Thursday, January 19, 2012

South Jersey Rail Assets

Now entering the third part of this series, I'd like to focus on South Jersey's underutilized rail assets. Where I am going is looking at what it will take to provide a complete commuter rail network throughout the Philadelphia area, and unlike Pennsylvania, South Jersey is woefully underserved, home to only the Atlantic City Line, which is an intercity service; the PATCO Speedline, which provides local service to Lindenwold; and the River Line, a light-rail commuter-rail thingamabob utilizing Stadler GTWs (a diesel variant of the Flirt). A substantial amount of South Jersey is thus rendered car-dependent.

It wasn't always like this. Like the rest of the Northeast, South Jersey was once thick with rails. It still is. Most of those rails have, however, long been converted to freight spurs, and routes which weren't but have passenger potential rail-trails. In a few cases rails were removed entirely, but the easements remain. At one point, a large commuter rail network converged on Camden, across the river, much like it still does in Hoboken today.

So the point of this post is, like the past two, to survey South Jersey's available rail assets.

We begin with the River Line and work our way, again, clockwise inasmuch is possible.

1. The River Line extends along the Delaware between Camden and Trenton, and is, as referenced, a cross between a light rail line and commuter rail. (Call it Dallas-style light rail.) It currently functions with an FRA waiver. In the long term, as other commuter rail resources fill in around Camden, it may need to be broken up, with the core line running as commuter rail and the edges light rail in Camden and Trenton.

2. A Trenton Branch of the Reading appears to wind along the path shown on the map between Trenton and West Trenton railroad stations. Conversion of this route into light rail would be welcomed.

3. At Bordentown the former Camden & Amboy main splits off from the River Line, which utilizes its Trenton Branch. Like the former Pennsylvania and Reading (Central of New Jersey) mains further to the north, can it be cross-utilized between the three commute markets? If so, the fare union should extend between Burlington and South Amboy.

4. The Atlantic Division is a former division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, running from Camden through Mt. Holly due east. It originally extended to Bay Head; the former right-of-way east of Ocean Gate--thankfully, a natural terminus--has been wiped out.

On the New York end of things, a service restoration should be considered along the former CNJ line from Red Bank to Toms River--possibly even as far as Barnegat.

5. What I am calling the Fort Dix Branch is the remnants of a cutoff between the Camden & Amboy main and the Atlantic Division; the route in use extends north from Pemberton to Ft. Dix and New Egypt.

6. The Clementon Branch is one of two lines between Camden and Atlantic City. The former Atlantic City R.R. main line, it was phased out in favor of the more northerly line. However, seeing as that line is occupied by heavy rail and intercity service, a Camden-Hammonton commuter service would be better off using this line.

7. The PATCO Speedline follows the former Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines (PRSL) main line to Lindenwold; the Atlantic City Line (ACL) follows it from Atlantic City to the Delair Cutoff (which takes it across the river). Service from Philadelphia to the various Shore towns should be considered intercity, however, and unlike the commuter services, which can terminate in Camden with a PATCO transfer at Walter Rand, these lines extend to 30th St. in a grand fishhook approach along the NEC and across the single-track Delair Bridge. (ACL service, however, can be twice as frequent--hourly.) In addition, a separate, peak-hour commuter service from Atlantic City to Egg Harbor City may be implemented.

8. The Newfield Branch originally extended from Newfield to Atlantic City. While the services of the whole branch obviously aren't needed, part of it is marked as a commuter line from Atlantic City to Mays Landing.

9. The Somers Point Branch was a branch from Atlantic City to Somers Point. Old PRSL maps show either a bridge or a ferry from it to Ocean City; this is one of the two new commuter lines suggested from Atlantic City.

10. The Cape May Branch ran from the Main Line at Winslow Jct. south to Cape May, crossing the Newfield Branch at Richland. It is a primarily intercity line, although a local dinky service may be put into place between Cape May Court House and Cape May.

11. The Ocean City Branch ran from a connection with the Cape May Branch in Tuckahoe to Ocean City. Atlantic City, Ocean City, and Cape May are the three primary intercity destinations down the Shore.

12. The Marmora Branch is a freight right-of-way that extends to a large facility at Beesley's Point. There may be justification for a dinky service along this line.

13. The Wildwood Branch runs from Wildwood Jct. on the Cape May Branch to Wildwood. Like the Princeton Branch, a dinky service would be appropriate here.

14. The Grenloch Branch is a short branch from Gloucester City to Grenloch. Despite its shortness, however, it sits halfway between the Clementon and Millville Branches in the core South Jersey suburbs. As a consequence, it would likely get ridership--if service patterns are right--on the order of the Norristown Line. In addition, this line would be targeted for heavy rail conversion if the conditions are right (generating Speedline-order ridership); this would allow for potential extensions to Turnersville and Monroe.

15. The Millville Branch was at one point the PRSL's Camden commuter operations' spine. At one point electrified, it extends between Camden and Millville, with a freight operation from there south to Leesburg, and a former passenger operation east to Woodbine Jct. via Woodbine proper. It crosses the CNJ main at-grade in downtown Vineland, and was recently the subject of a River Line-type extension as far as Glassboro. Glassboro is the natural local terminus on this line, and Millville the general.

16. The Southern Division, originally of the CNJ, between Winslow Jct. and Bridgeton may offer useful expansion possibilities. East of Landisville, however, it closely follows the Cape May Branch through a relatively sparsely-populated area.

17. The Bridgeton branch, originally of the PRSL, largely exists only as an abandoned easement north to Glassboro. Bridgeton can't handle being the terminus of two lines, but both offer tradeoffs.

The PRSL's direct alignment, straight north, takes it to Camden fastest. But it passes through a relatively unpopulated section of the state, and its peak ridership thus stunted.

The CNJ alignment through Winslow Jct. would pass through Vineland, and potentially directly access Philadelphia, rather than Camden; however, as a commuter line, it would be low on the totem pole of Delair crossings, and it would be routed by the most circuitous of all routes.

In between is the option to utilize the CNJ line from Bridgeport to Vineland, but the Millville Branch after. While it would not be as fast (or direct) as the PRSL alignment, it would pass through the most populated areas and offer reasonably direct commuter service to Camden.

Of course, a large part of this discussion depends on the ridership a Bridgeton alignment vs. a Millville one would generate. If Bridgeton does not generate as much ridership as Millville (or inadequate ridership, period), it may make sense to just operate a dinky to it, if anything at all, from Vineland--the same also applying to Millville in the case of the obverse.

18. The Salem Branch runs through the heart of Salem County, to, well, Salem. While the country is generally rural, a series of larger towns dot this line--Woodstown, Swedesboro, and Mt. Royal--suggesting that, if properly implemented, ridership may well exceed implementations. (A market in Camden wouldn't hurt matters either.)

19. The Pennsgrove Branch runs along the shore of the Delaware between Woodbury and Carney's Point. With multiple industries and larger communities along this line, it would draw some of the Camden network's highest ridership--probably second only to the Millville Branch.

Now that we know what rail assets we have in South Jersey, we can start on the next step: understanding how to use them in such a way as to maximize ridership and accessibility. Two obvious next steps for our program come out of the sheer act of surveying potential assets: (1) splitting the routes into intercity routes utilizing the Delair Bridge (as I'd intimated before), and (2) using a Camden terminus to catalyze transit-oriented development and growth--growth which would, hopefully, finally offer the city a stable fiscal base.

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