The plan is simple: Build a new station to link two of southern New Jersey's major commuter rail lines. Toss in a parking lot for good measure.
An accompanying boost for the economy would also be nice.
NJ Transit officials say the $40 million Pennsauken Transit Center linking the Atlantic City Rail Line and the River Line will make it easier for people living in a region with limited train service to cross the state and go to towns up and down the Delaware River by rail. Train passengers said this week they welcome an easier ride, but not all of them want to travel to Atlantic City.
Still, officials in and around Atlantic City see the project as "hopefully more," as in also attracting more visitors to the resort, customers for the gaming halls, students for The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and residential neighborhoods built around accessible mass transit. They're also hoping that a younger generation of people eager to use mass transit will show up and spend money in the region.
"It really provides that foundation to get everybody oriented to transit-oriented development," Gordon Dahl, executive director of the South Jersey Economic Development District, said of the potential benefits of the rail linkup.
Jeffrey Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, is already thinking about how to attract more people to Atlantic City's gaming, entertainment, dining and shopping venues once the lines are linked. He envisions more joint marketing efforts for Atlantic City events with NJ Transit.
"What we need to do is expand the message to include that we're making it easier to get here," he said.
Work on the transit center - which will connect the rail line that runs between Atlantic City and Philadelphia to the one that links Camden and Trenton - began last week. Federal transportation stimulus money will pay about $38 million of the project's cost.
The project should help make the best use of a southern New Jersey commuter rail network that stretches for only slightly more than 100 miles. Commuters in northern New Jersey can travel on more than 600 miles of rail systems.
When completed by the end of 2012, train riders can make one easy transfer between both lines. They'll no longer have to take the PATCO High Speed Line as a connecting venue. In rail lingo, it turns a three-seat ride into a two-seat ride.
The attraction for officials in the Atlantic City region is the people who live along the River Line, which runs through gritty Camden and Trenton and passes through places such as blue-collar Palmyra and historic Roebling and Burlington.
A sampling of River Line riders on Thursday turned up a mix of people who would or wouldn't make the trip to the Atlantic City region once the lines are linked.
Betty Henderson, 73, of Palmyra, said she goes to Atlantic City every couple of weeks with a senior citizen bus trip. She said she and her friends would probably visit the resort more often if the linked rail service proves easy to use.
"My daughter would like it, too," she said.
Darrin Briggs, of Mercer County, uses southern New Jersey rail service to visit Atlantic City about once a week. He likes neither the two-hour travel time nor all the transfers.
"It would certainly make it easier," said Briggs, adding he would consider more trips to Atlantic City.
But not everyone feels the way Briggs and Henderson do.
Enoch Warren, a 32-year-old supermarket worker from Camden, said he's not likely to visit Atlantic City, no matter how easy the trip.
"I don't make that much," he said. "I'm not spending all my money for a train ride to a place where I'll lose the rest of money."
Many passengers who ride the River Line are backpack-laden students traveling to and from Rutgers University in Camden. That situation isn't lost on officials at Stockton.
Stockton Dean of Enrollment Management John Iacovelli said about 70 percent of the college's students live in southern New Jersey. While an easier rail network won't be a primary recruiting tool, he acknowledged that its existence makes it easier for young people living in the region to make choices that include "using our services."
"How much easier would it be for students who live along those (rail) lines when it will all be connected?" he wondered. "The simplicity of being able to make the transfer."
Stockton in part picked Hammonton as the site for a branch campus because it has an Atlantic City Rail Line stop, Iacovelli said. A shuttle at Stockton's main campus in Galloway Township already transports students to and from the rail line's Absecon station, he said, although the shuttle doesn't run on a regular basis.
"The growth stage of that is already in place," he said of Stockton taking advantage of the rail lines.
Dahl said the Pennsauken project could also affect some development in Atlantic County, such as the proposed transportation hub planned around Egg Harbor City's Atlantic City Rail Line station.
That project has already received more than $600,000 in federal and state funds for work that includes a parking lot, bus cut outs and landscaping. Egg Harbor City officials hope it will one day have a parking garage and an upgraded train station complete with a newsstand or coffee shop.
Planners hope the hub project will create "transit-oriented development," including residential neighborhoods for people who want to use mass transit, Dahl said.
"If those people move here, they know they can not only take the train to Philadelphia, but to just about anywhere," he said.
Contact Thomas Barlas:
Pennsauken Transit Center
The $40 million project links NJ Transit's River Line and Atlantic City Rail Line.
The first phase includes construction of a 200-foot-long platform and 60-foot-long canopy for the River Line. Work also includes security systems, ticket vending machines, grading, drainage, lighting and public art. Work on this phase is under way.
The second phase, on which work is set to begin in 2011, includes construction of two 300-foot-long, high-level platforms on both sides of the Atlantic City Rail Line, along with stairs and elevators connecting it with the River Line platform.
The second phase also includes a 280-space parking lot, passenger communications systems, ticket vending machines and road, curb and lighting work.
Completion is scheduled for late in 2012.
Source: NJ Transit