July 12, 2017

After First Day of “Summer of Hell,” Commuters Are Pleasantly Surprised

CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM: Commuters prepare to board the 7:45 New Jersey Transit train in Princeton Junction heading to New York Tuesday morning. After encountering surprisingly few delays on Monday’s first day of a major Amtrak infrastructure repair project in Penn Station, commuters were hopeful that their good fortune would continue. (Photo by Don Gilpin)

On day two yesterday of the predicted “summer of hell,” with two months of major infrastructure repairs underway at Penn Station in New York, Princeton Junction commuters were calm, pleasantly surprised so far and even, perhaps, hopeful.

Despite numerous problems and delays earlier in the summer and warnings of even more serious disruptions beginning Monday, July 10, service on Tuesday morning and Monday seemed to run smoothly, and most trains were running on time.

“Best day of the summer,” said Andy Haughwout of West Windsor, describing his Monday commute as he boarded the 7:45 a.m. New York-bound train again on Tuesday. “On time at both ends, departing and arriving.”

David Drosdick of Princeton described himself as “cautiously optimistic” and attributed some of New Jersey Transit’s success this week to low expectations. “Under-promise and over-deliver was our company motto,” said the Motorola engineer who commutes to Brooklyn. “If you set expectations that it’s going to be the worst, anything is better.”

Waiting on the platform at Princeton Junction, Mr. Drosdick continued, “I haven’t had any trouble. It’s been smooth. I was expecting much worse. Everything’s been on schedule.” He added that he has downloaded the NJ Transit app and has found it helpful in giving him access to train schedules, but the only major schedule changes so far seem to have been on the M&E (Morris & Essex) Midtown Direct trains, which have been diverted from Penn Station to Hoboken Terminal. Northeast Corridor trains are expected to arrive in Penn Station New York with only minor time changes, according to NJ Transit.

In a letter last week, NJ Transit executive directorSteven H. Santoro warned customers about possible problems and delays. “If you haven’t done so already, I strongly urge all customers to utilize the next few days to familiarize yourself with all of your travel options,” he wrote. “This will not be a normal commute for any of us, so we ask that you stay connected to social media and our web page for latest information, stay ahead by building in extra time for your commute, and stay cool and try not to lose patience.”

Christina Broderick, preparing to board the 7:45 a.m. train at Princeton Junction yesterday, was thankful for a relatively uneventful commute on Monday and a train preparing to depart on time Tuesday, but described herself as “wildly unoptimistic.” She noted, “Delays every day is the new normal here. I’ve come to expect that and factor it into my commuting time.”

She continued, “I expected a lot worse yesterday. It’s great that yesterday wasn’t as bad as expected, but that was probably a fluke.”