South Jersey residents have been known to talk about seceding from the state because of the lousy treatment the south gets from the north. The latest gripe is over the shutdown of the Atlantic City Rail Line and lack of information about when trains will begin running again.
The rail line stopped carrying its roughly 2,000 daily passengers from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station to Atlantic City on Sept. 5. The operator, NJ Transit, took the line out of service so it could install equipment for Positive Train Control, a system that ensures trains travel at safe speeds. The lack of PTC has been partly blamed for the deadly 2015 Amtrak train derailment that killed eight people.
There’s no doubt that this technology is an important and efficient safety feature, but NJ Transit’s lack of further action since completing work on the line a few weeks ago is anything but efficient. Without the Atlantic City train, regular commuters have been taking buses, which get stuck in traffic, making the ride unpredictable and time consuming. Adding to the frustration is the fact that the transit agency is using the Atlantic City line’s staff and equipment to service passengers using its North Jersey trains.
Worse, NJ Transit can’t tell South Jersey commuters and politicians when the line will start running again, although it promises that it is working to get the line running as soon as possible. It should be noted that NJ Transit is trying to make up for years of neglect during former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. For example, in the nine years since the federal government ordered PTC installed on 440 cars and engines, the agency has only installed it on 35.
But there is no reasonable explanation for why the Atlantic City line has had to stay shut down after repairs were completed.
This latest act of indifference highlights the fact that the state has long neglected South Jersey’s mass transit needs. There are no restricted lanes for high-speed buses on such major highways as I-295 or the Atlantic City Expressway, no word on whether the rail line would be connected to the Atlantic City Airport even though that makes perfect sense, and no indication that the schedule for the Atlantic City rail line will ever be full enough to make the rail line a viable option for more east-west commuters.
Mass transit takes cars off the road, which reduces traffic and air pollution. It gives employers access to a wider workforce and more employment options for workers. And, there is an appetite for mass transit in the south. In 2015, about 10.4 million South Jersey commuters used the PATCO high speed line; in 2017, the number rose to 10.8 million.