Newark light rail gains steam
Line will get in gear this summer
Thursday, June 01, 2006
BY RUDY LARINI
Newark's light-rail city subway extension is almost ready to roll.
With equipment testing and crew training under way, the first passengers should be riding along the one-mile light-rail line from Newark Penn Station to NJ Transit's Broad Street Station by early summer, said Dan Stessel, a spokesman for NJ Transit, which will operate the line. He could not pinpoint the start of service any more precisely.
"We won't be ready to set a date until we get a little further along on the testing and training phase of that segment," he said.
The $207.7 million light-rail extension of Newark's city subway will enable passengers on NJ Transit's Montclair-Boonton and Morris & Essex rail lines to reach Newark Penn Station in 10 minutes or less without walking or taking a bus.
Combined with the renovation of the Broad Street Station and the widening of Route 21, the new line is expected to improve commuting to downtown Newark and its businesses and educational, recreational and cultural facilities.
Stessel said the line expects to attract 2,000 daily riders by the summer of 2007, with 3,550 riders a day by 2010. The existing subway line, which stretches through Newark from Penn Station to Branch Brook Park and two stations at Franklin Street in Belleville and Grove Street in Bloomfield, carries 18,450 passengers a day.
The new line has stations at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and Bears & Eagles Stadium. There also is a station along Broad Street at Washington Park, close to the Newark Public Library and the Newark Museum, and another at Atlantic Street in the center of a growing business district.
Lawrence Goldman, president and chief executive of NJPAC, said the new line is expected to have a positive impact on the arts center.
"We're an urban arts center ... and this enhances our urbanity -- to have a mass transit stop right outside," he said. "It will make it easy to get here from all parts of New Jersey and New York."
Though the arts center is only a four-block walk from Penn Station, Goldman said the light-rail line will be especially valuable in inclement weather.
Those cold January nights, it would be nice not to have to walk outside and to arrive right at the arts center's doorstep," he said.
Goldman said he believes the new light-rail station also will facilitate NJPAC's plan to find a private development partner to build 250 apartments, 30,000 square feet of retail space and a 700-car parking garage on property directly across Center Street from the arts center.
"I believe the light rail will make the arts center's site very desirable for developers and residents who want an urban lifestyle," he said.
He cited the example of growth near subway stations in the outer boroughs of New York City.
"Everywhere there's a subway station, development happens around it," he said.
Jim Cerny, assistant general manager of the Newark Bears Atlantic League baseball team, also said the light rail would make it easier for patrons to attend games.
"We're excited to have the light rail right in front of the stadium," he said, noting the new station is right outside Gate C. "It could not be any better for us. We're very, very excited."
Five new light-rail cars were added to the existing subway fleet of 16 cars for the new line. Daily service on the extension will be offered from 6:04 a.m. to 12:13 a.m. weekdays and from 6:21 a.m. to 12:56 a.m. on weekends. On weekdays, trains will run every 10 minutes during peak periods and every 15 minutes during off-peak. Service will be every 30 minutes on weekends, timed to coincide with trains arriving at Broad Street from points west.
Stessel said the light-rail schedule also could be adjusted to ac commodate patrons of special events at NJPAC, the stadium or other facilities.
"If there's a need for additional service because of a particular event, we're fully prepared to adjust service accordingly," he said.
Initially, commuters who wish to ride both the new line and the existing city subway will have to change trains at Penn Station, though the system is designed to allow a train to continue through both lines.
"That's something we'll look at depending on what the usage pat terns are," he said.
The fare on the new line will be $1.25, the same as the existing subway, with $45 monthly passes allowing unlimited travel. NJ Transit customers with rail or bus passes worth more than $45 will be able to use the new line at no additional cost.
Cars along the extension will travel from Penn Station through a tunnel under Mulberry Street be fore reaching street level at McCarter Highway and Center Street.
The new line crosses Broad Street at two locations -- near the stadium on the way to the Broad Street Station and at Lombardy Street on the way back to Penn Station. There also are grade-level crossings on several smaller streets.
Stessel said NJ Transit engineers, over the course of several years of planning, used extensive computer simulations in working with city engineers to coordinate traffic signalization at the intersec tions of light-rail tracks and city streets.
The light-rail trains are driven by a motorman and powered by overhead catenary lines that Stes sel said have "a low profile."
"They have a very low visible impact on the city," he said.
NJ Transit also operates the Hudson-Bergen light-rail line from Bayonne to North Bergen in Hud son County and the 34-mile River Line between Camden and Tren ton in southern New Jersey.
There also are long-range plans for another light-rail line from Penn Station to Newark Liberty International Airport.