As a former resident of and frequent visitor to New Bedford, I attended the neighborhood forum hosted by Buddy Andrade a few weeks ago with great interest. The commitment by the speakers to their communities was plain to hear and feel. Their deep appreciation for the history which forged the different parts of New Bedford into the city it is today was an obvious source of pride.
Some felt that pride was not shared by the city’s younger residents. As an amateur urban historian, I sympathized. However, I couldn’t fight the feeling that the younger set most likely dismisses the past because what they really lack is a sense of the future in this great small city. And to reach that destination, no better way points the way forward than the re-inauguration of commuter rail to and from New Bedford.
I realize that commuter rail has long been the subject of debate, speculation and wishful thinking. Yet while much has been written about the economic and even environmental impact of rail, not enough attention has been paid to what I think is the most important aspect of bringing the trains back to New Bedford. It’s what I call the psychology of rail.
After leaving the city almost twenty years ago, I settled on the New Jersey Shore and soon began a career in journalism, the last ten of which have been spent at a publication called the triCityNews. This weekly newspaper practices advocacy journalism in a formerly down on its luck community called Asbury Park, most commonly known as the place where Bruce Springsteen cut his musical teeth.
We positioned ourselves as the champion of this funky, little city and aggressively promoted all that was new and creative within its boundaries. Happily, within the last decade we’ve been able to report on a stunning influx of new residents and businesses. Today, while there is much left to do to complete this city’s comeback it’s once again a place of excitement and vitality.
Our mission was made immeasurably lighter due to one simple fact – Asbury Park boasts a major commuter rail station on the Jersey Coast Line. When we urged people to come, especially from an over-priced Manhattan at the terminus of this route, there existed an easy, convenient and safe means to do so.
The commuting culture made possible by the New Jersey Transit rail system made it possible for so many to move easily from their former careers and lives in New York City and begin new chapters in Asbury Park. What they found was not just a place they could invest into, but an environment in which they could flourish.
Working or playing in New York City is second nature to Jersey Shore residents. Not the least of whom are the young and the restless who hop on a train and have the opportunity to expose themselves to one of the most dynamic and stimulating cities in the world – not unlike Boston. It allows them to be in on, part of and contribute to the hip and the happening. It also allows them to easily avail themselves of the many educational opportunities that Gotham boasts. And yes, it gives them the chance to blow off steam at clubs and concerts – without making unfortunate choices behind the wheel of a car; NJ Transit does the driving.
No education can compensate for the experience of feeling that you have a ticket to ride along with the dialogue of ideas that flow through the nation’s best creative economies, found in cities like New York and Boston. In New Jersey, rail helps the many areas of the state served by commuter rail to share in the wealth of knowledge, as well as the wealth. The conversation which takes place in the greater New York metropolitan area stimulates all the communities within its boundaries. No one is shut out - or told to shut up.
Without the convenient and reliable service of the rails it’s difficult to get talking, however. That’s why New Bedford, five times larger than Asbury Park and possessing a greater wealth of charm…