Jets Fans Swamp New Jersey Transit for Opening Game at Meadowlands Stadium

Andre Wilkerson has taken the train to every football game in the Meadowlands Sports Complex since New Jersey Transit opened a rail line there last year. It’s never been as overcrowded as it was last night for the New York Jets’ first game at their new stadium, he said.

“I have never seen people not being able to get on trains,” Wilkerson, a 29-year-old Bronx resident who works as a food vendor at games, said as he waited on the platform at Secaucus Junction. “This is not what I expected.”

As the Jets prepared to play their first regular-season National Football League game at the $1.6 billion stadium they share with the New York Giants, New Jersey Transit was trying to deliver about 12,200 passengers to the game -- almost twice what it expected -- as a thunderstorm hit the region.

“That is a record for us at a football game,” New Jersey Transit spokeswoman Penny Bassett-Hackett said in a phone interview. “The storm that came through the area caused some delays.”

Trains to the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey, from the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station 2½ miles away in Secaucus began at 4 p.m. local time, about three hours before the scheduled kickoff. Fans in Jets jerseys drinking beer stood four or five deep at the platform waiting.

It got even more crowded, and trains would come and go without picking up everyone waiting. The 6:01 p.m. train to the Meadowlands, for example, didn’t arrive in Secaucus until 6:07 p.m. and left about a quarter of those waiting on the platform.

“I have been standing here for 20 minutes,” Joseph Villorno, 50, of Manhattan said. “I literally could not get on that last train.”

‘Hot, Disgusting, Crowded’

Eli Shobin, a 22-year-old Manhattan resident, traveled to the game with his father and two friends.

“It’s been very hot, disgusting, crowded and inconvenient,” Shobin said.

At 6:32 p.m., NJ Transit ran an additional train from Secaucus, allowing everyone delayed on the platform access to a train. The service ran smoothly from then on. Tardy fans got lucky when the kickoff was delayed 25 minutes because of lightning.

Jets supporters didn’t have it so smooth when they arrived at the stadium. The Ravens spoiled the opener by winning 10-9 in front of 78,127 people.

The rail line cost $213 million and opened last year for the final season of Giants Stadium, which since has been torn down. Fans can park at Secaucus or transfer from trains that run through New Jersey and New York’s Penn Station. The round-trip fare from Secaucus to the Meadowlands is $4.50. The trip is $7.75 from Penn Station.

The Trip Home

Bassett-Hackett said New Jersey Transit adjusted for the trip home.

“We know that if we carried 12,000 in, we can get 12,000 back,” Bassett-Hackett said. “We will fill all of our trains to capacity on the way back and make any adjustments that we need to make.”

While trains left the Meadowlands about every ten minutes after the game, many of those waiting said that was too long a gap. Fans also complained about the layout of the station, a series of gates that funneled the crowd into an ever-narrowing line.

Albert Lloyd, a 68-year-old retired bus driver from Brooklyn, waited in line for over 75 minutes before finally boarding a train to Secaucus.

“I am disappointed with the entire process,” said Lloyd, who remembers taking public transportation to see the Jets play at the Polo Grounds. “You’d think that with all the money spent on this stadium, there would be a faster, more efficient way to get people home.”

As the 6:59 train carrying Joe Kanter, 50, approached the Meadowlands, green fireworks erupted from the stadium and illuminated the gray northern New Jersey sky, signaling the start of the pregame festivities.

“I could be out there instead of in here,” said Kanter as his three-hour journey from his home on Long Island drew to a close. “Dammit.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New York enovywilliam@bloomberg.net.

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