New York’s Pull Makes Trans-Hudson Expansion Essential

Train service to Manhattan remains a powerful economic and political force in the tri-state area.

The Asbury Park Press reports that NJT is planning to provide transfer-free service to riders on the Raritan Valley Line.

Currently, riders from towns in Union, Somerset and Hunterdon Counties must transfer at Newark Penn to continue the journey to Manhattan. Since the line is not electrified, trains are pulled by diesel locomotives that are not allowed in the existing trans-Hudson tunnels. According to NJT Executive Director James Weinstein, the key to the one-seat ride service will be dual-mode locomotives that can use either diesel or the electrified, over-head wires that travel through the tunnels. The dual-mode engines were ordered in 2008 and won’t begin service until 2012 at the very earliest.

The news come on the heels of a recent real estate report by the NY Times that explains that towns with strong economic and transportation ties to Manhattan have outperformed other towns over the past year. According to the report, in 2010, some affluent NJ towns, like Ridgewood, Summit, and Millburn, have seen higher increases in average home prices than other similar, affluent towns. Jeffrey Otteau, a real estate consultant based in New Brunswick, NJ, points to the fact that these towns have “a train station with direct service to Manhattan,” as well as relatively strong growth of Manhattan jobs:

Manhattan regained vigor as an employment center, while New Jersey continued a decade-long decline in the number of new jobs, he said. “This means Manhattan is becoming an increasingly potent force in the New Jersey market,” he added.

The powerful effect of Manhattan-bound train service on NJ property values is  well documented. In 2004, Juliette Michaelson completed an analysis on the impact of the introduction of Midtown-Direct service on the Morris & Essex Lines on property values, as her Master’s Thesis at Columbia University. According to her analysis, from 1993-2003, homes withing a half-mile of stations increased by 113% and properties a half-mile to two-miles away increased by 82%. (Houses more than two miles away increased by 65%.)

The Regional Plan Association (RPA) has also demonstrated the relationship between transit and housing values. In July 2010, the RPA released a report titled The ARC Effect, which estimated that the ARC Tunnel would raise home values by a collective $18 billion. With ARC, home values were expected to increase by an average of $19,000; and the number of NJ residents within a 50-minute train commute would have doubled.

Looking ahead, the Gateway Tunnel would not have so dramatic of an effect as ARC. First, Gateway will not provide a one-seat ride to riders on the Bergen County, Main, Pascack Valley and Port-Jervis (Metro North) Lines — at least not at first. Second, Gateway offers NJT only 13 additional trains per hour (compared to ARC’s 25), providing limited capacity for delivering commuters a quick ride to Manhattan. For its part, the 7-Train extension would require all NJ Transit passengers to transfer at Secaucus, diminishing some of the benefits of expanded rail service.

The real estate market and NJT’s expansion plans reflect the strong demand for Manhattan-bound service. All future trans-Hudson projects must take this demand into account, particularly in order to build a strong base of support among suburban constituents in NJ and NY State.

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