Nj Transit Study Explores S. Jersey Rail-line Options Burlco Officials Are Pleased With The Report. Gloucester County Residents Are Not.

Posted: July 26, 1996

NJ Transit yesterday released an exhaustive study of proposed mass-transit expansion throughout South Jersey, a report that has pleased Burlington County officials and angered some Gloucester County residents.

The study, which was distributed yesterday to state legislators, regional planners and community organizations, lays out nine rail options and an alternative bus route for expanding mass transportation in the state's fastest-growing region.

The goal of any of the options, according the document, is to stave off increasing car traffic and declining air quality and to spur growth in economically depressed areas.

Although detailed, the study does not recommend specific routes or transit systems, said Assemblyman Sean Dalton (D., Gloucester), who said he has been working on these issues for three years.

``This report is over a year past due and unfortunately there has been too much political rancor in the process,'' he said. ``It's my hope we can put all of that behind us and finally roll up our sleeves and start some substantive work on this project.''

Frank Wilson, the state's transportation commission and chairman of NJ Transit's board of directors, will make a final recommendation on which alternative to develop after legislators and planners digest the study and make recommendations, said Anthony L. Grazioso, director of public affairs for new rail construction at NJ Transit.

How any projects might be financed has not been determined, Grazioso said, adding that federal, state and private funds all could be part of the picture.

Among the 10 different options outlined in the study are a 19-mile electrified light-rail line from Camden to Glassboro ($729.5 million), a modified PATCO system on a similar route ($792 million), light rail and PATCO systems on a Camden-to-Mount Holly line ($680.4 million and $707.2 million, respectively), and a 37-mile combination (about $1.4 billion).

The study also includes two addenda.

One maps out a Camden-Trenton line along the Delaware River using electrified light rail, light-diesel rail or a heavy-diesel system.

The second addendum compares a modified PATCO system to a light-rail system. Passengers on the PATCO system could travel from Gloucester County to Philadelphia without changing. The less-expensive light-rail option would serve Camden's developing waterfront district, but it would require commuters to transfer in Camden.

The bulk of the study is a roughly 500-page report called the major investment study for the Burlington-Camden-Gloucester Transit Project. It exhaustively explains the 10 options considered feasible for transit extension. The proposals range in price from $35 million to the $1.4 billion Glassboro-Mount Holly line.

Some would run on existing Conrail lines; others would require new track along highways, notably a Camden-Burlington County route along Interstate 295.

Trains would run as often as every 5 to 10 minutes and as infrequently as every 30 minutes. All would require grade-level crossings.

Although late in the game, some Gloucester County residents have organized to oppose any kind of rail system that runs along existing Conrail freight lines - the Gloucester route considered in the study.

Residents formed Citizens for Alternate Rail, or CFAR, to put pressure on local officials and NJ Transit to consider an alternate system along Routes 55 and 42.

Their opposition - voiced by 100 county residents at a meeting Wednesday night - mirrored that of Burlington County residents last year to a route that would have gone through Moorestown. The Gloucester County group does not oppose a rail system, but fears that a system that runs through small towns will endanger their children, lead to increased crime and disturb the silence of their small towns, said Patti Graham, a Deptford Township resident and president of CFAR.

At the meeting Wednesday, county freeholders agreed to draft a resolution supporting CFAR's position for a vote at their first meeting in August.

``I understand people's concerns,'' state Sen. John J. Matheussen (R., Gloucester) said of the angry Gloucester County residents. ``But we need to come together on mode and alignment for the rail system through Camden and Gloucester.''

Although the study does not identify the route that will be developed or point to any preference, Matheussen said the ultimate goal of any rail line into Gloucester County should be a ``one-seat'' ride from the county to Philadelphia, the option provided in the PATCO addendum. It would cost $108 million more than light rail to the Rand Transportation Center.

State Sen. C. William Haines (R., Burlington), one of the sponsors of the law that called for the railway study, said earlier this year that this light-rail plan was better than last year's proposal. That plan called for similar train service through Moorestown and Mount Laurel, but ran into steep opposition in those towns.

Burlington County Freeholder Larry Chatzidakis, who lives in Mount Laurel, said yesterday that the cost of a rail link from Camden to Mount Holly through Moorestown and other central municipalities would cost too much and take too long to build.

Haines, who is the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, has also said that the riverfront rail lines pass through several industrial parks and have a wider band of right-of-way property flanking them. Rapid growth in the Moorestown-Mount Laurel area was a factor in that rail-line option, said Haines. He termed the Camden-Trenton option a needed shot in the arm for riverfront towns.

The Camden-Trenton Rail Corridor addendum, prepared by two consulting groups for NJ Transit, lists alternatives for the 33 miles of Conrail freight lines: electrified light rail, diesel light rail, or diesel heavy rail, which could share the tracks used by freight trains.

Only the light-rail lines would be able to take travelers directly from Trenton to Glassboro. The heavy-diesel train would require a separate connection in Camden because the Gloucester County plan calls for a light-rail system.

The heavy-diesel line would be the least-expensive Camden-Trenton connection: $216 million over 30 months. Either light-rail system would be more costly - the electrified at $458.4 million and the diesel light at $313.9 million.

Mark Remsa, who runs Burlington County's Route 130/Delaware River Corridor Revitalization Project, said the study's findings brought encouraging news for those living in the county's riverfront communities. Remsa said light diesel sounded like the best option.

``The heavy rail is unacceptable for those communities - louder, noisier, everything that the riverfront communities were concerned about,'' Remsa said. ``The least-expensive doesn't necessarily mean the best alternative for our quality of life.''

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