New Jersey Transit has announced that trains between Philadelphia and Atlantic City on the Atlantic City Rail Line and the Dinky, a shuttle between Princeton Junction and a point near downtown Princeton, will start running again on Friday, May 24, just before Memorial Day week-end.  The lines were completely shut down last year after Labor Day, and riders have been taking buses provided by NJ Transit as substitute transportation since that time.  Kevin Corbett, Executive Director of NJ Transit, made the announcement at a hearing in Cherry Hill, called for the purpose of allowing riders to voice their concerns over the lack of rail service.  The Philadelphia Inquirer and its web site, www.philly.com, reported that nobody applauded when the announcement was made.

Riders in our region were not so lucky.  There has not been any announcement of when riders in North or Central Jersey, north of Princeton, will again be able to ride any of the trains from the lines in our region that were also eliminated.  NJ Transit originally said that all trains would be restored by the beginning of this year, but that date has been pushed back three times.  The latest word is that all trains will be restored during the "second quarter" of this year.  There will only be 37 days left in the quarter after the Dinky and Atlantic City trains return to the rails, so the Coalition and many riders in this region are concerned that the trains we lost last year will not come back by the end of June, if they ever do.   

Since last year, there have been no week-end trains on the Gladstone Branch west of Summit, but substitute bus service has been available.  There are no direct "one-seat-ride" trains to and from Penn Station, New York on the Raritan Line.  Selected trains on the Morris & Essex (M&E), Montclair-Boonton and other lines have been removed from the schedule, too, but those service reductions have only left gaps between the trains that still operate.  There were no schedule adjustments to smooth out those gaps, and no substitute buses, except for one train that has been suspended.  That is Train #684, the former 11:30 pm train from Dover; the last inbound train on weeknights.  Because of our advocacy efforts, NJ Transit has hired the Lakeland Bus Company to run a bus on the former train's schedule to all Morris County stops and to Summit, where a connection to Newark and Hoboken is available.  This prevents riders from being stranded.

These service cuts were purportedly implemented to facilitate the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC), a safety system mandated by Congress and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).  At the beginning of last year, NJ Transit was behind schedule in installing the needed equipment and training employees how to use it.  By the end of 2018, the agency had met the FRA's target for the year.  Management has received high marks for getting that part of the project completed on time.  NJT proposed a plan to complete the job by the statutory deadline of the end of 2020, and the FRA has approved the plan.

At this writing, nobody knows when, if ever, the trains that used to serve this region, but have been removed from the schedule, will come back, if they ever do.  NJ Transit is not talking about it, and neither is Gov. Murphy.  Advocates in South Jersey credited local politicians with putting the pressure on Murphy and NJ Transit to restore Atlantic City service by Memorial Day, and it appears that the trains will be back by then.  Summer is the busy season at the Shore, and it only lasts about 14 weeks; from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with some businesses staying open on week-ends in September.  The Shore needs all the transit it can get during the "season" but this region needs its transit, too.  When we will get our trains back is anybody's guess.