ATLANTIC CITY — The Atlantic City Rail Line pulled out of the resort’s terminal Monday just before 7 a.m. with commuters headed for Philadelphia and points along the way.
Those riders — relegated to taking the bus or driving in traffic for the past eight months — were relieved to be back on schedule with their preferred commute.
Colleen Valenzano, who works in Philadelphia, said the shutdown for federally mandated safety mechanisms was a “huge” inconvenience. She was excited to hear the line would be running again.
“I was elated,” said Valenzano, 62, of Brigantine. “But, you know, I had my doubts. ... I’m just hoping it continues.”
Commuters and other rail riders Monday, to and from Atlantic City, expressed relief that their eight-month long headache was over. They spoke of having to get up earlier, get home later and battle traffic and disruptive bus schedules as NJ Transit pushed back the reopening date from the original early-January timeline.
Some said the new schedule, released in April, altered their commute. But everyone expressed relief at the line’s return, including the agency’s head.
“Today, we’ll start rebuilding the ridership,” said Executive Director Kevin Corbett, who gathered with other NJ Transit officials at the terminal Monday to see commuters off.
Jacob Davis, 19, of Ocean City, was riding the line Monday with two friends to Philadelphia to meet up with another friend for a road trip to Montreal.
“It just makes things easier in terms of parking and mobility,” Davis said. “I have friends that live in Philly so (the shutdown) kind of made it hard to go see them.”
But for others, the new schedule, which added two new run times to Philadelphia before noon and axed late night times, has thrown a wrench into their routines.
“I used to ride with a group, and we all work in Philly,” Valenzano said. “We’d take the 6:40 train and it was great. And now they changed it to 6:56, and I’m taking it. The other ladies have decided to take the earlier train.”
George Smith, 61, of Newtonville, takes the line to his job at the John Brooks Recovery Center in Atlantic City on Mondays and Fridays.
“I used to take the 6:30 train. But now it’s 7:17,” Smith said. “So anybody who works at 7:30 is pretty much, you know, screwed. ... It puts me an hour behind schedule for Monday.”
NJ Transit faced intense criticism for its handling of the shutdown. Clear answers regarding the line’s reopening were hard to come by, and riders grew heated at a public meeting with officials. The agency, meanwhile, cited train and engineer shortages for the delay. Some on the train Monday repeated a concern that followed the agency through the shutdown — that the line would remain closed due to comparably thin ridership.
Annual ridership on the line dropped from 1.38 million in 2011 to less than 1 million in 2017, according to NJ Transit. It was down another 4.1% in 2018 before the service was suspended.
“There were a lot of people who were skeptical. They thought there was a conspiracy theory that we were gonna shut it down,” Corbett said. “We wouldn’t have put millions of dollars into all the rehab and the (positive train control) work. But I think a lot of them are really happy now that they see we are back.”
Commuters could grab a cup of coffee at the station’s snack stand courtesy of NJ Transit. “Welcome Back ACRL,” a sign inside read.
Brittany Owens, 30, of Atlantic City said driving to her job for Amtrak at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia over the winter took her an extra 30 to 40 minutes every day. She couldn’t wait to get on the train Monday.
“I was extremely excited,” Owens said. “I got here extra early just because I was that excited I didn’t have to drive anymore.”
And the line’s reopening lined up conveniently with Maria Huynh’s first day of work Monday for the Department of Health in Philadelphia.
“I hate driving, and it’s like an hour if I’m not counting traffic,” said Huynh, 26, of Atlantic City. “(With the train) I can just sit down and relax for a little bit. … I’m just glad that it worked out.”