Transit Blooms on the Pascack Valley Line

Last Sunday was a significant day for NJ Transit and Metro-North’s Pascack Valley Line: There were trains. Oct. 28 marked the first day of the line’s new schedule (available here), which includes bi-directional, off-peak, and weekend service for the first time ever. The drastic service improvements—an additional 15 trains on weekdays and 23 on weekends, a more-than-doubling of weekly service—were enabled by the completion of four passing sidings on the single-track line.

Previously, the line ran only Hoboken-bound service in the morning and Spring Valley-bound service in the evening. The service improvements should dramatically increase ridership and have implications for transportation projects in the region.

Some Rockland County politicians have voiced opposition to congestion pricing because of the relative lack of mass transit in the county, as compared to Westchester, Long Island, and parts of New Jersey. To an extent, the Pascack Valley improvements undermine the validity of this argument.

The improvements also underscore the need for the Trans-Hudson ARC rail tunnel to relieve crowding on the NJ Transit system during peak hours. Though the additional service is concentrated at off-peak times, it allows commuters increased trip flexibility and should increase ridership at all times, including rush hour.

In combination with the ARC tunnel, the line improvements weaken the case for building commuter rail across the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 corridor. Early NYSDOT projections from the Tappan Zee Bridge Alternatives Analysis show that, if rail transit was constructed across the corridor, many rail trips would end in Manhattan (see also MTR #530). However, the Alternatives Analysis projections did not take into account the ARC tunnel or the Pascack Valley improvements; many Rockland commuters projected to take a new Tappan Zee rail line may choose to take the Pascack Valley Line to New York City through the ARC tunnel instead. By contrast, a cross-corridor bus rapid transit system would attract mostly east-west suburb-to-suburb commuters, the primary cause of congestion on the Tappan Zee Bridge.

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