By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
Last week NJ Transit surprised Rockland County commuters with yet another unfair and unwarranted elimination of services. NJT announced that two of Rockland’s express trains on the Pascack Valley Line would be cut to facilitate the installation of PTC (Positive Train Control) with not a peep of protest from Metro-North.
While I fully support PTC installation and look forward to the day it will help safeguard our commuters, it cannot come at the expense of already underserved PVL riders. NJT’s lack of planning and near panic to meet the minimum Federal deadlines should not constitute an emergency for our riders.
Over the past two years, Rockland County’s PVL commuters have endured more service disruptions than would ever be allowed to occur on Metro-North’s East of Hudson service. Since 2010, we have already permanently lost two trains through service cuts. We have endured chronic cancellations and delays, poorly coordinated temporary busing, late customer notice and extremely limited service schedules – all of which have a severe effect on Rockland commuters. Yet PVL commuters pay essentially the same fare as Hudson Line commuters for the privilege of riding the most unreliable service in the entire Metro-North system.
To be blunt this entire situation is an outrage. It is Metro-North’s job to ensure that its West of Hudson customers are provided with the service to which they are entitled and for which Metro-North is paying NJT. In the face of Rockland County’s $40 million annual value gap, one would think that MTA and Metro-North would prioritize service from Rockland County. Instead, we are, once again, the first to be sacrificed.
The Pascack Valley Line has been constantly plagued with cancelled and late trains, due not only to NJT’s engineer and crew shortages, but because of lack of equipment and equipment failures. This is simply unacceptable. Rockland’s four express trains should have dedicated Metro-North equipment, yet Metro-North equipment is rarely seen in operation on the Pascack Valley Line and our express trains are often the first to be cancelled when there is a problem. This is a blatant abuse of Metro-North’s operating contract with NJT.
I have sent a letter to Metro-North demanding they work with NJT to identify another way for NJT to meet its PTC deadlines. It is my expectation that Metro-North will advise NJT that it must immediately reinstate Metro-North’s two express trains and find alternative trains to suspend, preferably on another line. If lack of equipment is a concern, I expect Metro-North will direct NJT to immediately dedicate Metro-North equipment to Rockland’s PVL express trains.
If these extremely basic expectations are not met, I must insist that Metro-North take the steps necessary to waive fares or reimburse Rockland County’s PVL customers for fares paid for the duration of the service suspension. This should not be difficult, considering Metro-North will be saving hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of this arrangement. I would also, of course, expect that PVL tickets be honored on East of Hudson lines and on the Haverstraw-Ossining ferry, and that Metro-North activate its cross-honor agreement with Rockland County to reimburse us for PVL tickets that we honor in lieu of TZx fares.
I want to remind Metro-North that their agency is responsible for the operation of five rail lines – not just the three on the East side of the river, but the two over here on the West side as well.
Metro-North and the MTA must fundamentally change their relationship with Rockland County because this pathetic state of affairs has already gone on for far too long. It is time the commuters of Rockland County got the level of service they deserve.