AC RAIL LINE

Passengers board a 2:45 p.m. NJ Transit train out of Atlantic City Friday.

Passengers using the commuter rail line between Atlantic City and Philadelphia sometimes have to endure long waits between trains. Now, a consultant for NJ Transit, the rail line's operator, is recommending service be increased to about one train per hour to boost ridership. Currently, only 12 trains per day run in each direction, with some wait times stretching to more than two hours in the morning, afternoon and night.

The consultant, LTK Engineering Services, is also calling for the construction of a new train station in the Pomona section of Galloway Township to increase ridership. The station would connect the rail line with the nearby Atlantic City International Airport.

The Pomona station, estimated to cost $25 million to $30 million, has been talked about for years. Kevin Rehmann, a spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, said the station remains in the conceptual phase and lacks the funding.

Still, transportation officials believe the project would generate more passengers for both the rail line and the airport.

"It would make it an easy way to travel for those who want to take public transportation to the airport," said Rehmann, whose agency owns Atlantic City International.

The Atlantic City rail line includes local stops in Absecon, Egg Harbor City, Hammonton, Atco, Lindenwold and Cherry Hill, while continuing on to Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.

On weekdays, the Atlantic City-Philadelphia service averages 3,450 riders, according to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. The rail line costs $22.9 million annually to operate. Fare revenue pays for just 22 percent of the Atlantic City line's operating cost, compared with the 45 percent average for NJ Transit rail service systemwide, agency spokesman John Durso said.

Despite the rail line's spotty financial performance, NJ Transit believes the Atlantic City-Philadelphia corridor is an important transportation link for southern New Jersey.

"The impact to South Jersey cannot be measured in dollars and cents," Durso said. "This is about serving the communities of South Jersey with critical transportation."

LTK Engineering, in a draft report circulated by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, estimates ridership would nearly double to 6,760 passengers per day if NJ Transit increased service to 20 round trips daily. Ridership could grow to 8,780 daily if the Pomona train station near the airport is built, the consultant says.

An expansion of rail service would not come cheaply, and money is not available.

"(NJ Transit's) current five-year capital plan is fully subscribed and does not include Atlantic City line expansion," LTK reported.

LTK estimates it would cost $216 million for the locomotives, passenger cars and track and station upgrades to run 20 round trips per day. In addition, the rail line's annual operating cost would increase from $22.9 million to $29.4 million for expanded service.

NJ Transit, however, believes the current level of service meets existing demand, Durso said. He added that schedules are "consistently updated" to reflect ridership trends.

"It is important to note that NJ Transit is providing a ride for every customer who wants one, and is operating service which specifically meets existing customer demand - not only along the Atlantic City line, but across our entire system. Our schedules reflect this reality," Durso said in a statement.

NJ Transit is hoping that a newly opened $40 million train station in Pennsauken will generate more traffic for the Atlantic City line. The Pennsauken station has established a new link between the Atlantic City rail corridor and the River Line that runs along the Delaware River to Trenton.

Durso said NJ Transit estimates the Pennsauken station will produce an extra 530 customers each weekday for the Atlantic City rail line within two years. NJ Transit is in the midst of a marketing campaign to promote the new link between the Atlantic City and River Line corridors.

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission characterizes the Pennsauken station as a key part of the region's transportation network. In a new report, the commission says the project has the potential to "reshape travel patterns" by funneling riders to their jobs and recreational sites throughout South Jersey.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

609-272-7258

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