Sunday, March 15, 2009

NJ Transit River Line Gets Money to Grow

When NJ Transit's River Line, a diesel light rail line that connects Trenton and Camden, was being planned, cynics charged that it would be a white elephant; that it would generate minimal usage and that it was being built for political expediency, i.e. to win the support of southern New Jersey legislators for light rail and other transit projects in the north.

Five years after its opening, it has become the little rail line that could, handling 9,000 riders a day and reaching the limits of its capacity. That's something I know about from personal experience, having been left at the Trenton station once because there was no more room on the train. Now, two capital projects, funded with economic stimulus money, are in the works to increase that capacity and expand connectivity, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

"Ridership on the River Line has grown significantly, and we've really maxed out the infrastructure," NJ Transit spokesman Dan Stessel said.

NJ Transit is spending $24 million to upgrade the line's signal system. According to Stessel, this will allow the single-track line to operate an additional express train from Florence to Trenton. The signal upgrade would be a step toward "positive train control" in the future.

Positive train control, which would automatically apply the brakes if an engineer misses a stop signal, must be in use by 2015. That ruling was an outcome of last year's fatal collision between a Metrolink commuter train and Union Pacific freight in Chatsworth, CA. Having positive train control would allow River Line trains to run past 10 p.m., when it now has to cede to the line to Conrail freight trains.

In addition, NJ Transit will spend $40 million on a new station in Pennsauken, where NJ Transit's Atlantic City Line crosses over the River Line. The two level station, which should take 2 1/2 - 3 years to complete, would provide River Line passengers with connections to Atlantic City and Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, a major hub for Amtrak and SEPTA.

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