Saturday, January 10, 2009

Expand Along Rail Line, Not Highways, NJ Agency Tells PATCO

The Camden Courier-Post reports that a New Jersey state agency has made an advisory endorsement of an expansion route for the Delaware River Port Authority's (DRPA) PATCO high-speed rail line that would follow an existing Conrail freight line rather than two nearby highways. The Southern New Jersey to Philadelphia Transit Study, which was completed in 2005, identified three potential corridors for expanding PATCO, which now operates the 14-mile, high-speed Lindenwold line between that community and Center City Philadelphia, in the Garden State.

The New Jersey Office of Smart Growth is recommending use of the Conrail freight line because it would ease highway congestion and serve the Gloucester County communities of Woodbury and Glassboro.
The state rejected the high-speed alternatives along routes 42 and 55, Interstate 676 and the Atlantic City Expressway because they promote growth rather than improve the quality of life of existing residential and commercial hubs.
It did not state whether it prefers a heavy rail alternative similar to the existing PATCO line or a light-rail line similar to NJ Transit's River Line, which runs over a Conrail line between Camden and Trenton.

The ultimate decision on which route to follow will in all likelihood be made by DRPA's commissioners, half of whom are from Pennsylvania with the rest from New Jersey. How much influence the Office of Smart Growth has may be influenced by which agency, DRPA or the New Jersey Department of Transportation, actually controls the project.

That will be probably determined by whether the Federal Transit Administration agrees to support the project, which has a $3 billion pricetag. DRPA Chief Executive Officer John J. Matheussen said he expects an answer this spring. If Uncle Sam takes a pass, New Jersey would have to pay the entire cost. If that happens, I suspect the project, which would be extended to Millville along the same rail line in Phase II, would be built as light rail and tie in with the River Line.

About Conrail
Although Conrail ceased to exist as a Class I Railroad in 1998, when its principal routes were acquired by CSX and Norfolk Southern, it provides terminal and switching service for both of those railroads on a network of rail lines radiating out from Pavonia Yard in Camden.

Additional Sources:
PATCO Expansion Study Map
PATCO Southern New Jersey Transit Expansion website

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