As well, urban and interurban bus riders use a number of NJ Transit, BurLink, South Jersey Transportation Authority and Greyhound services to make direct connections with the River LINE at 15 of its 20 stations. Free parking at most stations, and a total of nearly 1,500 free spaces at three major park-and-ride facilities are positive improvements for people with a desire to trade rubber tires for steel wheels on at least a portion of their journeys.
"It's a diffi cult service to define because it's a hybrid in so many respects," says Fazio. "Although we call it LRT, it's more like one of the classic interurban lines, such as the Pacifi c Electric in Los Angeles or the North Shore in Chicago. Our rolling stock is larger and roomier than conventional LRT equipment and is, of course, diesel-powered.
We're operating with main line railroad signaling and on heavy rail that's more typical of a freight railroad than LRT. We're running trains at 60 mph over single track with tightly timed meets at sidings. And we're linking a whole series of towns along an extended corridor. That's an interurban.
If anyone in the North American transit industry is equipped to render such a judgment, it's Fazio. His enthusiasm for and knowledge of precision rail transit, past and present, is striking. Born in Brooklyn, he grew up liking trains and transit "because they got you everywhere you wanted to go in a big city such as New York. When we had nothing to do as kids, we'd go for a joy ride on the subway. It was a passport to freedom. I was also attracted to the engineering side of it even when I was very young."
Fazio entered railroading after naval service and an engineering education. His credentials include stints with Penn Central, Conrail, Amtrak (twice), New York City Transit and Parsons Brinkerhoff. Before he joined Bombardier as general manager of the River LINE in November 2005, Fazio was president of the 21st Century Rail consortium, builder and operator of NJ TRANSIT's other highly regarded turnkey LRT, the electrified Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system.
Through all of this, Fazio says he learned a basic rule he is now applying on the River LINE: "When railroads and transit systems are good, they're run on a divisional basis. You have a strong leadership team with the power to make decisions. That team then involves all the other employees, who put those decisions into effect. It means you work closely with all your people and take the time to get to know them, to sit down over a cup of coffee and listen to what they have to tell you. I really believe most people want to contribute to the places where they work. That translates directly into performance that gains you riders."
Fazio says the River LINE is comparable to watching a good athletic team, where every player understands their role and plays it to the fullest. Above all, he says, you don't reinvent the wheel every day; you practice and perfect your game. The flip side is that he also encourages everyone involved in Bombardier's operation of the River LINE to think not just in terms of what it is, but what it can be. Fazio calls every idea worth considering if it comes from people who take a proprietary interest in "their railroad."
Fazio says team spirit and cooperation are imperative to the River LINE's success, especially because of the numerous unconventional and yet effective practices that have shaped it. First and foremost is the relationship between owner-manager NJ Transit and operator Bombardier Transportation. The latter has been aggressively growing its full range of rail and transit services over the last decade, providing fleet maintenance, materials solutions, complete lifecycle overhauls and everything else right up to the full-service operations and maintenance package it is delivering on the River LINE. The company views this 10-year contract as one of the jewels in its crown.
"It's the type of business where you're only as good as your last rush hour," says Mike Hardt, Bombardier's vice president of services. "If we're going to maintain NJ Transit's faith in us, then we have to make sure every rush hour on the River LINE is a good one. NJ Transit is relying on us to help them deliver on their promises to the commuters of southern New Jersey. I think one of the keys in doing this is to not only have a strong and fl exible organizational structure, but to have on-site general managers who have the power to make the decisions they know are best for your customer."