Horseshoes Are Lucky A Commuter Rail Line Curving From Mount Holly To Glassboro Could Benefit South Jersey Mightily.

Posted: July 26, 1995

For years, transit honchos in Trenton plowed billions into railroad connections, stations and improvements in North Jersey, while sending little South Jersey's way.

Years ago, they had sound reasons. The north's densely packed suburbs were where the traffic jams and occasional gridlock were.

But time and development have marched on. And traffic congestion has moved steadily south. Morning jams are no strangers to commuters on Routes 130, 70, 42, 55 and elsewhere in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties.

So, New Jersey Transit is putting together an estimated $1.4 billion plan to run 37 miles of train service on old freight-line rights-of-way or new roadside corridors (Three alternative routes are being debated.)

This horseshoe curve of rail, from Glassboro through Camden City to Mount Holly, would better link the South Jersey suburbs, and give them better access to Philadelphia.

"An expanded PATCO system could be a real boon to our economy and at the same time clear up our morning traffic blues," said state Sen. John Adler (D., Camden County).

The rail service would reduce pollution, upgrade neighborhood property values and improve job opportunities for many unemployed, carless residents who are a drain on both county and state taxpayers.

So why don't you hear more wild celebration in South Jersey?

There are some cheers from Gloucester County towns. Which is why New Jersey Transit (NJTransit) might well proceed first with the 18-mile spur to Glassboro.

But many "not-in-my-backyard" fears have been expressed at NJTransit public hearings, including complaints that train service and stations will drive down property values, create unbearable noise and invite desperate criminals from downtrodden Camden to plunder the suburbs.

Those worried citizens shouldn't be ignored, but they should be informed that none of those fears has been realized along the Lindenwold High-Speed Line since it began service in 1969, nor along most of SEPTA's suburban commuter lines.

Crime? With rare exceptions, crooks do not view well-monitored, enclosed

trains as a great way to flee crime scenes. But jobless people see them as a swell way to hook up with the suburban jobs that can give them an honest living.

Noise? No train is silent, but none of the modern trains on NJTransit's drawing board would be remotely as noisy as the rumbling cargo trains familiar to people who live near the old freight lines.

Finally, the drop in property values dreaded by residents in places such as Moorestown, Merchantville and Pennsauken is mostly a bogeyman. Only those living right next to the tracks would have anything to fear - and such people deserve to be compensated and to have the disruptions minimized.

Generally, commuter rail enhances property values.

A 1991 study conducted for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia concluded that property values along the PATCO line were 10 percent higher than on comparable land without transit service and that property values near SEPTA service were 6 percent higher.

Responsible officials and concerned residents in Burlington and Camden Counties who understand how transit can improve their communities should make themselves heard above the din of ill-informed critics. Or this opportunity could pass them all by.

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