ATLANTIC CITY — The head of NJ Transit on Monday assured concerned rail riders the upcoming shutdown of the Atlantic City line would not be permanent and that it would reopen by Jan. 1.
“The silver lining is that we will not be shutting down (permanently),” said Kevin Corbett, executive director of NJ Transit, during a news conference at the rail station here.
Corbett said NJ Transit also made sure it included “heavy penalties” in its contract if the work is not completed by a December deadline.
“I know there’s been concern and skepticism that this is a bait and switch. It is not,” Corbett said. “We’re not putting millions of dollars of PTC (positive train control) equipment in only to not start service again.”
The Atlantic City Rail Line, which connects the oceanside resort to Philadelphia, will be temporarily shutdown Sept. 5 for installation of federally mandated safety equipment.
The federal government has given NJ Transit a deadline of Dec. 31 to have PTC equipment installed on all 11 lines.
Corbett, who was appointed to his position in January, said PTC installation across all lines was at just 12 percent at the start of the year. As of Friday, 60 percent of the safety equipment installation was complete, he said. In the decade since Congress passed a law requiring public train lines to have PTC, Corbett said funding and staffing levels at the agency have prevented work from being further along.
“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.”
More than once, Corbett was pressed on the need to completely shut down the Atlantic City line for installation of PTC when no other line in the state or region has been in order to complete the work. Corbett responded that expanded bus service could adequately replace the line temporarily, while that option was not feasible in other parts of the state.
Corbett and other officials from NJ Transit were at the Atlantic City Rail Terminal to meet with commuters and answer their questions ahead of the shutdown. State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, whose office worked with the Governor’s Office and NJ Transit to facilitate the meeting, said the goal was for officials to hear directly from those who would be most impacted.
“It’s important that people are treated with respect and dignity from their government,” Brown said.
Many of the commuters who attended Monday’s public meeting wanted more information about what NJ Transit was doing to replace the shuttered line. NJ Transit officials explained local and express bus service options and provided a revised schedule to each inquiring commuter.
The answers alleviated some concerns from commuters, but a few were still left frustrated.
Caryl Wasiluk, of Brigantine, said she started her job in Cherry Hill in 1996 and moved to her current home in 2006 with the understanding she would use the train for her daily commute. With the exception of minor inconveniences that are to be expected with public transportation, Wasiluk said the train has been safe, affordable and reliable.
Wasiluk said what really bothers her about the shutdown is that NJ Transit will be diverting train cars and crew members to its 10 North Jersey lines during the PTC installation.
“This, I am very upset about,” she said. “Honestly, what this really boils down to is they need the resources to keep North Jersey running smoothly. How does that help us? They’re just forgetting about South Jersey to take care of their North Jersey people.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, said Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti explained the problems to him and that there were not “a whole lot of options.”
“This isn’t North-South,” Sweeney said Monday. “I’d be the first one to jump on a North-South thing. We have to fix the rail line.”