Train of thought: Why Super Bowl can return to Meadowlands

Kirkos: Creating more transportation options (and more reasons to stay in N.J.) would prevent repeat of postgame train tie-up that marred Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014

MetLife Stadium could be key to bigger and bigger events in the Meadowlands.

About that nightmare train scenario that took place after the first (and only) Super Bowl to be held in the Meadowlands, in February 2014 … the one that had some people waiting more than three hours to get back to the Secaucus transfer station … the one that supposedly would prevent the Super Bowl from every returning.

Jim Kirkos remembers it a little differently.

And he’s happy to explain why it won’t necessarily prohibit a big event such as another Super Bowl — or the 2026 World Cup final — from coming to MetLife Stadium.

To be clear: Kirkos, the longtime head of the Meadowlands Chamber, remembers the near-riot conditions after the game due to the long waits for trains.

The issue, however, wasn’t as much of an infrastructure problem as it was an organizational issue, he said. Simply put, too many people came to the big game by train.

“The train is intended to serve 10,000-12,000 people per hour, and that’s exactly what it did,” Kirkos said. “The reason it took three hours is because there were 35,000 waiting for the train.”

The reason there were 35,000 people is because game officials miscalculated how many people would get to the game by train. Among other things, a bus plan to bring people from Manhattan proved to be cost-prohibitive (compared to the train), so few people used it.

Moving forward, putting more transportation options in place is just as important as getting the proper infrastructure in place, Kirkos said.

“Think about it; we don’t have that problem after Giants and Jets games — and it’s the exact same size crowd,” he said.

Like everyone else, Kirkos would love to have a looped track from Secaucus to the Meadowlands (which would allow for more hourly trains), but there are steps that can be taken now — and are being taken now.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation (led by Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti) is working with Kansas City-based engineering firm HNTB on a bus rapid transit plan that would allow hundreds of buses to get back and forth from the stadium to the Secaucus Station on designated lanes — lanes that one day could be used for a monorail track.

Then there’s this: Later this week, Kirkos will add greater depth to the discussion of bringing a convention center (and more hotels) to the Meadowlands.

“That would lead to a lot more people staying in New Jersey,” he said. “That needs to be part of the plan. We need to sell the state better — so people do not feel like they have to stay in New York City when they come here for big events.”

The next big event is just three years away.

The Meadowlands and MetLife Stadium already know it is getting multiple games in the 2026 World Cup — whether it is getting the final won’t be known until the fall.

The state certainly is pushing for it. Having a bus rapid transit system in place — as is expected — will only help the state make the case.

As for another Super Bowl? The state has plenty of time. The next two games already have been awarded (Las Vegas in 2024 and New Orleans in 2025). Pulling off successful World Cup events in 2026 can only help.

Kirkos is confident the Meadowlands will do just that.

“We had all the big ones: The World Cup in 1994, the Super Bowl, two WrestleManias,” he said. “We learned a lot of lessons.”

Especially during the infamous postgame meltdown of transit.

“Everyone remembers the nightmare,” Kirkos said.

It is one, he said, that doesn’t need to be repeated.

“We’ve got to do a better job at keeping people in New Jersey,” he said. “If we do that, then the transportation piece will be spread out over multiple methods.

“If we can do that. If we can spread the people out, then we’re not going to have that kind of problem again.”