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A convention crackdown for New Jersey rail riders

(The following article by Mary Spicuzza was posted on the New York Times website on July 16.)

NEW YORK -- Commuters on New Jersey trains face rerouting, additional police patrols, locked bathrooms and bans on the use of overhead luggage racks and garbage cans during the week of the Republican National Convention in Manhattan.

The security measures, announced yesterday by New Jersey Transit officials, could cause delays and inconveniences for the thousands of passengers from New Jersey who make trips into and out of Pennsylvania Station each day, officials warned.

"The world has changed, and security and the safety of our passengers and our employees is critical to us," said Jack Lettiere, New Jersey Transit board chairman and state transportation commissioner. "I know it's a little bit of an inconvenience, but during these times giving up just a little bit, I believe is well worth it. This is serious business."

The security plan affects train service from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3, from the start of the convention until a day after it ends at Madison Square Garden, above Penn Station. It calls for rerouting all 100 daily Midtown Direct trains, which normally arrive at Penn Station, to Hoboken. From there, customers can take PATH trains or New York Waterway ferries to Manhattan at no additional cost, said George D. Warrington, New Jersey Transit's executive director.

All of the rerouted Midtown Direct trains will be on the Montclair-Boonton and the Morris and Essex lines, which typically carry about 13,000 customers daily. Two hundred New Jersey Transit trains will continue using Penn Station.

Mr. Warrington said the decision to reroute trains was based partly on a desire to reduce stress on customers and on Penn Station, which will be limited to two entrances during the convention. The other six entrances of the station, the nation's busiest railroad terminal, will be closed.

For the trains that come into Penn Station, there will be a temporary ban on the use of overhead luggage racks, and all onboard trash receptacles will be sealed. One or two bathrooms on each train will be open, but the others will be locked.

In addition, New Jersey Transit police and troopers from the state police will inspect all New York-bound trains in rail yards, and will perform onboard inspections of trains before they enter the tunnel entrance to Penn Station.

Joseph C. Bober, transit chief of police, said "people will see a lot more police and K-9 units," with bomb-sniffing dogs and officers on trains performing inspections.

New Jersey Transit officials said their bus and light rail services would operate on a regular schedule.

Mr. Warrington said officials will try to minimize the impact of the rail changes.

But he added, "I would also suggest this might be a good week for New Jerseyans to rediscover New Jersey, and perhaps the New Jersey Shore."

Some commuters said they were dreading the changes.

"It's going to be crowded and more unsafe," said Janine Bauer, a transportation lawyer who lives in South Orange. "New Jersey Transit is terrible at dealing with traffic on a normal day."

Ms. Bauer, 49, who used to commute through Hoboken to Midtown Manhattan, said the layovers there were long and inconvenient. She said she would instead take the No. 107 bus from South Orange to the Port Authority.

Several New Jersey Transit customers said they would avoid commuting that week. James Calhoun, a telecommunications project manager who commutes on the Northeast Corridor line from Woodbridge, said he was planning to talk to his boss about working from home.

"I think it's going to be a zoo," said Mr. Calhoun, 51. "As prepared as they say they are, all you have to have is one problem, and everything could shut down."

Others said they thought New Jersey Transit was doing the right thing.

"It's going to be a challenge, but I can't blame them for it," said Steven Stuart, 46, a venture capital professional who commutes on the Raritan Valley line. "We'll get through it."

The New Jersey Transit board of directors also approved a $1.3 billion budget, an increase of 2.9 percent. But, officials said, fares will not go up this year because of an increase in state funding.

Friday, July 16, 2004

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