The Atlantic City Rail Line will cease its service on Sept. 5. Now, NJ Transit officials are reassuring passengers that the soon-to-be-closed route will only stay inactive temporarily.
“(W)e will not be shutting down (permanently),” said NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett.
Corbett’s statement came during a press conference at the Atlantic City station. Since the rail authority announced the closure, there have been numerous expressions of anger and confusion from the public.
“This is so typical of NJ Transit,” Janet Mitrocsak told Press of Atlantic City. “They favor North Jersey and South Jersey doesn’t seem to matter to them. This whole plan makes no sense.”
Other riders echoed Mitrocsak’s statements. Several passengers expressed concern that the plan would lead to the closure of the route on a permanent basis. However, Corbett disagreed with those assessments due to the financial realities of the plan.
“We’re not putting millions of dollars of PTC (positive train control) equipment in only to not start service again,” he said.
NJ Transit closing line to comply with federal standards
Corbett’s reference to positive train control is at the heart of the closure. Federal regulators have established a Dec. 31 deadline for rail management to install PTC on its 11 lines of service.
Positive train control is a federally-mandated safety system that serves to automatically stop a train in certain situations. According to Union Pacific, these sorts of situations include:
- Collisions between two trains
- Train derailment due to speed
- Trains switched to the wrong set of rails
- Trains entering restricted work zones
The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires all public railroads to maintain a positive train control system. The act has had two subsequent amendments that have sustained and strengthened this requirement.
However, funding issues have prevented NJ Transit from complying with the law a decade after its passage. Corbett mentioned his surprise at the low levels of budgeting and staffing when he came to the authority in January 2018.
“The agency was more hollowed out than I knew,” he said. “I had no idea until I got in how drastic it was … We weren’t given the resources or the tools.”
Corbett said that only 12 percent of the authority’s lines had PTC back then. Since then, he says the percentage has risen to 60 percent.
The executive director also said that he expects the Atlantic City line to reopen by Jan. 1, 2019, due to the way the agency structured its vendor contracts for the PTC installation. However, he stressed the need for NJ Transit to hear out its customer base on such a controversial issue.
The closure is a body blow to Atlantic City recovery
The cessation of service for the Atlantic City Rail Line is not what America’s Playground needs right now. The rail line is a major route of transportation between Atlantic City and Philadelphia.
Many riders expressed disappointment about having to find transportation to the City of Brotherly Love. Some Atlantic City residents use the train as their method to commute to work.
“I don’t want to drive, and the bus is much slower,” said Walt Elliott, a 69-year-old computer programmer. “I’m disappointed, but I know I can’t do anything about it. I don’t know how I’ll adjust yet.”
One group that has yet to speak is the resurgent gambling industry that is thriving at Atlantic City casinos. The combination of two casino openings and the arrival of legalized NJ sports betting has generated excitement for the city for the first time in years.
However, two of those locations reopened as Hard Rock Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino this summer, and a third is working as a non-gaming property. Sports betting is in six Atlantic City properties. The last thing that anyone wants is to shut a channel of traffic to the city.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a safety issue involved, and train derailments rarely end in a benign manner.
“I know there’s been concern and skepticism that this is a bait and switch,” Corbett said. “It is not.”