Rail service to Atlantic City and Princeton resumed Sunday, more than six months after NJ Transit shut down the lines to deal with personnel and equipment shortages elsewhere in the state.
Dinky service in Princeton, suspended since October, will remain largely the same. But riders on the Atlantic City line will see some differences.
South Jersey commuters will now have five trains to choose from that arrive in Philadelphia before noon, up from three before the closure in September.
“This was overwhelmingly the most common request we heard from our customers” during a listening tour in recent months, Nancy Snyder, an NJ Transit spokeswoman, said in an email.
However, riders will lose a late-night train that previously left Atlantic City at either 12:43 a.m. or 1:53 a.m. The latest train from the resort will now leave at 10:44 p.m. on weekdays and weekends.
Snyder said those trains were the least used, with an average ridership of fewer than 40 passengers. NJ Transit will still provide late-night bus service that parallels the train route, she noted.
But the changes have rankled some in the region, who say the change could make it harder for casino workers and those hoping to enjoy the city’s nightlife to get home.
“Why do we have to give up one for the other?” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a Democrat who represents the South Jersey Shore. “I’m glad that they added the one in the morning, but we still do need the one at night, and that certainly would make things better.”
State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said he was pleased the line was restarting before Memorial Day. But he criticized NJ Transit for not following the recommendations of a 2014 report that said the line could grow ridership and revenue if service were expanded.
“It’s unbelievable to me NJ Transit would pay over $700,000 for an expert plan to increase ridership, only to do the opposite by reducing evening service and then wonder why fewer people are riding the train,” he said in a statement.
NJ Transit, though, is beset with financial, equipment and personnel problems that have caused riders to endure the frequent inconvenience of canceled, late and overcrowded trains.
Service on the Atlantic City and Princeton lines was suspended last year as the agency diverted engineers and train cars to meet a federally mandated deadline to install positive train control, a safety system.
NJ Transit officials originally said the lines would reopen in January but later pushed back that date.
Implementation of positive train control is ongoing. So is a staffing crunch caused by too few locomotive engineers.
In addition, NJ Transit continues to rely on money raided from its capital budget — meant to pay for buses, rail cars and major improvements — to cover its day-to-day operations.
The administration of Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has taken steps to address those issues by increasing state funding for the agency and training new engineers, but the governor has acknowledged it will take months — if not years — to turn the agency around.