New Jersey Transit’s Atlantic City Line will be running on a new schedule when it resumes full service early next month. Agency officials say the changes are being made in response to suggestions from the region’s commuters.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced the enhanced schedule yesterday at a transportation convention held in the seaside resort, where train service has been shut down for the past several months to accommodate a statewide safety initiative known as positive train control, or PTC.
Starting May 12, trains will begin running again between Atlantic City and Philadelphia, Murphy said. That’s slightly ahead of the target date NJ Transit announced earlier this year. The schedule will also offer three opportunities to get to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station before 9 a.m., and it will shrink the time between most departures to less than two hours.
“I am proud that we will be delivering more convenient service that meets the day-to-day needs of South Jersey’s commuters,” Murphy said during the event held at the Tropicana hotel and casino.
Princeton Dinky back on track
Meanwhile, Murphy said service on NJ Transit’s Princeton Dinky line, which has also been suspended, will resume on May 12 as well. Both transit updates drew praise yesterday from lawmakers, including those from the Atlantic City area, where the rail shutdown had raised concerns about possible harm to an already fragile regional economy.
But NJ Transit officials said service restoration is still pending for off-peak trains direct to New York City on the Raritan Valley Line.
NJ Transit’s service disruptions began last September, and were instituted to help the agency install PTC safety equipment before a December 31 deadline. Positive train control is a GPS-based system of sensors installed along a stretch of track that can be used to prevent accidents when trains are moving too quickly or having trouble braking. The sensors communicate with onboard equipment in a locomotive that slows or stops the train when necessary.
Murphy, a first-term Democrat, said the PTC project was woefully behind schedule when he took office in early 2018. But NJ Transit ultimately made enough progress after instituting the service changes to qualify for an extension from the Federal Railroad Administration, pushing out the deadline by two years.
Riding the bus
Buses have been used to fill in the gaps along the Atlantic City Line and Princeton Dinky, which connects downtown Princeton with the Princeton Junction train station. The suspension of the Raritan Valley Line’s off-peak direct trains has meant all riders have to transfer at Newark Penn Station, where connecting trains are often subject to delays that impact other lines.
The original announcements from NJ Transit said full service on the suspended lines would occur in “early 2019.” But earlier this year, the agency announced the Atlantic City Line and Princeton Dinky would resume normal service on May 24. Murphy used yesterday’s event to say the date is being pushed up to May 12.
“We know this was an inconvenience to commuters and we thank them for their patience throughout the (PTC) installation and inspection process,” Murphy said.
Even before full service on the Atlantic City Line was suspended to accommodate the PTC effort, local officials had been raising concerns about the line’s schedule because it often had large gaps in service and long wait times between trains. That not only hurt commuters, but it also made it less convenient for tourists heading in the other direction.
NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett, who also spoke during yesterday’s event, said the schedule changes were made in direct response to concerns shared by commuters as NJ Transit officials attended “listening” forums during the service disruption.
“If people wonder, we are listening,” Corbett said. “We really are.”
Scheduled for commuters, tourists
The revised timetables schedule trains to leave from Atlantic City on weekday mornings at 4:19, 5:47, 6:56, 8:27, and 10:18. Murphy suggested that in addition to being more convenient for commuters, the changes should also help the resort’s tourism industry; the enhancements are coming online right before the busy summer season. On weekends, 11 trains will depart Philadelphia for Atlantic City between 6:43 a.m. and 10:51 p.m.
“It’s also about connecting Philadelphia and the eastern part of Pennsylvania’s residents with attractions here in Atlantic City and up and down the entire shore,” he said.
Several local lawmakers praised yesterday’s news after Murphy made the announcement.
“At long last, Atlantic County commuters can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Assemblyman John Armato and Vince Mazzeo (both D-Atlantic) in a joint statement.
But not everyone was happy yesterday, given that the governor’s announcement provided no new information about the Raritan Valley Line’s off-peak direct trains. Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) said he is “extremely disappointed” by the lack of new information for the commuters who are served by that popular line, which sees over 20,000 weekday passenger trips.
“After six months, the Governor should be able to provide us with some kind of answer,” Kean Jr. said.
Reached after Murphy spoke in Atlantic City, NJ Transit spokesman Jim Smith said RVL off-peak direct-train service restoration is “still pending.” He also noted NJ Transit is “working to finalize potential service impacts of upcoming Amtrak work at PSNY (Penn Station New York) this summer.”