The Atlantic City Boardwalk might be the place to be, but it is going to be harder for Philadelphia residents to get there.
NJ Transit has plans to shut down the Atlantic City Line beginning Sept. 4.
The Atlantic City Line transports riders between Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and Atlantic City’s casinos and resorts. In an internal email obtained from USA Today in New Jersey, the shutdown will last five months.
Atlantic City Line takes a hiatus
The shutdown comes amidst a struggle to adequately staff the transit system and work on a federally-mandated Positive Train Control (PTC) project.
The closure of the line will allow the reallocation of assets to deal with shortages of both employees and equipment throughout the state.
The email also shared plans to alter the schedule of the Raritan Valley Line. The line will not operate outside of peak hours. To travel to New York, riders will need to transfer trains at Newark Penn Station.
“We regret the inconvenience this will cause our customers,” said Kevin Corbett, the agency’s executive director, to NorthJersey.com. “As we push to complete PTC installation, I ask for customers’ patience during this process as the end result is a safer railroad for everyone.”
NJ Transit accelerates safety upgrades
Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on modernizing and rebuilding the aging transportation system. The legislature supported the efforts by increasing funding. Unfortunately, years of financial and operational neglect have taken its toll.
The Atlantic City Line, along with all public transportation, has seen a decline in passengers in recent years. In 2016, the train transported 800,000 people. That is a 20 percent decrease from the 1 million riders it reported in 2014. That figure is in line with declines from other lines and bus routes.
It has been a challenging time for New Jersey commuters. NJ Transit has had to cut back on train schedules and replace some train lines with buses to accommodate safety upgrades and staff shortages.
NJ Transit misses key deadlines
The biggest challenge is the requirement to meet a year-end deadline for the installation of the new collision-avoidance system. The federally-mandated deadline of Dec. 31 is fast approaching, and it seems unlikely the agency will meet it.
At the end of 2017, the agency completed only 11 percent of required installations. Even so, NJ Transit assured riders and Congress that it was on schedule to meet the deadline.
The Federal Railroad Administration disagrees. Last month, Ron Batory, administrator for the agency, sent a letter to Corbett. The letter states NJ Transit is in danger of failing to meet its year-end deadline.
Changes to the schedule that began June 4 were designed to speed up the safety project. However, those changes may be too little and too late.
In separate reporting on NorthJersey.com, Corbett testified before the legislature and admitted to being behind schedule. Corbett admits the deadline may be out of reach and the agency may seek an extension from the FRA.
A year riddled with shutdowns and cancellations
Besides the massive PTC project, maintaining staffing levels has been a constant struggle. Experienced workers, specifically engineers, left NJ Transit for greener pastures. The agency has not been able to hire enough employees to fill open jobs.
As a result, trains are canceled, including a dozen last Friday. Equipment and staff are reassigned to more heavily traveled routes to cover the shortfall.
Trains are also temporarily redirected because of signal and rail repairs, as was the case in last year’s schedule change from Midtown to Hoboken Terminal.
Bad news for Atlantic City tourism
All of the explanations of shutdowns, equipment reassignments, and cancelations help explain NJ Transit’s operational troubles. However, it doesn’t help riders get where they need to go. And it certainly doesn’t help Atlantic City’s tourism hopes.
For riders that rely on public transportation, especially the Atlantic City Line, the lack of dependability and consistency can be a hardship.
To help combat the inconvenience, NJ Transit will discount Atlantic City rail passes by 25 percent. The agency will also honor rail tickets on the PATCO rail line and bus route 554.