually know better. I have lived in the Montclair area for over 13+ years and like it very much. NJ Transit? Not so much. I come from Long Island where I was accustomed to a real transit system – the LIRR. When I moved here I was shocked that there were no mid-day trains, no weekend service and no overnight service. Yet amazingly, I now lived closer to NYC and in a more densely populated area than on Long Island. Through the years, some of these issues have been somewhat resolved or eased although NJT still leaves much to be desired. The fact of the matter is that the LIRR is a Cadillac and NJT is a tricycle. I find it shocking that NJT is the 3rd largest transit system in the United States for it is wholly unreliable and poorly run. It does not have to be this way.

    Telling someone to move back to where they came from because you don’t like hearing the truth is one of many reasons why NJ has a bad reputation. It is a typical small minded New Jerseyian response to a real problem. Rather than simply accept someone’s observation or maybe even try to solve the perceived problem, you tell them to leave. If you have never lived in another state, you will never realize that no place is perfect and there is always room for improvement in public services. It usually starts by someone having the courage to state the obvious. Thank you Julie Samuels!

  11. POSTED BY mandy939  |  December 27, 2013 @ 12:31 am

    Actually, this “small minded New Jerseyian” has lived in 4 states (including NYC, does that give me cred? How about Boston? cred there?) and in Germany. Germany has the Cadillac of transportation systems, IMHO. Clean, and (mostly) on time. This, however, is not cheap. A monthly pass from where I lived to Nürnberg, the next largest city, on slow trains cost €379 or $520. While not an exact comparison in terms of mileage, the 20 mile commute their is not soo far from 12 or so from Montclair. The slow trains add another 20 minutes each way, bringing the commute from 30 minutes to 50. And alas, no Irish Coffee, those fancy dining cars are on the more expensive faster trains. No real overnight service either, you were on the 12:15am train home, or the 4:45am. Those were my options.

    NJT having problems is not new. Have you checked out Clever Commute? The entire transportation infrastructure (including roads, bridges, tunnels, train transport….) needs help. This costs money. As Julie Samuels herself states.

    Bonas880s, to me at least, the issue is not stating the obvious. It´s the whiny nature of the post. What I hear in my head is whining. I hear “I swore never to move to NJ. It´s suburban. With suburban people, and Stop and Shops. I wanted to be one subway stop from work! In NYC! And now I´m here. I want to live in a BROOOOWNSTOOOOONE! In the WEST Village! No, not East, I said WEST! WEST! WEST!”

    She herself states repeatedly that she doesn´t want to live here.

  12. POSTED BY jcunningham  |  December 27, 2013 @ 8:02 am

    “What I hear in my head is whining.”

    —so this is all about what’s in your head, not what was written, and that you recognize what a whiner you are. Thanks for just admitting that—oh, wait, it didn’t stop you from whining again…never mind…

  13. POSTED BY walleroo  |  December 27, 2013 @ 10:40 am

    No, jcunningham, it’s in her head because it’s also in the post.

    Btw, when the Swiss go to live in Germany, they complain about the rail system.

  14. POSTED BY padules  |  December 27, 2013 @ 11:29 am

    The comments here are fascinating, particularly those made by mandy939. I don’t actually hear whining, but rather the opinion of someone who moved to NJ when she never thought she would – and who by the way doesn’t take issue with NJ or Montclair but with NJT. It is so incredibly hostile and aggressive to suggest that someone should leave a place if an opinion stated doesn’t match your own. Very welcoming indeed mandy939. G/d help anyone who you don’t agree with – I can’t imagine having to put up with your superior attitude.

  15. POSTED BY cathar  |  December 27, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    Is there anything you won’t post about, walleroo? And multiple times at that?

    Or is it just that you really shouldn’t have taken so much time off from work this week?

  16. POSTED BY walleroo  |  December 27, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

    I didn’t take time off work, cathar, that’s just the problem. I’m here, taking up space. So… much… space…

  17. POSTED BY Frank Rubacky  |  December 27, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

    The blog is a common vent by some former city dwellers who have not come to grips with living in the suburbs – a place they would not choose to live except as a consequence of another choice made. Her recommendations are incidental to the blog’s two thrusts. The last sentence seemed to tie the 2 thrusts together and the point of the blog.

