By Walter Elliott

EAST ORANGE - Residents of, workers in and visitors to this city - as well as those in other "Local Talk" towns - have found taking public transportation the last three weeks running with fewer and farther choices.

That is, if you have service at all in your neighborhood. Two private bus carriers indefinitely suspended operations 10 days apart March 25 and April 4.

Coach USA's Paramus garage announced that its 77 Community Coach route will suspend its Morristown - New York City runs 12:01 a.m. Saturday. It's Friday announcement included "that this decision was not taken lightly; it's necessary for the safety of our passengers, employees and the well-being of our service following this pandemic. Our plan is to re-open and begin operating some levels of service at the beginning of May."

The parked 77 buses have joined DeCamp Bus Lines' fleet in their respective garages 12:01 a.m. March 25. The Montclair-based company, "Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, temporarily suspended all service."

Many private commuter bus carriers, indeed, have suspended all of their services entering or leaving Manhattan's Port Authority and George Washington Bridge bus terminals over those 10 days. They cited the wholesale decimation of ridership since the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown of "nonessential personnel."

"Local Talk" was reminded of what then-DeCamp V.P. of Operations, Gary Pard said in the early 2000s: "NJTransit can always go to the taxpayer for funding. We have to watch every penny."

Those East Orange and Orange 77 Community Coach and DeCamp riders may already have gone to alternative NJTransit or CoachUSA train and bus service. Those in some North Newark, West Orange, Montclair, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Belleville and/or Nutley neighborhoods, however, may have not found such convenient substitution.

NJTransit, since March 28, have adopted a modified weekday schedule for most of its interstate bus routes (like the Nos. 107, 108 and 190-series buses) and intrastate routes are on a "modified" weekday schedule most Mondays-Fridays. It has been the experience of "Local Talk" that this schedule operates more like a Saturday timetable.

Bus routes NJTransit contracts out to other carriers, like the 709 Bloomfield-Paramus route, have been put on a Saturday schedule.

CoachUSA-Elizabeth garage's No. 31 route, rounding out local bus service, has been on a Saturday schedule since March 23.

NJTransit, since April 1, has invoked a cross-honoring ticket and pass policy among its bus, light rail and commuter rail services. The statewide public carrier has not said, however, whether it would so cross-honor DeCamp and 77 Community Coach tickets.

NJTransit, at first, reduced its regular weekday commuter rail schedule to a weekend/holiday timetable March 27 except for the still-weekday running Atlantic City Line. The carrier, perhaps reacting to complaints made by surprised distant riders, then upgraded to a modified Presidents Day timetable March 30.

The Newark Light Rail/City Subway and the Trenton-Camden River Line have also been put on Saturday timetables since March 25. The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail has followed suit April 6.

Returning to fares, most NJTransit buses have gone to a rear door boarding policy since March 21 - the day after New York's MTA buses imposed theirs'. Riders are to show their passes or pre-paid tickets - in paper or on an electronic app - to the driver from a distance.

The rear boarding, coupled with the taping off of side seats neared to the driver, has prompted the following additional policy: drivers are not to handle cash nor refuse riders who have not the cash fare to minimize coronavirus transfer by handing money.

This above condition includes the interstate-class MCI buses that do not have a rear door.

The rear door boarding and no cash handling provisions were also announced by a remote dispatcher while "Local Talk" was on two Newark-Passaic No. 74 buses midday April 2.

An NJTransit spokeswoman, responding to an Irvington rider's complaint of crowding on its No. 108-PABT route, said that the carrier does not plan to limit riders per bus or rail car. The carrier meanwhile urged riders Monday to wear face masks while on board.

The private and public carriers have gone as long as they could have with normal weekday schedules to transport "essential" workers to their jobs for 16 days.

NJTransit reduced its service frequency and instituted its bus pass honor system because it had lost at least $1.25 billion since the first stay-at-home executive orders were announced March 12.

While some of the $1.25 billion loss had been due to increased vehicular and facility cleaning, the bulk of the deficit was from ridership losses. Some routes and lines are carrying 10 to 12 percent of its average daily load since March 9.

This loss is based on the 67 percent revenue recovery rate at the farebox; the remaining 33 percent is largely from state and federal subsidies.

NJTransit is asking the federal government, through a March 18 letter to New Jersey's Congressional delegation, for $1.25 billion in emergency funds. Executive Director Kevin Corbett explained that it cannot take money from its capital project and repair silos.

That carrier and its Congress members, however, may have to take a number from the Federal Railway Administration and wait. The MTA ($4 billion) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ($1.9 billion) are also asking for bailouts.

The Port Authority cites ridership and revenue losses across its six interstate crossings, four airports (including Newark Liberty International), Ports Newark and Elizabeth and PATH for its appeal. It has had reduced PATH's service frequency since March 30.

