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‘This Is A Joke': Commute After Big Game Turns Into Super Headache

NFL, Transit Officials To Review Super Bowl Rail Jam
Super Bowl XLVIII

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Transit and National Football League officials are reviewing what could have been done to avoid the massive train backup in New Jersey after the Super Bowl.

Organizers had dubbed the game the first mass-transit Super Bowl and spent considerable effort urging fans to take trains or buses to the stadium.

PHOTOS: Fans Outside MetLife Stadium

The message apparently took hold, as more than 30,000 people rode the rails between MetLife Stadium and Secaucus Junction on Sunday. That’s double the optimistic pre-game estimates of 15,000.

After Sunday’s game, fans converged on Secaucus Junction for the return trip, clogging the platform as trains loaded and left when full. The agency eventually opened a second platform to accommodate the overflow crowd.

“Look how backed up it is,” said Dave Messick from Seattle. “It’s just a mess still and then you can’t take any cabs any buses, it’s a complete mess.”

It finally took NJ TRANSIT bringing in 20 buses to shuttle fans to the Port Authority terminal in New York City, almost two hours after the game, to eliminate the long delays at the stadium area.

NJ TRANSIT’s John Durso Jr. said Monday that overall it was a “great success,” considering the volume of passengers transported without accident or incident.

“The service plan did accommodate all of our customers,” Durso told WCBS 880 on Monday. “It was all done without incident. NJ TRANSIT was able to set a record last night for ridership and we would look at that as great success.”

Durso said the agency was moving upwards of 13,000 to 14,000 customers per hour and that approximately 1,600 to 1,800 people were put on each train.

When the last train cleared the platform at 12:45 a.m., 32,900 people had been transported by rail and more than 1,100 others taken by bus to Port Authority, Durso said.

Seattle natives Jeff Chapman, 40, and his childhood friend Willie Whitmore, 39, were caught up in the delay and anxious to get home.

“This is a joke,” griped Chapman, an engineer. “We’re not even from here and we could’ve told you this would’ve happened.”

“What do you expect when you don’t give people any other option to get home,” added Whitmore, a project manager. “It’s ridiculous.”

At MetLife, an announcement on the scoreboard asked fans to please stay in the stadium due to congestion at the platform. New Jersey State Police urged fans via Twitter to “enjoy the stadium atmosphere until congestion dissipates.”

Dan Steidl, 27, from Green Bay, Wis., was waiting for 45 minutes with very little movement.

“This is terrible,” he said. “I’m ready to get out of here but I don’t know when that’ll happen.”

Earlier in the day, security was slow at train stations. People trying to reach the stadium were squeezed together in an enclosed stairwell.

One person on Twitter called the boarding process a “disaster” and posted a photo of a sea of fans.

Emergency medical personnel had to treat several people who collapsed when the station became overcrowded. Lines began moving again after a little more than an hour of delays.

“It was kind of a bottleneck,” NJ TRANSIT spokesman William Smith said. “A number of trains arrived at once.”

Once at the stadium, fans had to undergo another airport-style screening at a security perimeter set up 300 feet from the entrances.

By 5:15 p.m., a little more than an hour before kickoff, 80,000 folks had already made it into the stadium. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said it was the earliest arriving Super Bowl crowd in at least 30 years.

NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman said Monday many fans bought rail tickets on the morning of the game and that the high numbers overwhelmed the system.

He says the lesson for next time is to give as much attention to transportation contingencies as to weather contingencies.

NJ TRANSIT executive director James Weinstein says the agency did “an excellent job” moving the crowds, though he says the delays weren’t optimal.

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