HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — At a riotous meeting Thursday at the Atlantic City train station, NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said the Atlantic City Rail Line will be operational by June 30 — and a specific date would be available in three weeks.

On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy broke ranks with the person he appointed and said that wasn’t soon enough. He wants an answer this week for both the Atlantic City Rail Line and the Princeton shuttle.

“I would say this with great respect for Kevin’s efforts and his team’s efforts: They can do better,” Murphy said during a news conference in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, on paid sick leave. “(Customers) want clarity. Who can blame them? They are right.”

The line was shut down in September for the installation of federally mandated safety mechanisms, called positive train control. NJ Transit officials said they met their “milestone” for installation in December.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, who organized a bipartisan letter two weeks ago from the state’s congressional representatives demanding a quick reopening of the line, said Murphy’s demand for an established reopening date was a positive development.

“Good. It’s about time,” Van Drew said. “George Helmy, the governor’s chief of staff, had promised me he would give us a date soon.”

Van Drew said he spoke to Helmy a little more than a week ago and asked the governor to step in.

Commuters were repeatedly told the line would be open by the start of 2019, their bus trips to points as far as Philadelphia an unfortunate, but temporary, reality. The agency blames equipment and engineer shortages for the continued closure.

Previously, the agency said it was awaiting approval from the Federal Railroad Administration for an alternative schedule to finish the work. The FRA said NJ Transit is free to restart the trains at any time.

The indefinite closure of their line has made some South Jersey riders skeptical that service will return, given what some say is habitual neglect of their needs in favor of North Jersey lines.

“I know there’s been concern and skepticism that this is a bait-and-switch. It is not,” Corbett said in August, before the line was closed.

In 2017, then Gov.-elect Murphy called NJ Transit a “national disgrace” and vowed to fix it. He commissioned an audit of the agency. Released in October, the audit found the agency low on morale and funds, and suffering from top-heavy management with little strategic planning.

A law passed in December established some oversight measures for the agency, including a South Jersey commuter advisory board and an audit every six years.

Even so, Murphy said the new leadership inherited problems at the agency, and workers have done “hero’s work” to finish the first milestone of installations before the end of 2018.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said he hopes Murphy joining the chorus of those asking for clarity will produce some action on NJ Transit’s part.

“I’m just glad that the governor felt pressure and has jumped into the fight here to save the A.C. Rail Line,” Mazzeo said. “I think that it shows the people of Atlantic City, Atlantic County, have a voice. … We’re gonna still hold NJ Transit’s feet to the fire.”

Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, said the pressure he and Mazzeo put on state officials, through calls and public letters, may have had an effect.

“I can see this only as a good thing,” Armato said. “We do need a specific date, and I think we’re gonna get one.”

Upon taking the head transit agency job and the baggage that came with it, Corbett expressed optimism about the challenges before him.

“You break it down. It’s manageable,” he said. “I oversaw the 9/11 economic development recovery after 9/11 in Manhattan. I remember going down to look at the stock exchange as the buildings were coming down. You knew you had a job to do, and you do it. You break it into parts, you get the right people and you do it.”

Contact: 609-272-7260 cshaw@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressColtShaw

Staff Writer

I cover breaking news on the digital desk. I graduated from Temple University in Dec. 2017 and joined the Press in the fall of 2018. Previously, I freelanced, covering Pennsylvania state politics and criminal justice reform.

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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