New ridership boosts call for rail line

Ocean County and Monmouth County officials are cautiously optimistic that new ridership numbers presented last week to transportation officials may bolster the counties’ ongoing efforts to implement passenger rail service in one of the fastest-growing regions in the state.

Armed with the new numbers, Ocean County Freeholder James F. Lacey and Monmouth County Freeholder Theodore J. Narozanick joined with congressional staff members and other officials in a meeting with NJ Transit and New Jersey Department of Transportation officials on Sept. 13, according to a press release from Ocean County.

The new numbers were prepared by AECOM, a transportation consultant specializing in transportation modeling and Federal Transit Administration capital projects.

Also attending were staff members from the offices of U.S. Rep. H. James Saxton, U.S. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, and former Congressman Robert Roe, along with consultant Hazel Gluck, of MBI GluckShaw and AECOM representatives.

“We shared the results of this technical effort that certainly supports what Monmouth and Ocean counties previously asserted,” Lacey said.

“This independent study shows that ridership will be greatest along the Monmouth Junction alignment. Monmouth and Ocean counties have supported the Monmouth Junction [South Brunswick] alignment as the best regional solution of the proposed Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex passenger rail line. The independent study performed by AECOM also supports this conclusion,” he said.

Lacey said the reaction from state officials was positive.

“Our meeting went extremely well,” he said. “NJ Transit was very pleased with the ridership numbers we presented and have agreed to continue their study into the rail line.”

According to the press release, NJ Transit also agreed to form a MOM working group, which will involve staff representatives from state and county agencies to continue to refine the ridership numbers as well as other key features of the proposed passenger rail line.

“We’re still moving ahead,” Lacey said. “The facts we presented show that the MOM line would be a viable way of adding new rail service for thousands of Ocean County and Monmouth County residents.”

Narozanick said, “Passenger rail service is desperately needed in central New Jersey to help alleviate the sever and growing traffic congestion along the Route 9 corridor and other major highways used by residents in this region to commute to major employment centers in northern New Jersey and New York City. The Monmouth Junction route offers the best congestion relief.”

The AECOM ridership analysis comparison, completed using the best case scenario for the Monmouth Junction alignment, indicates 41,000 potential rides per day, more than four times the original ridership projections released by NJ Transit in spring 2005, according to the press release.

Through the collaborative effort with NJ Transit, changes were made to the configuration of the proposed MOM line including using the dual mode locomotive one-seat ride.

“This effort has resulted in a stronger rail project, which given the current federal environment for limited funding, has made for a more compelling case for federal funds,” Lacey said.

Lacey said it was imperative for the counties to embark on this ridership analysis in an effort to keep this project alive.

“Certainly, we feel these numbers will help us continue in our efforts to keep MOM on track and gain the federal funding to finally move this project to fruition,” Lacey said.

Two other passenger rail routes being considered by NJ Transit go through Red Bank and Matawan.

The Monmouth Junction line in South Brunswick has been opposed by officials in Middlesex County.

Monmouth and Ocean counties support the Monmouth Junction route.