Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Junction Rail Station (at Allied Junction) is located in the New Jersey Meadowlands at the crossing point where the ex-Lackawanna Boonton Line crosses the ex-Pennsylvania Northeast Corridor's New York Tunnel Extension in the middle of the former Croxton freight yards. The opening of the $450 million station in 2003 (with $53 million provided by the MTA Capital Program for the improvements to the Metro-North Port Jervis and Pascack Valley Lines that are operated under contract to New Jersey Transit at stop at the station) provides easy transferring opportunities for passengers between all New Jersey Transit lines and stations except for those on the Atlantic City Line. The name junction is a slight misnomer. Secaucus Transfer (used in the planning and construction stages) is more appropriate. Since station is only a junction for transferring passengers. There are no track connections between the electrified upper level of the station on the Northeast Corridor and electrified, diesel-only lower level used by Main, Bergen County, and Pascack Valley Line trains. The large and airy beige station with plenty of windows rises up and out of the swamps of the Meadowlands. It is clearly visible from the eastern spur of the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) which is adjacent to it and is directly served by interchange 15X built for the station. The station was originally supposed to spearhead a transit oriented development with office buildings proposed to be built above the station but nothing every came of this so today the vast majority of riders are transferring passengers although there is a Park Fast Parking lot at $7 per day and a small new townhouse development. Nearly all local passengers either drive, take NJT buses or shuttles to reach the station.
The history lesson for the station begins at the former Harmon Cove Station on the Bergen County and Pascack Valley Line trains. This station opened in 1978 and was located along Meadowlands Parkway a mile and a half mostly north of Secaucus Junction as development began in the New Jersey Meadowlands. The first phase of the Secacus Junction project to open was the Main/Bergen Connector on August 4, 2003. This phase of the project closed the Harmon Cove Station on the ex-Erie Main Line that was previously used by Bergen County and Pascack Valley Line as trains were rerouted onto a new half-mile long section of double-track along the south bank of the Hackensack River from just south of HX Draw bridge across the Hackensack River to join the Main Line just beyond its Upper Hack Lift across the river. The Bergen County Line that formerly stopped at Harmon Cove (all Pascack Valley Line trains skipped the station) began stopping at Secaucus Junction with bus connections to the residential high-rises and industry formerly served by the Harmon Cove station.
The second phase was the full opening for only weekend service on September 6, 2003 with trains on lines with weekend service (at the time): the Main, Bergen County, Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Lines, and MidTown Direct Morristown Line trains. Weekday service couldn't begin because of the continued closure of the Lower Manhattan PATH tubes after the 9/11 destruction. Transit officials feared that New York-bound NJT trains would become overcrowded from the new influx of riders from Secaucus Junction without the Lower Manhattan PATH tubes. The reasoning for this is many Northeast Corridor/North Jersey Coast Line passengers change at Newark for PATH to get World Trade Center and had changed their commuting patterns to simply continuing on NJT trains all the way into New York-Penn Station and transferring there to the subway to get to Lower Manhattan. PATH service to WTC resumed on November 23, 2003. Full weekday service finally began to Secaucus Junction on Monday, December 15, 2003.
The station originally lacked a parking lot with limited road access although the New Jersey Turnpike Eastern Spur (the road is divided here into Eastern and Western Spurs here) is parallel to the station. Bus connections have been provided since the station opened on a few lines to the surrounding community such as those replacing service to the former Harmon Cove Station. New Jersey Turnpike Exit 15X opened on December 1, 2005 to provide direct road access to the station. It is the least used interchange and toll plaza on the turnpike. On June 1, 2009 Park Fast finally opened a privately owned and operated Park & Ride lot with 1,080 spaces just north off the station to take advantage of the new turnpike exit. This has given the station the park & ride lot it needs with such convenient NJ Turnpike access since no major transit oriented development has been built at the station yet.
The opening of the junction allows riders on the Main, Bergen County, and Pascack Valley Line trains to enter New York City-Penn Station entirely on New Jersey Transit metal for the first time by transferring at this station instead of to PATH trains at Hoboken. The station also provides a connection between every New Jersey Transit station and creates vastly more opportunities for intrastate travel within New Jersey. Before the station, opened NJT priced tickets each of its branches separately with no through tickets offered. Today through tickets and fares are offered that provide significant savings to riders (you simply pay the price of the longer segment from your station to Penn Station-N.Y.) compared to buying two different tickets traveling long distances within New Jersey. Ticket prices to Hoboken versus New York-Penn Station very with Hoboken always cheeper although the difference in price confusingly varies depending upon origination point.
