Atlantic City rail riders protest line’s temporary shutdown

Business owner Dominic DiIelsi and many other South Jersey residents say they feel blindsided by NJ Transit’s plans to totally shut down their railroad — the Atlantic City Line — for four months, starting Sept. 5. It’s the only line that’s getting completely closed.

“You know, they don’t take people into consideration when they make these decisions,” he said.

“North Jersey has not had ever a complete closure like they’re doing right here on this rail,” said Atlantic City rail rider Don Coleman.

Rail rider and South Jersey Transit Advisory Committee member Ruth Byard said she feels very disrespected by the closure. “I didn’t know about it until I read it in the paper, that they were going to shut it down, so I just think we didn’t have enough information about it,” she said.

40 to 50 rail riders gathered Monday at the Atlantic City terminal for a prearranged Q and A with NJ Transit executives.

“To give all of you and all our ridership and all the families throughout Atlantic County the respect and the dignity that you deserve — to hear firsthand why we have to close our train line for a brief period of time,” said Sen. Chris Brown.

The bottom line: a full shutdown’s the only option NJ Transit has to get its positive train control safety system installed by the federally-mandated Dec. 31 deadline, according to NJ Transit’s executive director, Kevin Corbett.

“In going over it with the contractor, the only way we could make the Dec. 31 deadline — that’s four months from now — was to suspend service,” said Corbett.

“That’s not acceptable to me. I think they can find a way to keep it open,” said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo. “If they do it up in North Jersey — they’re all open and they put the safety systems in. But they can’t do it here? Again, we get the short end of the stick down here in South Jersey.”

PTC gear must be installed along the 60 miles of track that connect Atlantic City to Philadelphia, with several station stops in between. Engineers will shuttle the four locomotives and 16 cars back and forth to rail yards for PTC work. Corbett promised the line will come back in 2019.

“Is it a bait and switch? It is not — we’re not putting millions of dollars of PTC in only not to start service again. Also, we are going to be doing 10 miles of track that needs to be repaired and replaced.”

Bad news: the line’s 1,850 customers will have to take a bus, probably doubling their commuting time and their aggravation.

“Buses? They aren’t worth a hoot in hell,” said Pennsauken rail rider Eileen O’Brien. “To come down on the bus, just now, I don’t know the new schedule — two and a half hours.”

“Who came up with this idea? It makes no sense,” said Pleasantville rider Sarah Chamberlain. “What about us? I’m disabled. I can’t do all that anymore.”

The bus schedule could be tweaked, and train conductors may work as transit liaisons to help riders adjust. But Atlantic City business people worry about losing train service right as two new casinos ramp up, adding 7,000 jobs.

Remember Dominic? He operates a luncheonette right inside the terminal, and now he’ll have to lay people off when it closes.

“It’s kind of a resurgence for Atlantic City — that’s been down here in the news, lately, and it’s kind of working its way back up — and then they just cut their legs out from under them. I don’t understand it,” said DiIelsi.

NJ Transit’s executives will meet with other rail riders at stops along the Atlantic City line today and tomorrow, but the plans to shut this down remain on track.