Atlantic City Line may not reopen for months after anticipated
It may not be until May or June that the Atlantic City Line is back in service.
Atlantic County Freeholder John Risley was one of 30 county residents who went to NJ Transit’s board meeting on Wednesday night to express frustration that the line still being out of service since September. The line was suspended in September so that NJ Transit could finish installing emergency braking known as positive train control. The line was supposed to reopen after four months.
The bus trip was organized by state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, who was unable to make the trip.
"We were not enamored with what we heard," Risley told New Jersey 101.5. "The earliest we think we'll get any kind of service is possibly by the first week of May. And they kept promising us second quarter (of the year). Of course second quarter can mean June 30 or July 1."
Risley said "staffing issues" and a backlog of locomotive maintenance were blamed by the board for keeping the Atlantic City Line suspended.
The board explained that six locomotive engineer training classes are underway with the first class of 12 potential new engineers scheduled to graduate in late April, according to Risley, who hopes to ensure that those graduates are assigned to the AC Line.
Risely, a Republican from Egg Harbor Township, said the county is suffering economically and the service suspension doesn't help.
"We need this rail line back in business so Atlantic City conventions can be fully booked and people can get back and forth from work between Atlantic City and Philadelphia.
The Atlantic City Line last year had an average daily ridership of less than 2,000 boardings, a number that has been falling every year. The Atlantic City station has less than 600 boardings on an average weekday. Another 490 board in Philadelphia and about 300 board in Lindenwold. By comparison, the River Line between Camden and Trenton had about 9,000 weekday boardings in 2014.
Risley believes NJ Transit's plan for the Atlantic City Line was "badly bungled" and that South Jersey is paying the price for the staffing issues.
"I believe that many of the engineers were sent north to work instead of being retained down here. You have to have people to run the trains," he said.
Riders of the Atlantic City Line spoke to the executive board on Wednesday night.
Bill Ritzler, vice president of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, said its members were frustrated with the lack of a firm date for restoration and the lack of meaningful communication and progress. The ongoing shutdown has strained NJ Transit's credibility, according to Ritzler.
"Tandem with other issues related and unrelated, NJ Transit has succeeded in antagonizing virtually every constituency and stakeholder in the state," Ritzler said.
J.R. Cabrey said he moved to Brigantine because the Atlantic City Line would allow him to easily commute to work in suburban Philadelphia. He suggested some express service with limited stops would have been better than a complete shutdown.
"Not having end-to-end transportation is a real set back for me," Cabrey said.
Elizabeth Schuck said the shutdown has caused her husband, an NJ Transit engineer who was moved north after the shutdown, to live away from home during the week.
"This is not a sustainable way to live for anyone. New Jersey Transit's initial lying about why they were closing this rail line and their continual determination to pile more lies about why they are not reopening the rail line should result in someone being fired," Schuck said.
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, D-Gloucester, said that while it's good that NJ Transit and Amtrak have settled their financial differences, "it is appalling that the governor and New Jersey transit are no closer to reopening the Atlantic City Rail Line, the Princeton Shuttle or the direct Raritan Valley Line,”
“Thousands of New Jersey commuters have been negatively impacted and inconvenienced by the rail line closures. They need and want answers and they deserve respect. There is nothing stopping the governor from directing New Jersey Transit to reopen the rail lines immediately. He should do just that," Greenwald said.
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Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