Douglas Bowen, vice president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, said the new station will transform rail travel in the state by providing an internal train transportation network that has not existed in many years.
NJ Transit estimates 4,700 commuters from the Bergen, Main and Pascack Valley lines will use the Secaucus station rather than travel into Hoboken each morning - although NJ Transit said about 1,600 used it on the first morning of operation.
About 35 eastbound trains are expected to stop at the station during the morning rush hour, or one every seven to 13 minutes.
This, according to Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, will make it easier for local commuters to access the train. Many people in and around Secaucus previously used the Harmon Cove Train Station to access the Bergen Line into Hoboken. The Harmon Cove Station was closed last summer, leaving Secaucus residents to reach the new train through a variety of shuttles. This made it difficult to get to work on time, but with more trains coming, they will find that they don't have to wait as long when they get there.
Although not originally proposed, the Transfer Station has a drop-off point so that people can drive up and drop passengers near the entrance. Although no official park-and-ride facility has yet been established for people outside Secaucus, town officials have provided a lot near Meadowlands Parkway for Secaucus residents. Residents along the NJ Transit No. 2 bus route will also be able to reach the station.
"The No. 2 bus from Jersey City will go to the train station," Elwell said. "There will be two versions of the No. 2 bus. One version will come down out of Jersey City to County Avenue, pass through the center of Secaucus, and go to Meadowlands Parkway and access the train station for there."
The second bus, called "No. 2 S," will have a shorter route, accessing the station after passing through the industrial area near Secaucus Road.
Additional access points - including an elevator - are expected to be installed near the station in the future that could accommodate a park-and-ride feature.
The station itself is built on several levels, with the Bergen, Main and Pascack Valley lines coming through the lower level, while the tracks serving New York run through the second level. The station itself has a dozen elevators, 32 escalators and 36 stairwells to connect the various platforms, as well as a host of signs and employees to direct passengers.
NJ Transit officials said that the station could save up to 15 minutes on the average commute to midtown Manhattan, and that as many as 15,000 cars will be removed from New Jersey roads daily as a result of the opening.
The transfer station has been named the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station, after the Democratic U.S. senator.
Light rail may go to the Meadowlands Sports Complex
Although he has been an outspoken critic of the Xanadu redevelopment project for the Meadowlands Sports Complex, Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto said he agreed to sit on a committee reviewing light rail options for that area because it would provide better transportation around Hudson County and southern Bergen County, regardless of the redevelopment project.
"People from the light rail came to me, and they had a plan," he said.
While the light rail currently comes out of Bayonne and through Jersey City to Hoboken, the next stretch will bring the rail lines to Weehawken and then through the Weehawken Tunnel to North Bergen.
"At that point, the light rail was supposed to turn north and go up alongside Route 1&9 to Eastern Bergen County," Impreveduto said. "But a new plan would have the light rail run from North Bergen through what is called the Mori Tract [near Paterson Plank Road] into Harmon Meadow Mall. From there it would go to Mill Creek, then out to the Route 3 bridge to the arena area of the sports complex [and Xanadu if it's there.]
Impreveduto said such a plan would help get people from Hudson County to the facility for jobs, but equally importantly, it would allow the parking lots around Giants Stadium - which are largely not used during weekdays - to be used as a park-and-ride for commuters.
"You could charge inexpensive fees to park, and then people could take the light rail to the ferry, to the Secaucus Transfer Station, or anywhere else in Hudson County," Impreveduto said. "This would reduce the number of cars going into Hudson County via Route 3 and Route 495 in the morning as well as those coming out in the evening rush."
While Bergen County officials are looking to get a heavy rail link from the Meadowlands Complex to connect with a nearby heavy rail line - which eventually accesses the Secaucus Transfer Station - Impreveduto is pushing to have a light rail line for that aspect as well.
"Not only will it run more often and get people to the station faster, but it will be friendly to the environment," he said. "Who needs diesel fumes running along their backyards?"
Impreveduto said he has a map detailing the plan and it has been reviewed by all of the mayors of Hudson County's town.
"It is a great plan and we think it works," he said.
Things smoothing out for Secaucus commuters
T he increased number of trains into the Secaucus Transfer Station may ease concerns for local residents seeking to catch one to Manhattan. In September, some Secaucus residents claimed the local shuttle service did not get them to the train in a timely fashion to meet the limited number of trains stopping at the station. With the opening of the transfer station to the general public, train traffic has increased and local residents can likely find it easier to get into Manhattan on time.
"In the past we had problems with scheduling," said Mayor Dennis Elwell. "But with the trains running through the station more frequently, most people will not have problems getting to work on time."
Elwell noted that residents along County Avenue will still have to take a roundabout route to get to the station via the NJ Transit No.2 bus. He said this will improve in the future once the overpass is complete the tracks leading into the Croxton Rail Yards.
"Right now we can't schedule buses to cross those tracks when they could be closed due to train traffic for 20 minutes at a time," Elwell said. "Once the grade separation [bridge] is built, we can."
The bridge is currently in the design phase, and construction is expected to be completed sometime around 2005 or 2006, corresponding roughly to the expected opening of the new Turnpike exit there in late 2005.
As for car traffic, Elwell said he has had several meetings with Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise to work out details for a possible park-and-ride in the area. Hudson County owns a significant amount of land nearby.
"We are looking at land that would allow people to park within walking distance to the train station," he said.
Meanwhile, Secaucus resident have access to a parking lot on Meadowlands Parkway, where the town shuttle stops to pick up passengers bound for the transfer station. - Al Sullivan