Keith, Train Master for the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, shares his experience on how a new mode of transit transformed the way people commute in New Jersey.
“I’ve been with Hudson-Bergen Light Rail for 15 years, since I was 21 years old. It’s been life-changing for me. The experience, the things I’ve learned, the training has been very intense but it’s not only made me a better employee, but a better person.
“I had a friend who already worked for the light rail and I was lucky enough to use that connection to get hired. I started out as a maintenance and utility worker. I elevated myself to become a train operator then a supervisor and now I hold the title of Train Master, which oversees the entire operation of the transportation department. It was a job that became a career.
“The HBLR came into my community in 2000, two miles from where I was raised. Normally, I walk to work. The resurgence that the light rail has brought into the community has been out of this world. It’s really a different place; Jersey City today from Jersey City 20 years ago. And a lot of it I give credit to the light rail. Bringing up the neighborhood, bringing up the property values – it’s all good. I see nothing negative about the light rail from the community and my own personal life.
“For example, the current operator of this train is a local guy from Jersey City. We actually have mutual friends from before we even started working here. I know his little brother. To me, this place is like a family. It’s not just a job. You’re going to see familiar faces and we’re all working together to get the job done. We take pride in what we do. We all take pride in seeing the same smiling faces every day. Normally when you get into a routine in the transportation business you’re going to see the same faces every day going to school and work. If you’re on the same train that’s scheduled to be there, you’re going to start getting some smiles, you’re going to start getting some hellos. We even have some operators that receive gifts from the passengers during the holiday season. It really became more than just a career; it’s a family. I take pride in coming here and being part of the community. It’s me doing a service to the community but it’s also helping me.
“I bought a house two years ago. That was a huge accomplishment for me. Growing up in the projects, I really didn’t have much. I grew up in a small apartment with my mom and four siblings. What the light rail enabled me to do has been invaluable. If light rail never came, my life would be different. I don’t even want to know where it might be because I’m so happy with the life I have now and I give credit to the HBLR for giving me that opportunity.
“The benefits of the Brooklyn Queens Connector could only do good. The BQX would give people more flexibility with commuting and make it easier to get around for mothers with baby carriages and people with disabilities, giving them a quicker and more convenient means of travel than the bus. Buses serve their purpose but getting on and off of a bus can be a little bit of a complication. The accessibility of light rails make it easy to roll on and off. People with bicycles, people in wheelchairs don’t have to deal with stairs.
“This area had no means of direct public transportation before the HBLR route. It makes it easier for people to get to the mall, to Liberty Park, which is a main attraction. We get a lot of visitors that come into Jersey City and a lot of them want to go to the Science Center, yards away from a HBLR station. You can also take the HBLR to catch a ferry to Ellis Island, a walk away from the light rail station.
“Naturally with a transportation system you’re going to have incidents that occur. These incidents have many different causal factors, which our aim is to eliminate. We try to eliminate any type of potential incidents by addressing causal factors before they happen. We also offer our staff rewards for reporting any type of unsafe conditions. We’re highly alert for any type of breaches of safety. We are very dedicated on focusing on preventing incidents before they happen.
“In response to Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the area, we had to make a lot of repairs to things that were damaged. We’ve addressed the issue by elevating certain important technologies important to the train that used to be at the ground level to prevent flooding and damage. The light rail is a safe way to get around. It’s really important to have the right technology to deal with these kinds of weather events and the light rail has it.
“People use the light rail to get to school and aren’t delayed due to motor vehicle traffic because of the dedicated right of way. You can get from downtown Jersey City to Bayonne in ten minutes on the train but with a car it would take a half hour.
“In terms of the BQX, the biggest immediate impact would be the opportunity for jobs. Like I said, working here has been life changing for me. I have no idea what I would be doing right now were it not for the light rail. It’s going to give people who are doing a job they’re not happy at an opportunity to have a career. It’s going to make them feel important to the community, to themselves, and to their family. It will give people a sense of purpose. Transportation’s huge. We need to get around.”
– Keith M., Jersey City