The Newark-World Trade Center trains, since that Monday. are running on five-minute rush hour intervals and 10 minute intervals middays and nights. 11 p.m.-5 a.m. overnight runs are unchanged.

Its Hoboken-WTC and -33rd Street trains are running on 10-minute intervals morning, noon and night - but as-is overnight.


By Walter Elliott

NEWARK - Residents of New Jersey's largest city - and now those in East Orange, Irvington and Orange - have been adjusting to the Urban Mayors United COVID-19 Lockdown since its 8 p.m. March 31 regional introduction.

The four towns' "new normal" includes patrolling police cars reminding bystanders of the "stay-at-home or go home" and 8 p.m. - 5 a.m. statewide curfew.

Police officers who left their cars or their walking beat have stopped pedestrians, asked for their identification and purpose of their being outdoors - and then either sent them away with a warning or handed them a state of emergency violation summons.

The regional restrictions are an expansion of a citywide lockdown Newark Mayor Ras Baraka invoked March 23.

There are residents of, workers in and visitors to particular neighborhoods in three of Newark's wards who had a foretaste of the lockdown March 21-23.

Baraka, with Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose, announced the imposition of restriction in three "COVID-19 Zones" in parts of the North, West, Central and South wards effective 8 p.m. March 21.

These three zones, affecting people and activities in 326 blocks, were announced in a 2 p.m. press conference that Saturday in the Newark OEM Headquarters/Newark Police Fifth Precinct House. It was the same Saturday afternoon when Gov. Phil Murphy signed his executive order, effective 9 p.m. that night, for closing non-essential businesses and stay-at-home across New Jersey.

"We need them to listen to the Governor's directive," said Baraka to a limited number of media representatives. "But, more importantly, if you live in those areas - and we'll get that message out to you - we need you to take that one step further."

That one step further, added the Mayor, included, "Should you go out and you see another person on your block, give him or her a wide berth."

Baraka said that the three COVID-19 Zones were determined by "the concentration of coronavirus cases in the city." Newark, on March 21, had 31 positive cases and Essex County 107.

Neither Baraka nor any of the people with him on the OEM stage would say how many cases were in the three zones.

COVID-19 Zone 1 included 146 blocks within North Newark's Mt. Prospect, Woodside, Forest Hill and Lower Broadway neighborhoods.

Zone 1's borders, going clockwise from North, are: Verona Avenue east to Route 21/McCarter Highway, Route 21 south to Fourth Avenue, Fourth Avenue west to Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield Avenue west to Lake Street and Lake Street north back to Verona Avenue.

Zone 2 comprised of parts of the West Ward and Central Ward's Fairmount Heights, University Heights and Belmont-Springfield's neighborhoods. They comprised 122 city blocks.

Zone 2 was bordered by: Central Avenue to West Market Street, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, Springfield Avenue, South 10th Street, 16th Avenue and South 12th Street back to Central Avenue on the Roseville section border.

Zone 3, which was made up of 58 blocks, was within the South Ward's Upper Clinton Hill section.

This zone was bounded by: Avon Avenue to Irvine Turner Boulevard, West Runyon Street, Clinton Place, Clinton Avenue and South 12th Street back to Avon.

Those zones, however, were absorbed by Mayor Baraka's March 23 citywide expansion.

NOTE: Mayor Ras Baraka, late April 2, announced that city residents who do go outdoors are expected to wear face masks. The Mayor added that "an overflow site has been identified" for University Hospital to use now that its ICU beds are filled.


By Walter Elliott

NEWARK - Those reading the Positive Train Control section of the New Jersey State Auditor's Jan. 29 report on NJTransit may have reminded them of the late Yogi Berra's "It's deja-vu all over again" line.

The late Montclair resident and Major League Baseball hall of famer, to be clear, was never known to be a commuter railroad fan. That particular reactionary quote, however, would be appropriate since NJTransit had asked for two prior PTC completion extensions since 2015.

New Jersey Transit Corporation Rail Operations, among several other Class One commuter railroads, last sought for extending the PTC completion deadline Dec. 14, 2018 from the Federal Railroad Administration of USDOT. Those railroads had to show the Washington, D.C. agency that they had completed at least 85 percent of the PTC work in six categories to get that extension.

PTC, as mandated by Congress' Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, involves linking train operators with their signal dispatchers through GPS satellites. The system of in-locomotive cab GPS transceivers and right of way antennas would automatically apply the train sets brakes in emergencies when the train engineer fails to do so.

Congress first extended the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline to Dec. 31, 2018 to help NJTransit, MTA Metro North and other similar railroads finish their jobs.

