NJ Transit hosted informal sessions along the Atlantic City rail line Monday for commuters to learn more about the four-month service shutdown between the Jersey Shore resort and Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.
And riders made it clear: They’re not happy with the temporary service halt. Some, like 23-year-old Jenna DeLuca, of Hammonton, are skeptical the line will ever reopen.
“It’s actually a really sad thing. I know there’s talk of the rail line actually being shut down forever,” she said. “A lot of people rely on the rail line to get back and forth from work between Philly and Atlantic City primarily, and the buses are not as reliable.”
DeLuca, who was waiting on a bench at the Lindenwold stop, said she uses the line to go out with friends a few times a month.
“It’s also not as safe for a young person like me, standing on a street corner waiting for a bus,” she said. “It is not comfortable, and it’s not nearly as safe. A lot of young people … rely on these rail lines to get back and forth safely for nights out.”
But NJ Transit officials say that the potential pain of the temporary shutdown is necessary to keep commuters safe in the long-run — and to meet a federally-mandated deadline.
After the Atlantic City line is suspended on Sept. 5, crews will begin installing positive train control or PTC on its tracks and trains. The federal government has mandated that all commuter railroads install the automatic breaking system by Dec. 31.
NJ Transit says the line is expected to be up and running again by Jan. 1. However, internal emails obtained by the Bergen Record and the Philadelphia Inquirer suggest that the move was also prompted by a desire to shift equipment to busier lines in North Jersey.
NJ Transit senior management representatives were on hand for Monday’s sessions — dubbed “we are listening” — to hear from commuters, answer questions, and to provide information about alternative travel options.
At the Lindenwold station, executive director Kevin Corbett explained why the Atlantic City line will be halted when others were not during their PTC installation.
“I came into the job six months ago and, compared to all the other commuter rails and even the freight rails, we were well behind. We were only at 12 percent,” Corbett said. “It is not acceptable. So we’re now up to 60 percent, and that’s taken incredible effort and restructuring to get to the 60.”
Halting train service on the line, he said, will allow the process to move more quickly.
Corbett assured commuters the suspension won’t be permanent.
“We’re investing millions of dollars, and we’re also going to do about 10 miles of rail work,” he said. “So we wouldn’t be putting millions of dollars doing that track upgrade to do the bait and switch. But I get the skepticism.”
Renee Wilson, who has worked at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City for 23 years, said the service suspension will be tough.
“I catch the bus in the morning going, from Lindenwold to Atlantic City. It’s an hour and 40 minutes. The train is 45 minutes,” she said. “I get up at 2:30 in the morning to catch that 440 bus here, so I’m at work on time. Catching a train home is a piece of cake. Hopefully this won’t last long.”
Rose Delvecchio, of Collingswood, takes two trains, the PATCO and the Atlantic City line, to get to her job of 34 years at Bally’s Casino.
She’s worried the service disruption will affect business at the casino.
“You can’t do that because it’s bad for the customers,” she said. “It’s bad for us because we work for casinos, and they’re going to lose business.”
Delvecchio would like to see 24-hour options for those transit customers affected.
“Sometimes, people can’t get home, and there’s no buses here. Only the bus from 554 and that takes two hours, and some people can’t take that,” she said.
Delvecchio says she plans to take the express bus.
“Being a commuter for 20-something years myself — and having suffered a similar kind of rough summer last year as a mini-commuter, having been diverted to Hoboken — I feel their pain,” Corbett said. “Communication certainly allows people to plan better and deal with it. Commuters tend to be a pretty tough group, but if we’re not getting the communication right, we want to hear about that and make sure we get it right.”
NJ Transit hosted forums in Atlantic City and Lindenwold Monday. On Tuesday, it will hold another session for commuters at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.