Bergen County Light Rail
Bergen County is home to dense suburbia, surprisingly walkable towns, and an insane amount of commuters to not only New York City, but also Hudson County. While it does have two commuter rail lines and multiple commuter buses from both NJ Transit and Rockland Coaches, all of these are running well above capacity, and buses are usually standing-room-only every day. However, if you take a look around the county, you can see that there are a lot of abandoned or underused rail lines crisscrossing the county. If you connected them, this would become an amazing rail system. However, making them all commuter lines would kind of defeat the purpose, as there is no connection to New York Penn Station. However, if you made them all light rail, you could connect with ferries, buses, and trains to New York, with the added benefit of not spending that much money!
Light rail is already proven to work in Northern New Jersey, with systems in Newark and Hudson County, and if you connected this system to the Hudson County system, you would expand capacity and relieve congestion on the Bergen County “commutershed” routes and Pascack Valley and Bergen County rail lines. This proposal suggests extending the existing HBLR system further north, where trains would branch off into three lines.
One would go north along the CSX Northern Branch to Closter. This would relieve congestion on the Rockland Coaches 20 route and NJT 166 route. It would also be much cheaper than heavy rail to build, as the tracks are already extant, and the Northern Branch gets very few freight trains, so all that would be needed would be electrification. This would cost approximately $25 million. As a comparison, NJ Transit’s project to restart service on the Lackawanna Cutoff is estimated to cost around $40 million, plus electrification, so this is a lot cheaper. A second branch would go west along the NYSW Main Line to Hawthorne. This would relieve capacity on the NJT 712, 770, 144, and 161 routes and the Bergen County Line, as well as adding connections to massively underserved areas in Paterson and Elmwood Park. This line would also be cheap to build, for the same reasons as the Closter Branch. The last branch would head northwest along the CSX River Line to Dumont. This line would require more tracks, as the CSX River Line gets frequent freight trains, however the right-of-way already exists, so no areas would have to be demolished to build a new one. This would also relieve capacity on the NJT 167, 177, 186, 753, and 772 bus routes. Lastly, there would be a branch heading southeast from the main line, through the abandoned Edgewater Tunnel to Edgewater Waterfront. This would provide connections to Fairview and Edgewater, as well as transfers to the NJT 188 bus to the George Washington Bridge Bus Station in Upper Manhattan, allowing seamless 1-transfer commutes to Uptown.
What we have not discussed, however, is how these trains will run. Because of the connection to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, trains can head all the way to Hoboken, in addition to terminating in Edgewater or at Tonnelle Avenue. During the off-peak hours, and on weekends, Closter Branch trains would run to Hoboken, and Hawthorne Branch trains would run to Edgewater. Dumont Branch trains would terminate at Tonnelle Avenue. This provides the most people with the best service during off-peak hours. However, during the rush hour, things would change. Dumont Branch trains would be extended to Edgewater, with a few rush hour trains running to Hoboken. Hawthorne Branch trains would have a few rush hour trains run to Hoboken as well. In case you are wondering if the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system can handle more trains, it can, it runs as frequently as every 4 minutes during the rush hour, and a few of these trains could simply be extended.
In addition to this system being very easy to build, it would also stimulate economic growth, and improve quality of life in the areas it serves. It would be faster than any other mode you could build here. For example, now, to commute from Elmwood Park to the GWB Bus station, you have to take two buses, spend over an hour, have a 20 minute transfer transfer in Hackensack, and pay $7.65. With the light rail system, and upgraded tracks, it would take 50 minutes, have a short transfer in Edgewater to a bus, and pay $5.10. This is not the only example. From Cresskill to Midtown now takes over 90 minutes, costs $6, and is spent all on an older bus that can easily be caught in traffic. With the light rail, it would take 50 minutes, cost $5.30, and be spent all on modern trains (with a seamless transfer in Hoboken). As a final example, if you are commuting from Dumont to Jersey City, your only option now is to take a slow local bus to Oradell, where you have a long transfer until an expensive and crowded train to Hoboken, where you finally have to change to the light rail for a few stops. Total time? 100 minutes. Total cost? $11.35. With the light rail system, you take the Dumont Branch to Tonnelle Avenue, and have a quick transfer to a Jersey City-bound train. Total time? 50-60 minutes. Total cost? $2.55.
This system would drastically speed up commutes all across the county. In addition, the only fleet expansion needed is buying a few extra Hudson-Bergen Light Rail KinkiSharyo LRV trains, which are already proven to be environmentally sustainable, reliable, and have proved popular with existing riders. So, building this line would be cheaper than heavy rail, environmentally sustainable, provide cheap transit to areas that need it, and finally, speed up commute times and relieve pressure on Bergen County’s commuter buses.