“You know this is the Bayonne-bound train, right?” I turned to the middle-aged woman seated next to me on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in Jersey City. She repeated her question and I nodded, assuring her I was on the correct rail. She looked at me for another moment and chuckled before turning back to her phone.
What was ahead? Minutes before, there was a Jersey City skyline and hustle of the Hoboken transit hub, and I remember hopping on the Light Rail after a long jaunt through Liberty State Park, which had charmed me with wide green fields, views of Manhattan and an abandoned train terminal.
As our rail car progressed south, we passed through transit yards, warehouse districts and tree-lined corridors. We traveled alongside the freeway and stopped for the occasional red light in residential areas. I watched my fellow passengers as we rode, noting families, groups of teens and individuals making the trek to work. Some boarded with bicycles, which are allowed on weekends and weekdays during off-peak hours. The ride was smooth and the car clean and modern in the style of a European tram.
When we reached the end of the line at Bayonne and I descended the stairs out of the station, the streets were nearly deserted. A commercial street dotted with dive joints and fast food restaurants ran perpendicular to crowded residential roads, the houses connected by thick bundles of wire that hung between electrical poles. This was a place people left—not visited—via the light rail. Which was the case in areas surrounding many of the other light rail stations, though Martin Luther King Drive station yielded the interesting Bergen Hill district with a stone church and colored rowhouses. The Port Imperial stop afforded access to the historic Weehawken, where Henry Hudson dropped anchor and the Burr-Hamilton duel took place.
The rail saves itself as a worthy destination-connector with Hoboken and Liberty State Park, the former having several stops along the mile that makes up the city limits. The main Hoboken terminal offers easy access to the waterfront or Washington Street, where you will find goodies like the ever-crowded Carlo’s Bake Shop and a wide array of stores, restaurants and bars.
Liberty State Park is also worth a visit for an afternoon or even an entire day. While the walk to the water is long, it takes you past the kid-friendly Liberty Science Center, wooded areas, marinas, a restaurant and gardens before dropping you at the boardwalk and the now-defunct Central Railroad of New Jersey terminal. Ferries also run from Liberty State Park to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
At the very least, the path of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail proved the diversity of the state of New Jersey. Though the savvy traveler might be tempted to hop on and off in the 90-minute riding time between 5a.m. and 1a.m. the $2.10 ticket allows, most riders will find those minutes put to much better use exploring the ins and outs of the light rail’s highlights.
How to get there: Take the PATH train to Hoboken, Newport or Exchange Place.