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Raritan Valley Rail Coalition Inches Closer to its Goal of a Direct Train from Westfield to NYC

Sara Carpien

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 • 1:42pm

WESTFIELD, NJ—If you’ve ever dreamed of stepping onto a train in Westfield and staying in that seat until you reached Manhattan, The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition (RVRC) is fighting for your cause.

For years the RVRC has proposed a “one-seat ride” on the Raritan Valley line that runs through Westfield that would allow passengers to ride directly into New York’s Penn Station without having to make a transfer at Newark Penn Station or elsewhere.

At a meeting held last month in Westfield, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) outlined these benefits of a one-seat ride:

  • shorter trip – by approximately 15 minutes one way
  • eliminates risk of missed connections
  • new jobs
  • higher personal incomes – Manhattan pays 60% higher for medium-wage jobs
  • more income tax revenues
  • more sales tax revenues
  • higher property values – one study found that every minute saved on commutes increases home values by $3,000
  • reductions in driving, congestion and air pollution

While talks of a one-seat ride aren’t new, the topic has resurfaced after New Jersey Transit’s recent purchase of 36 dual-mode locomotives that can run on diesel or electric power, which means they can ride both on the Raritan Valley Line (which can’t run electric trains) and through the Hudson River tunnels (which can’t accommodate the smoke from diesel-powered locomotives).

These locomotives are currently in the testing phase and will be available for commuters within the next two years. 

The Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce has gotten behind the idea.

“Although another tunnel is a potential solution down the road, clearly the costs and benefits are still being evaluated. However, dual-powered engines are already being tested in New Jersey, and we at the Greater Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce would love our train line to benefit from at least one of them,” said GWACC Executive Director Heather Robinson.

But when the duel-powered locomotives are ready for use, there is no guarantee that Westfielders will reap the benefits. There are only two tunnels leading into New York City and the maximum number of trains allowed during peak times is 23. At this time, the tunnels are at maximum capacity and no additional trains will be allowed.

“If we were to get dual-mode locomotives it would be very hard to get a peak period time slot because someone would have to give up their time slot. There would be uproar from the public and uproar from elected officials. The ARC [Access to the Region’s Core] project would have provided extra capacity. The ARC project was cancelled last January,” explained Ken Wedeen, staff person for the RVRC.

“One of the big challenges everywhere is financial. There’s tightness in what budgets can allow. More attention is on maintaining rather than focusing on new services,” added GWACC member and radio journalist Bernie Wagenblast. (Click here to hear his report on the meeting in Westfield.)

The ARC project, which might have expanded the number of rail tracks available under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, has now been replaced by the Gateway Project. This project will add two more rail lines between NJ and NYC by adding a third tunnel under the Hudson River, and add 10 new train slots during peak periods. The project will take approximately 10 years to complete and cost in the $10 to $15 billion range.

While the costs are substantial, financing would be made through Amtrak. This would mean more money for the project and more possible sources of funding.

In the meantime, the RVRC and the RPA want to get the word out and let the public know how vital this project is to everyone along the Raritan Valley Line.

“We have the ridership here and want to get as much service as we can,” says Wedeen. “Reach out to your local elected officials. Draft a resolution to request a one-seat ride.”

According to Wedeen, if Westfield gets a one-seat ride, there is potential for increased property value within a one- to two-mile radius of train stations, property taxes generated by the town could go up, sales tax revenue in town could increase and economic growth could increase. These benefits make Westfield more attractive to homebuyers and renters. Jobs in Manhattan pay more than jobs in New Jersey, so when commuters bring that money home, they have more to spend, and that money could go back to the local economy.

“The town becomes more self-reliant,” said Wedeen.

 “One-seat ride is an initiative which stands to make a positive financial impact on all of the communities which enjoy its convenience, including our own Raritan Valley Line. Anything that boosts property values and makes traveling to and from our towns more convenient is an excellent example of how commerce and community are tied together,” said Robinson.

The next RVRC meeting will take place Monday, March 4, at the Somerset County Administration Building, 20 Grove Street, Somerville, NJ. The meeting will be open to the public. A featured speaker from Amtrak is possible, and attendees will be updated on the one-seat ride initiative, the Gateway Project and other Raritan Valley Line project updates.

To find out more information about the RVRC and RPA, visit rvrc@co.somerset.nj.us and www.rpa.org.

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