Football fans taking the train to what was billed as the first “Mass Transit Super Bowl” were met with wall-to-wall crowds, stifling heat at a key station, and long waits to buy a ticket and board a train.
But New Jersey Transit officials, who said they set a new ridership record — 22,000 — Sunday, insisted that everything was going according to plan, and that they had the situation under control.
Not so, said some frustrated fans, who spent several hours trying to complete what is usually about a 30-minute train trip from Penn Station to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Complicating their travels was heavy security screening at Secaucus Junction, where fans had to present a Super Bowl ticket to board a shuttle train to the Meadowlands.
“Utter and complete failure,” said Jessica Carlson, 28, of Seattle, as she boarded the train in Secaucus for the final leg. She said if the stadium wanted to host World Cup soccer or the Olympics in the future “they better get their act together.”
She said she was standing for 45 minutes in a corridor with no air moving.
“I can’t believe it took us three hours to get here,” said Shawn Meineke, 37, of Vail, Colo., who traveled from Edison, N.J. He joked that the motto should’ve been: “Don’t use mass transit — walk.”
The Associated Press reported that several people collapsed in the Secaucus Junction station and that emergency medical workers had to push through the crowds to treat overheated fans.
But NJ Transit spokesman John Durso said he could not confirm any such incident, and that there were no official reports of any medical response being required.
Durso said that earlier Sunday transit officials did provide water to some customers complaining about the heat inside the stuffy station. He noted that some customers were wearing heavy winter coats. Responding to angry fans on Twitter, NJ Transit said it had the air conditioning inside the station “cranked to full blast.”
Despite the 22,000 riders boarding trains at Secaucus by 4 p.m. — already accounting more than a quarter of all the expected Super Bowl attendees — Durso said NJ Transit was not caught off guard and was equipped to handle the record number of riders. By about 4:30 p.m., the crowds had thinned somewhat since their peak, said Durso, who added that the crowding earlier in the day was made worse by many fans arriving at Secaucus by 11 a.m. — two and a half hours before the first shuttle train to MetLife Stadium was set to depart. Durso said NJ Transit could not operate trains to the game earlier because the stadium gates were not set to open until 2 p.m.
“It’s very, very heavy travel to the Super Bowl, but it’s all part of the plan,” said Durso, speaking from a security post at Secaucus Station. "It is packed, but it is orderly and it is moving . . . We have the capacity for it and the trains for it."
When the transit riders arrived at the stadium, they were met with more long lines to go through airport security-like screenings as well. attendees were allowed to take only clear plastic bags into the game.
Mike Battocchi, 27, of Pittsburgh, complained the long lines were “ridiculous.”mA few years ago, he said he was able to drive up to the stadium when Tampa Bay hosted the Super Bowl.Still, some passengers met the wait with a shrug. Erin Thompson, 38, of Seattle, joked to her husband Glenn: "Well, we have a few hours" as they stood in line about 2 pm.
Rich Armbruster, 52, of Lindenhurst, noticed the crowd was mellower than a typical New York throng. “Must be a West thing,” he said at Penn Station.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said their expectation that relatively few fans would ride the Long Island Rail Road today en routeto the Super Bowl was borne out. Most of the activity was from people transferring from subways to the NJ Transit system.