By Karen Zautyk
Somewhere in Jersey City — for security reasons, the exact location is secret – the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has set up a brand-new, state-of-the-art, $66 million command center.
With nearly 200 video screens mounted on the walls and more high-tech gear sitting on desks, the place resembles a NASA control room. But rather than directing a moon flight, the staff manning all this equipment will simply be ensuring improved service on the PATH trains. Or, rather, not so simply.
It’s a vastly complicated operation, monitoring the 40-plus miles of track in the transit system- all its trains and each of the 13 stations. The purpose is to “build capacity without adding a lot of infrastructure,” a PA spokesman told The Observer. Over a five-year period, he noted, the agency plans a 20 percent increase in service.
PATH, which last year served a record 76.6 million riders, is on track to surpass that number in 2012. On an average weekday, the trains carry more than 250,000 passengers. All of whom will require less patience when the PA master plan comes to fruition.
The agency’s longterm goal is to drastically reduce the waiting time between trains: cutting the current 10 minutes to just four minutes.
A new, computerized signal system and the addition of longer, 10-car platforms – the Harrison station will benefit from these – are also part of the improvement project. As is overall security, with the aforementioned monitors keeping a watchful eye on not only the platforms but other areas of each station, along the tracks and in the tunnels.
The command center, staffed by some 40 employees, will become fully operational in January. It was previewed recently to mark the 50th anniversary of the Port Authority’s assuming control of what had been the old Hudson & Manhattan Railroad.
In a reference to its tunnels, the railroad was known colloquially as “the Hudson Tubes,” or just “the Tubes” – still called that by some older riders who remember the clickety-clacking trains with great affection. (Those riders, though, would likely not want to trade PATH’s recently added fleet of 340 comfy cars for yesterday’s rattlers.)
Believe it or not, “the Tubes” date all the way back to 1873, when the transit system was initially incorporated. Actual construction, though, proceeded at the pace of a sedated snail.
The first train didn’t roll out until 1907, with a test run from Hoboken to Morton Street in Manhattan. Regular service, between Hoboken and Christopher Street and then 23rd Street, began in 1908.
The system expanded in increments from Newark to 33rd Street with the Harrison station finally opening in 1913. But then came the age of the automobile, the construction of the Holland and Lincoln tunnels and the George Washington Bridge, and by the early 1950s, the H&M had filed for bankruptcy, although it continued operating the trains.
In 1962, it was the PA to the rescue, with the agency assuming control of the transit system and renaming it PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson).
The venture was part of a visionary development project. As noted on the agency’s website, “The planning of the World Trade Center enabled the Port Authority to eventually purchase and maintain the Tubes in return for the rights to build the World Trade Center on the land occupied by H&M’s Hudson Terminal, the Lower Manhattan terminus of the Tubes.”
There’s a tragic sadness about that, but we all must move on, have moved on, as a statement of strength and resilience.
Part of that moving on, figuratively and literally, exists now in the new PA command center. The location of which must remain secret. For security reasons.