Development near rail lines strains PATH system’s capacity

June 12, 2019

HARRISON, N.J. (AP) — The gleaming new rail station sandwiched between the Red Bull Arena soccer stadium and the eastern banks of the Passaic River encapsulates the hopes and realities of modern rail commuting in the New York metro region.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey unveiled the new PATH station Wednesday, a key milestone in a $256 million redevelopment project that has replaced and upgraded a structure originally built when William Howard Taft was president.

In tandem, residential development is booming in Harrison, a town of about 18,000 that has experienced a 30% population increase since 2010, according to U.S. census statistics, centered around the PATH station and soccer stadium.

About eight minutes away in Jersey City’s Journal Square, thousands of new housing and office units have gone up or are under construction within walking distance of a PATH station.

There is, of course, a downside. Due to space constraints at Jersey City’s cramped Grove Street station, PATH trains aren’t able to run with more than eight cars. That capacity doesn’t figure to increase appreciably in the near term, and maybe not for years, which means already-crowded trains figure to get even more crowded.

To paraphrase a classic line from the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” if you build it, they will come — but once they come, where do you put them?

“It’s been kind of a sore subject between the Port Authority and Jersey City,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said. “The expansions that were committed to haven’t really materialized.”

Commuters in Harrison, the second stop on inbound trains from Newark, often find all seats taken and must stand for the rest of the 20-minute trip. Two stops later at Grove Street, riders frequently wait for a second or third train before they can squeeze on.

The development in Harrison has translated to a 25% jump in PATH ridership between 2012 and 2017, according to the Port Authority. A 2015 report commissioned by the Port Authority estimated that overall demand for PATH service in 2040 would be about 50% higher than it was in 2010.

The same report predicted that all station platforms would be expanded to accommodate 10-car trains, which hasn’t happened.

Some measures, albeit incremental, are in place now, PATH Director Clarelle DeGraffe said Wednesday. A new communications system installed on all trains allows them to essentially talk to each other and monitor their locations rather than relying on a distant command center. That can allow trains to run three minutes apart instead of four. She added that riders might not notice a difference until 72 new train cars are put into service, which is expected in late 2021.

Engineers also are looking at ways to lengthen the platform at Grove Street and possibly accommodate nine-car trains, but DeGraffe didn’t offer a timeline.

“We’re looking to see how that can be accomplished,” she said. “We have an eye toward building capacity. We’ve got more people coming, development is on the rise, so that’s one aspect of what we’re looking at.”