Train passengers have been riding buses instead of the Atlantic City Rail Line since September, while NJ Transit installed mandatory safety features meant to address derailments and other accidents.
As we approach the Dec. 31 deadline for NJ Transit to finish these upgrades, we urge officials to make good on their promise to restore regular service in early 2019.
Many riders, given NJ Transit’s much-publicized struggles, have viewed the temporary shutdown as a ploy to end the A.C. line permanently. A spokesman for NJ Transit recently confirmed that the authority is “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.”
Not only should service be restored at previous levels but NJ Transit should consider adding more. The argument against increasing service has long been that there isn’t enough demand.
The Atlantic City Rail Line has been experiencing a steady decrease in ridership for nearly a decade. In 2011, ridership was just more than 1.38 million. By 2017, annual ridership on the Atlantic City Rail Line fell to less than 1 million, with NJ Transit reporting just 999,346 passengers, a decline of more than 9 percent from 2016. Ridership was down 4.1 percent in 2018 before the service was suspended.
However, that is only part of the equation. If Atlantic City remains isolated — with limited train service, spotty airplane access, only one congested highway between here and Philly, and no easy way to get here from the New York metropolitan area — not as many people will visit, buy vacation homes, relocate or commute. And demand will continue to dwindle.
Other smaller cities within an hour’s drive of a major one have succeeded as bedroom communities, where residents live in a place with lower costs and fewer headaches but can easily travel to higher paying jobs in a bigger place. Towns in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware have SEPTA train routes into Philadelphia that service business people as well as visitors. Many people in North Jersey commute an hour or more into New York City each day on trains and buses.
Imagine if you could live in an affordable beachfront condo in a lively, but manageable, place with lots of amenities — great entertainment, safe places to walk and bike, world-class restaurants — and a comfortable train ride to work in Philly.
As Atlantic City continues to add jobs, build more housing, host more high interest events and open more small businesses, the city, county and state need to work together to ensure that people can easily get here to take advantage of all the region has to offer.