In a state as congested as New Jersey, rail lines are a key part of the transportation mix for commuters and occasional users as well. The 800-pound gorilla when it comes to rail service in the state is NJ Transit. They operate eleven rail lines around the state, including three light-rail lines.
While NJ Transit may be the number one carrier of rail passengers, they're not the only one transporting people. In addition, you have PATH, PATCO, SEPTA and Amtrak.
Here are some of the resources you can use to get around by rail with a minimum of hassle.
In 1983 NJ Transit took over passenger rail lines once operated by a host of private companies. This allowed system-wide coordination that has led to improvements such as the Secaucus Transfer and direct rail service to Penn Station New York on lines which once ran only to Hoboken.
Most daily commuters know their route and schedule by heart, but for those who take the train less often, NJ Transit offers a few tools to help you plan your trip.
The best place to start is NJ Transit's website at www.njtransit.com. Right on the home page are two key pieces of information. The first is the Trip Planner. Here you can enter two addresses in the state, including major points in neighboring New York City and Philadelphia, and the planner will give you options on how to make the trip by rail or bus.
Even seasoned commuters can benefit from another box on the screen, "Service Status." With a quick glance you can easily see if your line is running on time and, if there's a problem, what's going on.
NJ Transit offers live assistance from 7 am until 7 pm daily by phone at 973-275-5555.
There's much more that NJ Transit offers on their site such as alerts and in future installments I'll delve into that in more detail.
PATCO, short for Port Authority Transit Corporation, runs 24-hours a day between Lindenwold in Camden County and Center City in Philadelphia. Here too, one of the best places to start is their website, www.ridepatco.org. Since PATCO is a single line, trip planning is easier than services with multiple lines, but the trip planner will tell you the cost and approximate travel time between any two points. Also available from the home page are alerts and schedules.
Port Authority Trans-Hudson is a rail service offered by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The terminal points on PATH are Newark, Hoboken, the World Trade Center and 33rd Street. Depending on when you're traveling, there are up to five routes that are available. PATH's website at www.panynj.gov/path, provides the key information infrequent users need such as a system map, a trip planner, alerts, schedules and fares.
While SEPTA primarily serves Philadelphia and its suburbs, it also provides service on two different lines to New Jersey. On the Northeast Corridor, passengers can catch a SEPTA train at Trenton and from West Trenton, service is offered on a line previously run by the Reading Railroad. The home page at www.septa.org provides the basic information such as a trip planner, alerts, schedules and maps.
Amtrak is primarily for longer distance travel. From New Jersey stations in Newark, Metropark, New Brunswick, Princeton Junction and Trenton, you can connect to the national rail system. As with the other rail systems, Amtrak offers schedules and status information on their home page, www.amtrak.com. They also offer an additional option, the opportunity to purchase tickets online.
There's so much information available from all of these railroads that I'm only providing a brief overview. In future installments I'll provide an in-depth look at what's available from each.
Guest Travel Tip
This week's insight comes from Josh Crandall, creator and CEO of Clever Commute, a service in which commuters alert one another via email and text messages of problems on their rail lines. I'll give you more details about Clever Commute in a future post.
A Commuter Should be Like a Boy Scout, "Always Prepared"
I think the most important thing for a transit commuter is to prepare (in advance) for the inevitable terrible commute. Sure if the trip into the city is bad, you may be able to simply stay home. But what about at night?
The key is to know your options ahead of time ... and take action.
For NJ Transit train riders, the answer might be close at hand; your train pass may be valid for a bus (or light rail) that can get you home. For more info, go to http://www.njtransit.com/ti/ti_servlet.srv?hdnPageAction=RailTicketsTo and click on "Travel Flexibility."
But it may be the case that you need to buy a ticket on a different carrier (PATH, bus, ferry, etc). The point is to take just a few minutes to think it through...and have the ticket on you. Caveat: some tickets (e.g., NY Waterway) expire quickly. But, if you think of the ticket as a type of "insurance premium," you'll be okay to stay up-to-date.