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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

With Gannett in charge, Record readers are ones sweating out a 'Summer of Hell'

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-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Let's cut to the chase:

Extensive track work in New York's Penn Station began Monday, but delays for NJ Transit commuters didn't approach the many "Summer of Hell" predictions by editors, reporters and columnists at The Record of Woodland Park.

In fact, the doomsday headlines, stories and columns that started appearing more than a week ago turned out to be greatly exaggerated.

One possible reason Monday's commute wasn't a complete disaster is that July is a prime vacation month, and there may be far fewer North Jersey residents commuting into the city every day.

Driver oriented

Still, the Woodland Park daily hasn't paid this much attention to NJ Transit's rail operations in years.

In the past decade, transportation reporters and columnist were far too lazy, refusing to ride NJ Transit trains and buses and report on deteriorating service:

Rail and bus riders couldn't find rush-hour seats in the morning, and delays for commuters catching buses home reached crisis proportions.

As far as John Cichowski, The Record's so-called commuting columnist, was concerned, those commuters could just go to hell.

He was far too busy writing about monster potholes, confusing road signs, long lines at the Motor Vehicle Commission and other columns aimed only at drivers.

Maybe those columns were payback to all of the auto dealers and manufacturers whose ad revenue keeps the newspaper afloat.

Christie cuts

The New York Times -- not The Record -- was the first to report Governor Christie cut state subsidies to the state's mass transit agency by more than 90 percent.

That forced a fare hike and service cuts, and delayed rail-safety equipment that could have prevented a fatal crash in NJ Transit's Hoboken terminal last September.


Christie's first blow against mass transit -- unilaterally killing work on two Hudson River rail tunnels in 2010 -- became a he said/she said story on whether New Jersey would get socked with cost overruns.

The GOP thug also nearly bankrupted the state Transportation Trust Fund, which finances road, bridge and rail improvements. 

'Summer of Hell' 

The first Page 1 story equating $40 million in track work in New York's Penn Station with doomsday for commuters ran on July 2.

A news story by Staff Writer Abbott Koloff ran under these headlines:

"NJ Transit, commuters
brace for rough ride"

"Penn Station project
has folks scrambling"

That was followed the next day, July 3, with a second news story, and a rare column on mass transit by John Cichowski, aka The Road Warrior, who invoked "musical chairs."

"North Jersey commuters faced
with options, none of them great"

"Tune up for musical chairs
 on commute"

In another front-page story on Saturday, Editor Richard A. Green revisited the track repair project after the derailment of an NJ Transit train:

"Work on tracks
begins Monday"

The next day, Sunday, more than half of the front page was covered with two stories on the "difficult underground work" and the "political divisions" behind failures at Penn Station.

The all-caps headline:

"TROUBLE ON THE TRACKS"

The first "Summer of Hell" reference appeared on Monday in the headline over another Cichowski column.

In case you missed that, "Summer of Hell" appears again on Page 1 today in the awkward headline over a Mike Kelly column:

"'Summer of Hell' 
luckily misses that mark"

Equally awkward and just as baffling is the headline over the main news story on today's front page:

"MANY COMMUTES
AVOID THE CHAOS"

Commuters can avoid chaos, but not "commutes." Similarly, "Summer of Hell" can't miss a mark.

On the Local front today, another news story and column pull back from the doomsday predictions that have been running for more than a week:

"IT COULD BE WORSE"

"Buses offer
some value
over trains"

Gannett Co. laid off more than 350 employees at North Jersey Media Group, and that precipitated a decline in accuracy, as well as the quality of writing and editing, headlines and photo captions. 

Clearly, it's readers of The Record that are in for a "Summer of Hell."