    I also don’t take it as an affront to my choices. She doesn’t mention where she lives now. She mentions only a couple of generic icons of suburban life that are associated with having to have a car. It seems no offense should be taken by those that prefer the suburbs.

    My only criticism is the poor timing of the blog’s two thrusts. She should have held it until next week – after all the holidays were over (all the thankful for & what is important stuff).

    On the other hand, she did say she was impatient.

  18. POSTED BY jerseygurl  |  December 27, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    Can someone please call the waaaaahmbulance? We are all so fortunate, so please enjoy the rest of the holidays.

  19. POSTED BY deadeye  |  December 27, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

    Lose the vitriol. Significant delays on our trains have become increasingly frequent lately. It probably has nothing to do with the geniuses that parked 200+ cars and locomotives in the flood plain where they were damaged by the storm surge during Sandy… We live 15 miles away, and our commute is as long, on less frequent trains, than people that live in the middle of Fairfield County. Also, as much as we would benefit from another tunnel, Christie was correct in scrapping it since there was no cap on potential costs to NJ citizens for a project that stand to benefit the entire region. This was what was once termed a “shovel ready project” during the salad days of the Obama administration, except that Federal funds available wouldn’t have come close to paying for it and we would have been left holding the bag.

  20. POSTED BY redrum  |  December 27, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

    While I agree with Ms. Samuel’s reading of NJT’s deplorable service, her post is rather annoying. Its sounds like those non-native New Yorkers who moved to the city after college and absolutely have to make themselves believe they live some sort of fabulous lifestyle “On the UWS.” And when that doesn’t happen, the ego-centric complaining never ceases.

    That said, NJT should be embarrassed of their service. The Montclair-Boonton line is the forsaken stepchild of the system. The fact that a usual morning’s commute to Penn takes over an hour from Montclair – a mere 12 miles from Midtown – is as long as a trip from Trenton, Dover, or even the Port Jervis Line – speaks for itself.

  21. POSTED BY paolo  |  December 27, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

    That said, NJT should be embarrassed of their service. The Montclair-Boonton line is the forsaken stepchild of the system. The fact that a usual morning’s commute to Penn takes over an hour from Montclair – a mere 12 miles from Midtown – is as long as a trip from Trenton, Dover, or even the Port Jervis Line – speaks for itself


    The whole system leaves a lot to be desired. But there are solutions.

    NJ Transit’s original plan didn’t include electrifying the Montclair line. That was a political decision to get support from Essex and Passaic county legislators. The connection at Bay Street was part of the original plan.

    NJT intended to close Montclair Heights and Mountain Avenue stations in favor of the new University station. Great Notch was also to be closed, and was. Community support and walk to the station saved these stations, and kept just about all trains for Watchung. Regular riders will note that the trains average about ten mph with stations just a 1/2 mile apart and a station dwell of about three minutes.

    Another major issue is the crossover at Roseville Avenue. There’s a window of about three minutes for Montclair line trains to hit their mark and cross two main tracks to obtain the eastbound track. Miss the mark and you’ll wait a while, which may put your NY platform slot at risk. Which slows you down some more. Same for the access to the NEC at the SWIFT interlocking in Kearny.

    (There were suggestions to create two center platforms at Broad Street Newark when the station was rebuilt. That ran afoul of the historic preservation status of the main building. But it would have allowed Montclair trains to run on the center track and swap passengers to eastbound Morristown line trains which would be on the local track serviced by the same center platform.

    Lots of good suggestions, but no money to implement them. One other concern was the planners assumed the Montclair trains would run largely empty to Secaucus, which would let them pick up NY bound people from the Bergen etc diesel lines. Bad guess, the Montclair trains ran full. Which meant other lines now made stops there to pick up Bergen etc riders)

  22. POSTED BY deadeye  |  December 28, 2013 @ 10:12 am

    Thanks Paolo. Very informative. Strange that the planners would have assumed no increase in ridership when they implemented the direct service to Penn. That Secaucus transfer is a mess in both directions. Perhaps a shuttle of some kind might be better?

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