Since the ride from Secaucus to New York-Penn Station is so short (13-15 minutes) and to not require the conductors to do a full sweep for tickets on the trains, the station has bi-directional faregates that restrict access to the upper level platforms so that all passengers accessing upper level trains must pass through the faregates. Passengers going from lower-level trains to the street don't pass through any faregates, just those originating and transferring to trains on the upper-level. These fare gates are identical to those at the Newark Airport station to enforce the AirTrain fees. To use the fare gates, passengers enter their purple NJ Transit tickets magnetic strip (not the printed side with the station pairs) side up in the insert here areas covered in yellow and collect their tickets at the top of the fare gates before going through. Passengers who purchase tickets on board or have issues with their magnetic stripe tickets are let through by ushers that man the two banks of faregates. Issues with tickets include those with a * printed in the top corner. This * is printed by the TVM to indicate something is defective with the magnetic strip. A personal experience: I put my ticket through the faregates twice and got denied entry. A faregate usher, examined my ticket, saw the * marked it with an X, explained what the * means and let me through. Tickets may only be passed through the faregates once in one direction so don't enter the upper level tracks unless your sure your going to board a train. The station lacks a ticket office but has 22 TVMs scattered throughout the station (on both sides of the fare gates) and plenty of staff around to help out.
2015 Update:Barcodes have replaced magnetic strips on all tickets, the faregates have also been requipped to read barcodes on tickets on Smart Phones (for passenegers sing the myTix app).
Service to the station on the diesel only, lower-level is provided by every Main Line, Bergen County and Pascack Valley Line trains that stop at the station on their way to Hoboken to make quasi-timed connections with trains stopping on the upper-level. Off-peak, each of these lines receives about one train per hour. Connecting upper-level Northeast Corridor line trains (on either of the four branches) are listed in the timetable, the minimum connecting time is listed as 7 minutes although many train connections are longer. If the listed connection is late leaving Penn Station trains will be held on the lower-level for connecting passengers, although the opposite isn't true, if a Hoboken-bound train is late into Secaucus the train to Penn Station isn't held since service is frequent enough from Secacus into Penn Station.
Upper Level service is on the electrified Northeast Corridor with Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast and MidTown Direct Morristown Line, and MidTown Direct Montclair Trains stopping at the station. All Amtrak trains that pass through New Jersey bypass the station. The only trains that don't pass through Secaucus are diesel and electric Morristown Line, Gladstone Branch, Montclair-Boonton Line, and North Jersey Coast Line diesel trains running via the Waterfront Connector to and from Hoboken. These run on a more southernly alignment through the Meadowlands before intersecting the North East Corridor with track connections at Kearny (used by MidTown Direct trains). The Raritan Valley Line also doesn't reach the station since it terminates at Newark-Penn Station. Passengers on these lines transfer at Newark normally instead of Secaucus for service to New York-Penn Station. Unlike the lower-level where every train stops, many electric upper level trains do bypass the station, particularly during rush hour, and this includes the only two (rush-hour peak direction) weekday MidTown Direct Gladstone Branch trains so this entire branch receives no service to Secaucus. Trains that stop are scheduled to be those with extra seats to accommodate transferring passengers. Service is still about 4 trains per hour or better. On weekends nearly every train stops, these trains stop at bunching times (not at regular intervals) because track maintenance in the North River Tubes requires the schedule to allow single-tracking every weekend and the service direction is changed every half-hour.
The station has 31 escalators, 11 elevators and 36 stairways connecting its three levels. Announcements are carried over 2,000 speakers. The three levels are as follows: The lower, ground level is where the two island platforms for the four track line that can accommodate 8 cars. These tracks are labeled E,F (used by Main Line trains) G, and H (used by the Bergen County & Pascack Valley Lines). Directly above is the upper level that has four tracks in a three platform configuration on the Northeast Corridor. The layout is 3 Platforms for four tracks: Track 2-Track A-Platform-Track B-Track 3-Platform. Surprisingly all tracks pass a platform (there isn't an express track for trains that doesn't platform). Above this is the main upper level concourse mezzanine where all access to the upper-level platforms is provided (passengers must go up to leave both station platforms).
The platforms themselves are surrounded by the station building with plenty of gaps to allow natural light in except at the western end of the upper-level platforms and the southern end of the lower-level platforms (its northern end is under the New Jersey Turnpike) that are left open and exposed to the elements (and provide decent photography opportunities of all the trains passing through). The platforms include benches and most of the escalators/staircases down to the platforms end at small waiting areas before doors out to the actual platforms. Other staircases have doors at the top of them on the mezzanines leaving the entire main station building well climate controlled. The station signage is a combination of small signs in the normal purple with a grey line that say Secaucus directly on the platforms and along the upper-level side platform walls, large high signs that say Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Junction. The upper-level side platforms also have three large tile murals: Iron Horses by Stacey Farley that show historical uses of people using trains at the turn of the last century.
