Rail line won’t solve commuter woes, says South Jersey lawmaker

South Jersey Assemblywoman Bethanne McCarthy Patrick (R-Salem) wants the money earmarked for the 18-mile Glassboro-Camden light-rail line to be reallocated to other pressing infrastructure projects that would help relieve traffic congestion and ease commutes for those living and working in Gloucester and Camden counties.

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“South Jersey doesn’t have an immediate need for a new rail line, but it could certainly benefit from repairs to routes 42 and 295 and an expanded Route 55,” said McCarthy Patrick. “Our priorities should be on the heavily used highways and not rarely needed rails. We should do what benefits everyone, not what will only serve some while disrupting the lives of residents who don’t want diesel trains running through their communities every day and night.”

The preliminary engineering and design of the rail line that will run between Camden and Glassboro is being funded with $200 million from the South Jersey Transportation Authority. The last estimate of the total project, which will include 14 new stations along an existing Conrail freight line, was $1.6 to $1.8 billion in 2009.

“Billions of taxpayer dollars are being funneled into a project that is not meeting an increasing demand in ridership. In fact, we have less rail commuters than ever,” McCarthy Patrick argued.

Light-rail ridership hit a high of 24.1 million passenger trips in fiscal year 2019, but that number dropped to a mere 18.6 million passenger trips during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. NJ Transit expects ridership numbers to lag through the next decade.

“The majority of residents who aren’t driving are using buses to get to work. If there really is a need for more public transportation in Gloucester and Camden communities and a genuine concern for the environment, NJ Transit should add more bus routes with their new electric buses,” McCarthy Patrick added.

NJ Transit’s southern division bus line saw the smallest ridership decline out of their three bus lines during the pandemic. With more than 120 million passenger rides, bus ridership is six times greater than light rail. The agency’s first battery-electric bus is being used in Camden as part of a pilot program to help NJ Transit deploy an electric bus fleet.  

A website for the new Glassboro-Camden line estimates ridership to be 16,000 passengers daily by 2040. The train would make stops in the communities of Glassboro, Pitman, Sewell, Mantua, Deptford, Wenonah, Woodbury Heights, Woodbury, Westville, Brooklawn, Gloucester City and Camden. Trains would run daily between 5 a.m. and midnight with service expected to begin in 2028.

“Investing in our major roadways is a smarter way to support South Jersey public transportation needs. Current rush hour traffic on Routes 95 and 42 is a nightmare for all commuters. Getting that corrected and expanding Route 55, which could help with emergency evacuations, would make South Jersey safer and be a better use of public funds,” McCarthy Patrick concluded.

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