The Newark Light Rail. Newark’s best-kept secret. Part of the New Jersey Transit Light Rail Division, formerly Newark City Subway, formerly Public Service Route #7 City Subway.
This line runs in two sections: from Newark’s Penn Station to Grove Street in Bloomfield, and from Penn Station to Newark’s Broad Street Station. The original City Subway pre-2002 (2002 was when the line was converted from PCC Trolleys to Kinkisharyo light rail vehicles) operated from Newark Penn Station to Franklin Avenue (now Branch Brook Park after combining Franklin and Heller Parkway stations). Prior to the 1950s purchase of ex-Cincinnati and ex-Twin Cities PCC cars, the city subway had many other streetcar lines operating into the Newark portion of the line, all of which are current bus lines (such as the 29-Bloomfield Avenue, 41-Park Avenue, and 44-Tremont Street). It was a subway in the sense that the tracks were underneath the streets and trolleys were routed into the subway to avoid congestion on the streets above. The portal used by the Broad Street extension was once used by the #44 Tremont Street line before it was converted to motor bus.
What I do like about the Newark subway is the relative high speed operation throughout the original subway from Penn Station to Branch Brook Park, from Orange Street to Branch Brook Park, you actually run along the southwestern edge of Branch Brook Park and you have wonderful views of the park towards the end of the run. From Penn Station to Warren Street, the entire underground run and part of the 70-cent downtown zone, was built in a cut-and-cover style with tiles and structural elements similar to the New York City subway. When I first took a ride on the subway, it reminded me of New York, which makes sense since it was built around the time of the extensions of the IRT and BMT.
What I don’t like about the Newark subway is the lack of level boarding, due to the stations having been built for trolley and all-service vehicle (basically Public Service’s version of a dual-mode bus) usage. When the line was converted to Light Rail, only new stations had level boarding as they were built that way. Other stations were left alone, with the exception of Bloomfield Avenue, which has undergone a platform renovation some years ago. Also, there are slow sections of the line outside of the subway portions, from Branch Brook Park to Grove Street and from Broad Street Station to Penn Station. In particular,the Grove Street extension bothers me since a) the line makes a sharp southwesterly turn towards Silver Lake in Belleville and Grove Street in Bloomfield, with NO provision for an extension further into Bloomfield, and b) there is no provision for any extension further north and west to places such as Paterson and Passaic, which means those cities will still have to depend on the #72 and #74 to get to Newark. The Broad Street extension does not provide any room for expansion north or west because the line ends in a bumper block right at the foot of Broad Street Station, meaning no future extension to Nutley; it doesn’t even have any provisions for extensions south into Elizabeth (as was promised with the Newark-Elizabeth Rail Link).
Even though it’s called the Newark Light Rail, the line does serve a snippet of Belleville and the beginning of Bloomfield, a major Essex County municipality, IMHO. The fact that you have several buses that operate to Bloomfield (such as the #11 to Willowbrook Mall, #28 to Montclair State University, #29 to Parsippany, GO Bus 28 to Newark Airport, and the #709 to Passaic and Paramus) should be indicative of that. The rail line that was used by the Newark Light Rail to take the line out to Bloomfield does indeed extend further, but the station wasn’t built with any provision to extend to the town center to tap that market. Such a shame, since the Newark subway operates with single cars and can get quite busy during weekday peak hours. Each platform can hold two-car trains, but due to equipment shortages, that possibility cannot be explored. Such a shame. Not to mention that it uses the same cars as the HBLR in the next county over.
Hopefully, NJ Transit will tap into the Newark Light Rail’s potential a decade from now, when people start migrating to the city and there is a heavier demand for service. Maybe with a new mayor. We shall see.