The easiest place to start a tour of this station is in the central, grand rotunda. This central rotunda is above the apex of where the two levels of tracks cross and has tall ceilings that reach about 70 feet above the floor with skylights and tall windows allowing plenty of light to penetrate into hall. The center of it is marked by a 30-foot silvery sculpture of a cattail by Cork Marcheschi that provides a fitting centerpiece to the station's location in the meadowlands. In the corners of the atrium are some concessions, a Soberro Pizzeria, Newsstand and Dukin Donuts. There is also a customer service office and NJT Police station.
Above the four wide entrances to the tracks were originally 8 Solari-Flip boards in the same colors used on timetables: the Morristown Line and Gladstone Branch (both green at the time, the Gladstone Branch normally blank) on the west side, the Bergen County Line (its still yellow, not the newer light blue color) and Main Line on the north, the Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line on the east wall and the Pascack Valley and Montclair-Boonton Lines above the south wall. These boards each display the next four departures in a Departs-Track-Status-Train #-First Stop-Second Stop format. Next to each of the sets of boards is a small black board that lists the next five departures to New York City or Hoboken (next to the respective side of the concourse) on a black background with white text and columns for Departs-Track. Since the station opened the location of the Gladstone Branch Departure board has been replaced by the Montclair-Boonton Line board and a new LED Light board for displaying messages is now in its former space next to the Pascack Valley Line flip-board. LCD displays show schedule and track information for each level and there are also the usual signs near platform entrances and on each platform that list the platform stops for each train. Along the sides of the atrium are a few oversized wooden benches for waiting passengers and some cafe tables for the fast-food joints.
To reach the upper-level tracks there are banks of fare gates along the east and west walls of the atrium. The west bank leads down to a single elevator and single combined bank of escalators and stairs down to each of the three platforms. The east bank access to the platform is more complicated and originally there wasn't one bank of fare gates but separate banks of fare gates above each of the staircases/escalators. This caused confusion because it was very possible to put your ticket through a fare gate that only caused access to an up escalator (stranding you). This side leads to a wide and usually empty area with a few benches forming a long mezzanine above the Upper-Level platforms. Starting from the fare gates is first a strange two escalators and another escalator that goes in the opposite direction between the two previous escalators down to the island platform. Continuing west is a bank of stairs/escalators down to each platform the concourse becomes narrower before there is a final bank of stairs/escalators down to each platform at their western ends, far away from the main station.
On the north and south sides of the central atrium are wide banks of 3 escalators with wide staircases on each side. These lead past murals by Mac Adams. The entrance to south lower mezzanine wall has a summer wetland mosaic with water lilies. The north one has a frozen wetland with trees. These lead down to small secondary lower mezzanines at about the same level as the upper-level platforms. Each mezzanine has two sets of staircases/up escalators down to each of the lower level platforms. This is all the north mezzanine has although artwork of murals of New Jersey Rail Bridges by Valeri Larko brighten the space.
The south mezzanine is a bit larger and has acrylic painted murals by Tim Daly of views of the New Jersey Transit system that nearly look like photographs. This mezzanine includes intermediate landings for the elevators down to the lower level platforms. These continue up to the upper level atrium. Going out the west doors of this mezzanine leads to the only staircase exit to actually leave the transfer complex. Here there is a wide covered staircase that includes two escalators and a separate elevator shaft disguised as a clock tower, these lead down to the South Road.
Vehicle access to the station is via traffic loops along both the North and South sides of the station on each side of the Upper Level platforms. The area beneath the Northeast Corridor provides shelter (there are also windscreens) for passengers waiting for rides. The parking lot is along the northside of the New Jersey Turnpike and passengers needing this walk north along a sidewalk that the north access road curves up to follow. Access to leave the station is from two places, the previously mentioned clock tower elevators and a wide staircase to the South Road and an entrance with only elevators only from the North Road entrance directly up just to the west side of the main atrium. These two access roads both have entrances from Seaview Drive (with No Pedestrian Signs) that crosses beneath the Northeast Corridor directly at the western end of the station. Seaview Drive continues south and forms a U-curve around becoming interchange 15X leading to a toll plaza and trumpet interchange onto the NJ Turnpike. The two roadway entrances are each marked by small silver entrance structures that surround the roadway next to closable gates and small guard shelters. The entrances on Seaview Drive are marked by ceremonial signs with green glass that say Frank L. Lautenberg Secaucus Rail Station at Allied Junction. The south loop is exclusively for buses and also leads to a small gravel employee parking lot near the station entrance end. The north entrance is for taxis and passenger pick up and drop off, it is one-way with the entrance from Seaview Drive. It curves up along the Main Line platforms and under the NJ Turnpike to provide access to the station parking lot (walking north along this road is how to leave the station on foot) and ends at New County Road, the northern edge of the parking lot that is its exit.