On Saturday, Feb. 22, history buffs and railfans from around New Jersey gathered in a repurposed and still-beautiful former railroad terminal to celebrate a train that, during its short life, was an iconic and luxurious one that the Garden State could call its own. That train was the Blue Comet on the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ). It was New Jersey’s all-time premier train, which set the standard for décor and service at reasonable prices during an era when not many people could afford even a coach ticket. Few of the people who actually rode that train are alive today, and probably fewer still have vivid memories of the trips they took, but the fast and luxurious train that whisked riders through the countryside and the Pine Barrens of South Jersey to Atlantic City lives on in the DNA of New Jerseyans who remain tired of living in the shadows of New York and Pennsylvania, and who cling to memories of experiences of the past that their state could claim as its own.
Author: David Peter Alan
Proponents of the Gateway Program split a double-header on Feb. 10, 2020, when the Federal Transit Administration released its ratings for projects for which grant applications were filed through the New Starts, Small Starts and Core Capacity Improvement Programs.
When we last reported to you about Amtrak’s Hudson River Tunnels, known officially as the “North River Tunnels” between New Jersey and Penn Station New York (Gateway: The Series, Part 8: The Existing Tunnels May Fail First, posted here on Dec. 30, 2019), we had discovered that Anthony R. Coscia, Chair of the Amtrak Board and Vice Chair of the Gateway Program Development Corp. Board, expressed his concern that the tunnels could fail within five years. That was a time frame far shorter than the ten years or more that it would take to build new tunnels before starting to repair the existing ones.
For the second time in less than four weeks, a streetcar line in the United States has bitten the dust. This one is Philadelphia’s Route 15, operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), and which ran for 8.4 miles along Girard Avenue, an east-west street about one mile north of Market Street.
Ever since he came to Amtrak from the airline industry, President and CEO Richard Anderson has “railed” against so-called “experiential” trains, an expression he often uses in disparaging the roughly 15 long-distance trains in Amtrak’s skeletal national network. Anderson clearly prefers corridors, and many members of the rider advocacy community also like them, but Anderson seems determined to expand those corridors by eliminating long-distance trains in what he and his followers perceive as a zero-sum game. While he often uses the word to describe his company’s long-haul trains, it does not seem clear what he dislikes about them, or whom he believes they serve and with what sort of experience.
St. Louis’s ill-fated Loop Trolley rolled along Delmar Boulevard for the last time on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. It died in infancy, at the chronological age of 13 months and 14 days, but an actual service life of only 235 days. While it is difficult to determine the actual cause of death, it appears that the little streetcar that couldn’t never had a chance. It was an unwanted child whose birth was delayed for years, and who suffered from neglect, ill health, destitution and just plan bad luck during its pitifully short life. Ironically, the line may still get another chance to live, if circumstances allow that.
When we last reported to you about the Gateway Program on Aug. 13, 2019, its proponents were making a best effort to alarm the public about the condition of the existing tunnels between New Jersey and Penn Station New York (officially known as the North River Tunnels), in the hope of stirring up public and political support for spending billions of dollars to build a new set of tunnels before starting repairs on the existing ones. At they same time, they were disparaging an alternative repair method now being implemented on the Canarsie Tunnels under 14th Street in Manhattan and under the East River to Brooklyn on the L-Train line of the New York City subway system, a method that averted a 15-month shutdown of the busiest part of the line.
This article is like no other that I have ever written for Railway Age, or any other publication. It is about a personal transit accomplishment like no other. This piece is not a commentary in the traditional sense, nor is it a news story, because nobody else is making news here. It is an essay; a personal look at America’s rail transit from the standpoint of a person who has ridden every line on every system that is currently operating in the nation. So, for this one occasion, I will set aside the journalistically correct title of “this writer” and deliver my comments in the non-journalistic style of first-person-singular.
“GREEN SIGNALS AHEAD: THE FUTURE OF RAIL EXPANSION IN MASSACHUSETTS.” That was the theme of the fall meeting and mini-conference held in Boston on Friday, Oct. 11 and sponsored by the Rail Users Network (RUN). At the event, several rail managers and planners, as well as representatives of elected officials, provided an ambitious plan for expanding rail in the Bay State, from Pittsfield and Greenfield in the west to New Bedford and Fall River in the southeast.
Amtrak is no longer offering traditional dining car service on its trains east of Chicago and New Orleans. This is a sad development in the downward slide of Amtrak’s long-distance trains, especially under CEO Richard Anderson’s leadership. There have been a number of “obituaries” for Amtrak dining service, but they are misplaced in time. They have either come too soon, or they should have been written about 15 years ago.