Failure to have PTC installed and staff trained would take the delinquent carrier off the railroad tracks. In NJTransit's case, Amtrak would have barred the statewide public carrier from using the Northeast Corridor, the Hudson River tunnels and New York Penn Station, among other federal assets.

Stopping NJTransit on Amtrak's property, since State Auditor Stephen M. Eells' 19-page report, has now loomed again on its horizon.

NJTransit was using a new installation and training schedule that the FRA approved Feb. 22, 2019. The carrier, up to then, had trained 900 of its Rail Operations staff, installed GPS transceivers on 282 train cabs and was testing part of the PTC along a 17-mile Morris County stretch of the Morris & Essex Line.

Eells, in his report, found that NJTRO had fallen behind schedule by Sept. 30, 2019. While 413 of its 440 train cabs, "the system is not yet functional due to software issues." The auditor further found that contractors had made six change order requests over the summer and that a PTC field test "involving ticketed passengers," set for July 2019, has not happened.

NJTransit, added the auditor, has not collected $9.1 million in damages from the said contractors.



Photo Credit - Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al

NASA  - A black hole and its shadow have been captured in an image for the  first time, a historic feat by an international network of radio  telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). EHT is an  international collaboration whose support in the U.S. includes the  National Science Foundation.

A  black hole is an extremely dense object from which no light can escape.  Anything that comes within a black hole’s “event horizon,” its point of  no return, will be consumed, never to re-emerge, because of the black  hole’s unimaginably strong gravity. By its very nature, a black hole  cannot be seen, but the hot disk of material that encircles it shines  bright. Against a bright backdrop, such as this disk, a black hole  appears to cast a shadow.

The  stunning new image shows the shadow of the supermassive black hole in  the center of Messier 87 (M87), an elliptical galaxy some 55 million  light-years from Earth. This black hole is 6.5 billion times the mass of  the Sun. Catching its shadow involved eight ground-based radio  telescopes around the globe, operating together as if they were one  telescope the size of our entire planet.

“This  is an amazing accomplishment by the EHT team,” said Paul Hertz,  director of the astrophysics division at NASA Headquarters in  Washington. “Years ago, we thought we would have to build a very large  space telescope to image a black hole. By getting radio telescopes  around the world to work in concert like one instrument, the EHT team  achieved this, decades ahead of time.”

To  complement the EHT findings, several NASA spacecraft were part of a  large effort, coordinated by the EHT’s Multiwavelength Working Group, to  observe the black hole using different wavelengths of light. As part of  this effort, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Nuclear Spectroscopic  Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory space  telescope missions, all attuned to different varieties of X-ray light,  turned their gaze to the M87 black hole around the same time as the  Event Horizon Telescope in April 2017. If EHT observed changes in the  structure of the black hole’s environment, data from these missions and  other telescopes could be used to help figure out what was going on.

While  NASA observations did not directly trace out the historic image,  astronomers used data from NASA’s Chandra and NuSTAR satellites to  measure the X-ray brightness of M87’s jet. Scientists used this  information to compare their models of the jet and disk around the black  hole with the EHT observations. Other insights may come as researchers  continue to pore over these data.

There  are many remaining questions about black holes that the coordinated  NASA observations may help answer. Mysteries linger about why particles  get such a huge energy boost around black holes, forming dramatic jets  that surge away from the poles of black holes at nearly the speed of  light. When material falls into the black hole, where does the energy  go?

“X-rays  help us connect what’s happening to the particles near the event  horizon with what we can measure with our telescopes,” said Joey  Neilsen, an astronomer at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, who led  the Chandra and NuSTAR analysis on behalf of the EHT’s Multiwavelength  Working Group.

NASA  space telescopes have previously studied a jet extending more than  1,000 light-years away from the center of M87. The jet is made of  particles traveling near the speed of light, shooting out at high  energies from close to the event horizon. The EHT was designed in part  to study the origin of this jet and others like it. A blob of matter in  the jet called HST-1, discovered by Hubble astronomers in 1999, has  undergone a mysterious cycle of brightening and dimming.

Chandra,  NuSTAR and Swift, as well as NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition  Explorer (NICER) experiment on the International Space Station, also  looked at the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy,  called Sagittarius A*, in coordination with EHT.

Getting  so many different telescopes on the ground and in space to all look  toward the same celestial object is a huge undertaking in and of itself,  scientists emphasize.

“Scheduling  all of these coordinated observations was a really hard problem for  both the EHT and the Chandra and NuSTAR mission planners,” Neilsen said.  “They did really incredible work to get us the data that we have, and  we’re exceedingly grateful.”

Neilsen  and colleagues who were part of the coordinated observations will be  working on dissecting the entire spectrum of light coming from the M87  black hole, all the way from low-energy radio waves to high-energy gamma  rays. With so much data from EHT and other telescopes, scientists may  have years of discoveries ahead.