For weeks, one of the reasons given for the continued shutdown of the Atlantic City Rail Line was that NJ Transit was awaiting review and approval from the Federal Railroad Administration for its application for an “alternative schedule.”
The FRA says that is not true.
“NJ Transit does not need approval from FRA to reinstate commuter rail service on the lines where NJT had voluntarily decided to temporarily reduce or suspend service, including the Atlantic City Line,” an FRA spokesperson said in a statement. “FRA is in the process of reviewing NJT’s proposed alternative schedule and supporting documentation, and FRA will issue its decision in accordance with the statutory 90-day review period.”
NJ Transit said it is indeed waiting for the FRA’s approval, but only to be sure.
“We do not want to bring a service back only to have it become unreliable and to have to adjust it again,” said Nancy Snyder, an NJ Transit spokeswoman.
ATLANTIC CITY — The Atlantic City Rail Line could remain shut down for up to five more months.
Since the line’s early September shutdown for installation of federally mandated safety mechanisms, NJ Transit has said its plan was to reopen the line in early 2019. And after the agency said it completed a critical phase in December, there was hope an announcement of the line’s reopening was imminent.
Then, on Jan. 25, NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett announced the line would be closed until at least the second quarter of 2019.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Phil Murphy put the onus on the FRA, saying NJ Transit needs its “approval for a reboot” of service to lines that were shut down.
Snyder said the FRA’s approval — necessary or not — is not NJ Transit’s only roadblock.
“The FRA approval is one of a number of factors in the overall evaluation of service restoration as the findings may influence how NJ Transit approaches the restoration sequence,” Snyder said. “In addition to the FRA’s approval, NJ Transit continues to address a continuing shortage of locomotive engineers, as well as equipment availability, as Positive Train Control installations, maintenance inspections and testing continues.”
On Jan. 17, Murphy met with 102 trainees hired last year to be locomotive engineers. There are six classes training new hires at the moment, the most in the agency’s history, Murphy’s office said.
Commuters who rode the line before September to as far as Philadelphia were rerouted to buses and given 25 percent discounts on their fare. The discount — previously extended through the end of January — will now be in place until the line is up and running, the agency said.
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said he would make calls to try to get answers, to “hold their feet to the fire.” In early January, he wrote a public letter to Corbett with Assemblyman John Armato asking for a clear start date.
“It seems like right now that NJ Transit is giving us excuses and, quite frankly, lies,” Mazzeo said Tuesday. “Now I’m wondering … is there a bigger issue going on that the Atlantic City Rail Line isn’t going to be running again?”
The revelation that NJ Transit wasn’t beholden to the FRA’s approval felt like another blow to commuters, he said.
“Apparently that wasn’t the truth at all and it has nothing to do with the feds inspecting it,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. The riders are going to be the ones hurting from this.”
Assemblymen Vincent Mazzeo and John Armato are urging NJ Transit to announce when the Atlant…
The statutory 90-day period for the review of NJ Transit’s application ends March 14, a spokesperson said, but the FRA hopes to finish it as soon as possible.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, said the FRA’s clarification raises questions about NJ Transit reliability.
“Again: Are we getting accurate information from NJ Transit?” Van Drew asked. “Of course they told us that (the FRA) was restricting us, that they couldn’t (reopen the line) because of the federal government … and then we found out that, no, that isn’t accurate.”
Many commuters in South Jersey need the line to get to work, so the Atlantic City line should be restored before others, Van Drew said, but “most of all, they need to be told the truth.”