If you’re a frequent Maplewood, New Jersey train commuter, you’ve probably noticed the foul odor hitting you like a slimy smack in the nose at the far end of the tracks. For a long time commuters have simply put up with it, distracting themselves by focusing on the lovely scatological graffiti awaiting them at the steps.
The source of the odor was discovered a number of years ago, but most people still don’t know the truth, and should be glad. I’m not alone in wishing it had stayed an unsolved mystery, but sharing it with you is not just my job; it’s my duty. Warning: stop reading if you’re eating, pregnant, contemplating eating, tightrope walking, or drunk.
It turns out a substantial curvature in the Maplewood Station train track causes the cars to tilt slightly and spill human sewage from its tanks. As Beavis would say, “”Cool!””
I was unfortunately eating breakfast when I read this in the newspaper last week, and it was tough to continue. I felt light-headed and nauseous. Even my years of diaper-changing desensitization didn’t prepare me for the mental image. I only quietly thanked whoever invented the word “”sewage.”” I don’t want to think of a world without that word.
Maplewood Township Committeeman Vic De Luca told me he thinks the track leans left, which comes as no surprise since the town does as well. I’m not sure why a train’s “”stink tanks”” are positioned so precariously that a slight angle would cause spillage. You’d think this is something they’d want to keep pretty contained. Even Thomas the Tank Engine wears a pull-up, or so I hear.
Robert D. Roe, Maplewood’s Health Officer and no stranger to issues of law and odor, said he contacted New Jersey Transit about the issue, but received the same response as people who call to complain about the lacking plush factor of the seats – none. Roe has vowed to take New Jersey Transit to municipal court where they could be fined up to $500.
NJT probably blows more than $500 on employee donuts every week, so I’m not sure this is a strong motivator, but I like this Roe guy nonetheless. State Assemblyman and Transportation Committee Member Thomas Giblin also said last week he would look into the matter. Inspiring words from a politician.
Apparently, the stink has been with us before. De Luca met with New Jersey Toile—I mean, Transit about the issue on September 10, 2001 when he was mayor. De Luca got them to agree on the installation of a check valve and more frequent tank cleanings. As you can imagine, the next day rearranged everyone’s priorities in a big way.
NJT ultimately made the changes, hoping it would be a permanent fix, but after a long absence of stink, complaints went up sharply this year. “”This is a health hazard,”” De Luca said. “”People do get sick.””
Though we have many differences of opinion in this town, I think we can all stand behind efforts to keep our train tracks clean of human waste. Ah, waste! Another word for sewage. But whenever I think of human waste I think of “”Dancing with the Stars.”” Let’s stick with sewage.
To all the people in charge of keeping sewage where it belongs — first, I hope you’re making more money than I am. Second, let us know how we can help. We can write letters, make phone calls, sign petitions…anything but collect samples.
This is not just a matter of olfactory inconvenience; it’s a matter of personal values. After all, in sewage as in life, it’s important to focus on where we’re going, not on what we’ve left behind.