Since September, Atlantic City Rail Line riders have been diverted to the bus — the bumpy, traffic-prone bus. So even as installations of federally mandated safety mechanisms near completion, their patience is running thin.
“It’s a bumpy ride, it’s a lot longer ride,” commuter John Braxton said. “Actually, it makes less stops, but it takes longer. A lot of traffic, especially in the evening coming back.”
NJ Transit gave inconvenienced riders a 25 percent discount on their weekly passes and a promise: The installations would be finished by Dec. 31 and the trains would be running again early in 2019.
As the maintenance deadline approaches, officials say that part hasn’t changed.
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“We’re going to make (the deadline to install the safety mechanisms),” Gov. Phil Murphy said last Wednesday at the Trenton Transit Center. “We have no other choice.”
What isn’t certain, though, is when the trains will start running again. Many riders, given NJ Transit’s much-publicized struggles, saw the temporary shutdown as a cover story for a permanent end to the A.C. line.
NJ Transit is “currently evaluating the schedule for restoring regular service to … (the) Atlantic City Rail Line,” spokesman Jim Smith wrote in an emailed response. “We are still intending to restore service as fast as possible following successful meeting of the federally mandated end of year PTC (positive train control) installation deadlines.”
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PTC is technology aimed at stopping trains before human error snowballs, including derailments from excessive speed and train-on-train collisions.
Statewide, he said, 95 percent of PTC installations are complete. In August, prior to work on the Atlantic City line, that figure was estimated at 60 percent.
NJ Transit included “heavy penalties” in its contract with Parsons Corp. should the work blow past the deadline, said NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett.
The Dec. 31 deadline isn’t self-imposed. Congress, in October 2015, extended the deadline mandated in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 for installation of PTC.
Now, less than a month out from the federal deadline, riders are growing more impatient with their makeshift commutes.
At the Absecon rail station Thursday night, Braxton, 57, got off the bus from Lindenwold. He takes the same route every morning from Absecon, then transfers to Philadelphia to get to his job as a contract manager.
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Previously, he’d catch the 4:42 a.m. train. Now, he’s stuck with a bus that stops at inconvenient intervals.
“So basically I have to go to work an hour early or an hour late,” Braxton said.
And on such a long commute, he said, “(The comfort) doesn’t compare.”
Asked whether he believes the trains will run again soon, Braxton scoffed.
“I work in the construction management business,” he said. “So I know the change order is gonna happen; there’s gonna be delays. There’s always delays.”
Since 2006, Caryl Wasiluk, of Brigantine, has taken the train from Atlantic City to Lindenwold for her Cherry Hill job.
When the Atlantic City line shut down in September, she had a choice: take the bus or drive.
“The (bus) times and all just don’t work out for me,” Wasiluk said. “I had a four-hour commute before, and it was going to extend it. ... I just refuse to do that.”
Instead, she drives — about 600 miles a week. It has cut her commute time, but cost her a premium.
“The train was $10.50 a day. The tolls are $7.50 a day, and you’re not getting back and forth 120 miles on $3 worth of gas,” she said. “It’s a lot more expensive.”
More than anything, though, she’s lost something more intangible since the line closed.
“I don’t get my relaxation time. I’m in traffic dodging idiot drivers rather than saying hi to my friends, reading my book, relaxing on my way to work,” Wasiluk said. “I get home, I’m all wound up because I don’t have that down time — that hour to just chill out before I get home — (because) I’m in traffic.”