Monday, July 20, 2009

Light rail chosen for eastern Bergen County, N.J., service

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New Jersey officials, led by Gov. Jon Corzine, Saturday announced that light rail transit was the preferred rail option to serve the CSX Northern Branch, traversing the eastern portion of Bergen County, New Jersey’s most populous county.

NJT Executive Director Rich Sarles, participating in the press conference held Saturday in Ridgefield, N.J., to announce the decision, said preliminary engineering could begin in 2010, with groundbreaking in 2011, and revenue service beginning in 2014.

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The decision in effect extends the existing Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit (HBLRT) line north 11 miles from its current terminus in North Bergen (Hudson County), N.J., to Tenafly, in Bergen County, making the HBLRT moniker more accurate.

The move also reverses efforts by many to implement a diesel multiple-unit (DMU) shuttle service on the 11-mile stretch, with passengers transferring to and from existing HBLRT operations (shown at left). The DMU proposal itself was advanced beginning in 2003; prior to that, New Jersey Transit had given strong indications that it would extend light rail into Bergen County.

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CSX currently operates a light freight schedule on the Northern Branch, cited by some to justify the DMU option to comply with Federal Railroad Administration safety regulations. LRT proponents countered that temporal separation measures, such as those used within New Jersey by both Newark Light Rail and RiverLINE diesel light rail transit operations, could be used equally effectively to address safety concerns.

New Jersey Transit says it has submitted a revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement to the Federal Transit Administration for approval for public release, expected shortly. Public hearings on the DEIS are scheduled to be held in Northern Branch communities this fall. Those communities include Ridgefield, Palisades Park, Leonia, Englewood, and Tenafly.