Almost all the members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation have signed a letter demanding NJ Transit reopen the Atlantic City Rail Line quickly.
“NJ Transit’s lack of communication on fulfilling its promise to finish the rail system upgrades has caused extreme frustration for consumers,” said the letter, organized by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd.
It also said the lack of a rail line is harming the regional economy.
Van Drew said NJ Transit’s “failure to meet its own deadlines and lack of transparency is unacceptable.”
“NJ Transit remains committed to reopening the Atlantic City Rail Line in the second quarter of 2019,” said spokeswoman Nancy Snyder in an email response to questions. “NJT continues to address the continuing shortage of locomotive engineers, as well as equipment availability, as PTC installations, maintenance inspections and testing continues. NJ Transit will communicate updates as new information becomes available,” she wrote.
“It’s embarrassing to have members of Congress calling out a state agency. You wouldn’t think they’d want that,” Van Drew said in an interview Monday.
But he said NJ Transit has been so unresponsive to him, it appears the agency doesn’t care.
“Even people not directly affected signed,” said Van Drew of the NJ Transit letter. “There is a certain level of responsibility required in public service. ... Your word should mean something.”
In addition to Van Drew, the letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr., Albio Sires, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Mikie Sherrill, Josh Gottheimer, Frank Pallone Jr., Donald Norcross, Donald M. Payne Jr., Tom Malinowski and Andy Kim.
The line shut down early last September for installation of federally mandated safety equipment called Positive Train Control. At the time, NJ Transit said its plan was to reopen the line in early 2019.
Then, on Jan. 25, NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett announced the line would be closed until at least the second quarter of 2019.
Gov. Phil Murphy has blamed the Federal Railroad Administration, saying NJ Transit needs its “approval for a reboot” of service to lines that were shut down.
But an FRA spokesperson recently said federal approval is not needed to reopen the Atlantic City line.
Only U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th, is missing from the letter. That’s because it was put together quickly and Van Drew’s staff was not able to reach him in time, said Van Drew.
Smith has, however, signed on to a bill Van Drew has introduced with Florida U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, a Republican, to prohibit or stop seismic air gun testing in the Atlantic Ocean.
The letter acknowledges that NJ Transit has been degraded and was grossly behind schedule in implementing Positive Train Control for safety.
But another five months or longer without train service is not acceptable, Van Drew said.
“New Jersey residents depend heavily on the agency’s rail lines to get to work,” the letter said, “and the lack of reliable service not only negative impacts their daily lives, but also hinders regional economic growth.”