Riders, firms brace for possible New Jersey Transit strike


NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Commuters and businesses on both sides of the Hudson River braced for the worst as negotiators for rail unions and New Jersey Transit met again Friday to try to head off a weekend shutdown from a strike.

More than 100,000 commuters use NJ Transit to get into New York, and the transit agency says its contingency plan using extra buses will only be able to accommodate about 40,000. If negotiators can’t iron out an agreement over wages and benefits, unions have authorized a strike beginning at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

“It would be an enormous inconvenience,” said Martin Dorph, chief financial officer for New York University in lower Manhattan.

Dorph lives in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, and catches the train to New York across the river in Hamilton, New Jersey.

He said he’d consider taking the bus to Jersey City or maybe even driving, though “the rule of thumb on a normal day is that you better get to the tunnels by 7 a.m.”

NJ Transit has estimated that a one-hour commute by train — roughly the length of Dorph’s ride from Hamilton to Penn Station on an express train — will more than double by bus or a combination of bus and ferry or Port Authority Trans-Hudson train.

Worse, motorists have been told to expect backups of 20 miles or more at the Lincoln and Holland tunnels into New York.

In New York, a business group has estimated that each hour the rails are shut will cost businesses about $6 million.

At New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s six campuses, employees had the option of using an app for carpooling and ride-sharing, and there were plans to create additional parking for an anticipated increase in vehicles.

The last time the app was activated was during Superstorm Sandy, according to Jeffrey Bokser, vice president for safety, security and emergency services.

Marina Norville, a vice president of public affairs for American Express, said a note went out to all employees Wednesday alerting them to the possible strike and telling them “to speak with your leader about the option to work from home.”

Con Edison, New York’s largest utility, has told employees to consider working from home, working from another company facility or altering their hours.

Commuters wouldn’t be the only ones affected by a strike. While the heavily used Northeast Corridor line runs on tracks owned by Amtrak, the east-west Morris and Essex line is owned by NJ Transit and would be shut down, affecting some freight shipments by smaller railroads.

The Morristown and Erie Railway operates there, and Norfolk Southern runs a local train, according to Steven Friedland, president of Short Line Data Systems, which provides management software to the short line railroad industry.

“You’re not talking about massive unit trains of freight, maybe a couple hundred cars a month total between the two,” he said. “But it’s still significant. You’ve got companies that are employing people that aren’t going to be able to get their materials.”

The last NJ Transit strike was in March 1983, and it lasted 34 days.

___

Associated Press writers Ben Finley in Hamilton, New Jersey, and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this story.