NJ Transit says it is ready for World Cup fans
Agency was pilloried for its performance after the 2014 Super Bowl
One transit advocate said she needs to see more urgency from state lawmakers to ensure the lights will be kept on at NJ Transit, let alone make it ready to handle World Cup fans. (Courtesy of NJ Transit)
NJ Transit officials say they are confident that the transit agency is up to the task of ferrying soccer fans to and from MetLife Stadium in 2026 when the World Cup comes to East Rutherford.
“We look forward to not only delivering a seamless transportation for fans from around the globe, but we want everyone to know that the fan experience will begin as soon as they board their NJ Transit train or bus,” said Kevin Corbett, president and CEO of the transit agency.
NJ Transit spokesman Jim Smith defended the transit agency’s success in delivering “flawless transportation for several of the most high-profile MetLife concerts and sporting events just this past year alone.” Corbett pointed to recent Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and Ed Sheeran concerts, the Army-Navy game, and the hundreds of thousands of Giants and Jets fans who visit the stadium regularly.
FIFA, the soccer world’s governing body, announced in 2022 that eight 2026 World Cup matches will be hosted at MetLife, and on Sunday it said MetLife would be the site of the final match, a major coup for Gov. Phil Murphy, who along with New York City Mayor Eric Adams lobbied FIFA to choose East Rutherford as home for the final.
NJ Transit is no stranger to criticism from both daily commuters and people who rely on it for special events. At the 2014 Super Bowl, NJ Transit saw overcrowding and hours of delays despite millions dedicated to improving infrastructure around the stadium. Officials held legislative hearings into the failures. In 2019, after WWE’s Wrestlemania 35, fans waited hours in the rain for trains, which the transit agency blamed on the event’s delayed ending time.
At the time, Murphy told reporters that that NJ Transit’s performance was unacceptable, adding that “we’re going to learn from this. I’ll be damned if it ever happens again.”
Transit advocate Zoe Baldwin said the preparation for 2026’s event hinges on funding mass transit. She said she hopes the World Cup sparks policymakers to modernize and better fund the cash-strapped agency.
“Leading up to it, people are going to want to see really tangible, very detailed and strategic plans to make sure that we can move the volume of people,” said Baldwin, New Jersey director for the Regional Plan Association. “And we’re going to need funding for extra service — we need to make sure the agency has the funding to do all that.”
Sen. Joe Diegnan (D-Middlesex) is chair of the chamber’s transportation committee. He said the Legislature is weighing different solutions to the agency’s revenue problem, but declined to comment on specifics. Senate President Nick Scutari last year noted that the corporate business tax surcharge — a tax on the state’s most profitable businesses — could provide funding for NJ Transit, a move that has not gained the backing of Gov. Murphy and other top Democrats. The surcharge, opposed by business leaders, expired last year.
Baldwin said she needs to see more urgency from state lawmakers to ensure the lights will be kept on at NJ Transit, let alone make it ready to handle World Cup fans.
“There hasn’t been a meaningful effort from Trenton. Everything that they’ve said so far, that they’re going to wait until next year to even think about this problem — this is a really valuable year where we could be doing all the work necessary, ” she said.
There is a rail line that stops at the Meadowlands near MetLife, but it only moves about 10,000 people an hour. MetLife has about 82,000 seats.
One improvement NJ Transit is working on is the Secaucus Meadowlands Transitway, which will transport people the seven miles between Secaucus train station and MetLife stadium.
NJ Transit’s board of directors approved a $34.9 million contract for the final design of the transitway during a July meeting, according to NJ.com. The system is intended to move up to 12,000 people per hour and would include bike and pedestrian trails, NJ.com also reported.
Construction is likely to begin soon, and is expected to be completed by early 2025 — “well in advance of the first match at MetLife,” said Smith. The selection process for a construction contractor will be determined as the project advances, he added.
Diegnan believes entrusting New Jersey as the host of the World Cup means FIFA officials studied the region’s transit infrastructure and believe it will function properly. He noted there will likely be challenges, particularly signs for people who don’t speak English and might be accustomed to different kinds of public transit.
“It’s a little confusing up there. It’s a little scary. I can imagine if you’re coming from another country, it’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “But the powers that be have to have realized that an essential aspect of this is going to be that we’re transporting folks.”
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