9:29 a.m. on Monday, March 3, 2014 was a long time coming for Roselle Park. 15 years, in fact, according to Raritan Valley Rail Coalition (RVRC) Chair Peter J. Palmer. It was when the first train from New Jersey Transit’s Raritan Valley Line (RVL) – of which Roselle Park is a station – would not have Newark Penn Station as its last stop but New York Penn Station at 34th Street in Manhattan. Just minutes before then, the Roselle Park train station had about a dozen people waiting inside to keep from the cold, with some of them not knowing that they would be a part of history.
Among the riders waiting was Roselle Park Mayor Joseph Accardi who was sitting quietly by the station door who, when asked for a comment, simply replied, “No, thank you.”
Ed Leonard, a member of the Roselle Park Historical Society, was there to document train #5126 – with all its seven cars – as it entered the station and departed for its final destination. Other passengers, like Jim from Roselle Park, stated, “It’s great for me. This train usually comes in on Track 1 in Newark and then you’ve got get off and go to Track 5. This is going to save at least 10-15 minutes.”
“I just found out,” said Tariany Santana, “I’m so excited. It’s so much more time effective. Especially when it’s so cold like it’s been the last few days. I usually take the train from Elizabeth but I like taking it from Roselle Park because it’s so close. Now, it’s even better. It’s a great day.”
Another passenger, Anthony, dressed in a business suit and a tailored black winter coat, got the news as he got his ticket, having missed the 8:52 train.
“I just found out. That’s awesome. Anything that cuts down on the stops is better for me,” Anthony remarked, then realizing the significance of the train he would be taking smilingly said, “First one. How about that.”
On the platform were Jamie and Margaret who were elated about the one-seat ride and the time as well as the frustration it will be saving them. Jamie joked, “The worst is when you miss your connection especially because of people who just stand on the escalators in front of you and you see your train just leave.”
Margaret, stayed bundled up to shield her from the wind that gusts through the open platform above the Roselle Park train station and commented, “It’s nice, especially on a day like this. I’m very happy about this.”
Once on the train, the first car was filled to capacity at the doors with mayors from other municipalities along the RVL such as Cranford Mayor Andis Kalnins, Westfield Mayor Andy Skibitsky, and Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp along with freeholders from Union and Somerset counties including Union Freeholder Betty Jane Kowalski who said, “I’m just so pleased that this has happened. It’s a start for us and we’re gonna push for the expansion of service. It’s really only fair for this line to have a one-seat ride all through the day.”
Advocates for the one-seat ride also were along for the historic ride, among them Albert Papp – the Director of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP), David Peter Alan – Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition, and Raritan Valley Line Coalition Chair Peter S. Palmer.
“This is a great tribute to Bobby Franks because he’s the one who start the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition” said RVLC Chair Peter S. Palmer, who is also a Somerset County Freeholder, referring to U. S. Congressman Bob Franks who passed away in 2010., “We’ve been working on this for 15 years and it’s a great day – a great celebration.”
Mr. Palmer went on to describe the four-step process that the RVLC is plans to have NJ Transit implement. Today was the start of the first step. The second step is to have evening one-seat rides for any RVL train after 8 p.m. with the third step being one-seat weekend service. The final step would include rush hour/peak times during the week. He added, “This would be a great thing for Roselle Park and anybody else along the line. The Raritan Valley Line is really the poster child for transit-oriented development all the way from High Bridge out in Hunterdon county to Union Township because just about every town has a transit-oriented development project.”
Representatives of various business interests for towns on the RVL also took the ride. Kathleen Prunty, the Director of Economic Development in Cranford, stated, “This is phenomenal! Not just for our commuters in Cranford and Roselle Park but also for the business community. This is such a major event. We’re all, as you can tell, thrilled!”
Cranford Mayor Andis Kalnins commented, “This is a fantastic opportunity and the culmination of many years of work on many people’s parts. It’s a start and we’d like to see it expanded because it’ll open up a lot of opportunities for everyone along the line.”
Westfield Mayor Andy Skibitsky remarked, “It’s a historic day for those who live along the towns in the Raritan Valley Line. We’re optimistic. This is a big first step to eventually lead to a [complete] one-seat ride. We have a long way to go.”
Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp said, “This one seat ride is a great thing for the city of Plainfield and for all of the cities along the Raritan Valley Line, including Roselle Park. It is important for the goals of the cities along this line in terms of economic development. It is important to the residents who need to get in to and out of Manhattan in a more efficient manner. It improves people’s quality of life because they can get home in a more timely manner in order to do the things that they need to do with their families. Having this one seat ride, although it is on a trial basis, is the first step in what we hope will become a fixture. It is important for all the cities along the line to encourage their residents to take full advantage of this one seat ride.”
Mayor Mapp added that in Plainfield they are publicizing the one-seat ride to residents through promotional videos on their local cable access channel, their website, and their Facebook page. Mr. Mapp concluded, “We view this as significant. This is important and we are happy to know that New Jersey Transit has finally yielded to the pressure from the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition and the mayors that are pushing to make this a fixture.”
As the train pulled in to Newark Penn Station, those on the historic journey waited as the trains lights and air conditioning system went out. A little over 30 seconds later, they came back on, signifying that the hybrid engine switched from diesel to electric. It was that moment that history was made, with the train being able to continue onto Manhattan through the tunnel track which is powered by electricity.
To be sure, there are significant challenges to having a full-time one-seat ride for the Raritan Valley Line which includes track availability – or the present lack thereof – on the Amtrak-owned rails. And no one riding between Roselle Park and Manhattan during the rush hour peak periods saw anything different in their commute. They still had to get off at Newark and switch trains – at times having to walk down flights of stairs through the hustle and bustle of a packed Newark Penn Station only to walk up again onto a track sometimes on the complete opposite end of the station. But on this date, at 9:29 a.m., a positive concrete step was taken in the direction for an all-inclusive one-seat ride for Roselle Park and everyone involved – a moment to look back to see all the work that was put in to get to this point and a look ahead with hope and a plan.
After a stop in Secaucus Junction, the train entered the tunnel and made its initial last stop at New York Penn Station. As the people left the cars and went about their day, those there for that specific journey gathered for a group photograph in front of Train 5126. As everyone held up their Raritan Valley Coalition signs, Lackawanna Coalition Chair David Peter Alan summed it up best when he exclaimed, “We have arrived!”