Thursday, June 04, 2009

Public hearings set for southern New Jersey rail proposal

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The Delaware River Port Authority has scheduled four open houses, beginning next week, to explain current plans to provide rail service from Camden, N.J., through Gloucester County, N.J., southeast of Philadelphia and across the authority’s namesake river.

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DRPA last month recommended the use of an active Conrail Shared Assets right-of-way serving the county, which could provide service from Camden to Glassboro, home of Rowan University. The university strongly lobbied for the rail right-of-way choice over two other proposed routes, each of which would have straddled state highways. DRPA’s recommendations for those alternate routes now include enhanced bus service.

Still at issue for the selected rail route is the specific rail mode. DRPA initially entered its study intent on linking any new route to its existing PATCO Hi-Speed line, which employs third-rail rapid transit cars to access central Philadelphia. But the selected route, dubbed “NJ-3” during the study, strongly suggested applying diesel rail equipment, either diesel multiple-unit (DMU) trains or diesel light rail transit (DLRT).

Either diesel option would make direct access to Philadelphia extremely unlikely; passengers instead would transfer at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden if traveling to or from Philadelphia, as passengers on New Jersey Transit’s RiverLINE, a DLRT operation, do at present.

Also still unclear is the planned funding sources and operator(s) to be involved. DRPA, a bistate agency, may not have the political will to advance a New Jersey-based rail extension on its own, and may possibly cede responsibility to NJ Transit. New Jersey, despite its economic crisis, has committed some funds to advance the project, and may opt for a design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM) approach similar to that of the RiverLINE.

Reflecting such uncertainty, DRPA CEO John J. Matheusen said, "We need to hear what the public thinks before plans are finalized.”

The open house meetings, all beginning at 6:30 p.m., will be held at Rutgers University Campus Center, Camden, June 10, at Woodbury High School June 11, at Camden County College in Blackwood June 17, and at Rowan University’s Chamberlain Student Center, in Glassboro, June 18.