County's rail support remains strong

Published in the Asbury Park Press 12/05/02

DOVER TOWNSHIP -- Support in Ocean County for a commuter rail line from Lakehurst to Middlesex County continues strong, judging by testimony and sentiment expressed at a public meeting hosted by NJ Transit yesterday.

"We definitely need another form of transportation for people in the Shore area," said Doug Braeuer, 65, a retired electrician from Toms River. "The highways are crowded and they're only getting worse. More buses are not the answer. The train is the answer.''

Assemblyman Jeffrey W. Moran, R-Ocean, said this transportation issue affects about 1.7 million residents of Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties. "In terms of economics, the environment, alleviating highway gridlock and road rage, and in terms of convenience and quality-of-life issues for commuters and senior citizen retirees, passenger rail service is the only workable and realistic answer to meet our transportation challenges," Moran said.

The meeting, officially called a public scoping, was held at the Ramada Inn on Route 9. It concerned the Draft Environmental Impact Statement portion of NJ Transit's effort to fund and build a Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex, or MOM, commuter rail line.

The first such meeting took place Tuesday in Jamesburg in Middlesex County. The third is scheduled for Monday in Freehold.
The public meetings and work on the draft environmental statement are required steps for the state to remain in the running for federal funds for the project, estimated at $400 million, when plans are complete.

The NJ Transit study is considering three rail routes, which would each involve transferring to another train in order to reach New York: A 40.1-mile current freight line between Lakehurst and Monmouth Junction, a part of South Brunswick in Middlesex County, where trains would travel onto the Northeast Corridor line to Newark. A 27.7-mile current freight line between Lakehurst and Red Bank. A 35.8-mile abandoned freight line between Lakehurst and Matawan.

The $4 million study, scheduled to be completed next year, will look at environmental impact, potential ridership, capital costs, infrastructure improvements and train scheduling for each route, NJ Transit said.

Officials in Ocean and Monmouth counties, including mayors, freeholders, and state and federal representatives, as well as citizen groups and individuals, favor the Lakehurst to South Brunswick alternative, saying the other routes would further congest the existing system.

But the Middlesex County freeholder board, as well as local and state officials representing the towns of Monroe, Jamesburg and South Brunswick through which the proposed commuter line would run prefer the Red Bank or Matawan routes.
"Even though freight trains currently run on rails that will be used for the MOM passenger line, politicians in Middlesex County have been successful in holding up the project for NIMBY reasons," said state Assemblyman Jim Holzapfel, R-Ocean, using the acronym for not-in-my-back-yard. ""Ocean and Monmouth counties are strong in number, but the people have to demonstrate the need for this line.''
More than a hundred people attended yesterday's meeting, and dozens commented.

"The rail line will be a godsend," said Patricia LaBella, of Leisure Village West in Manchester. ""This will make it so much easier to get to New York City, especially for people who no longer wish to drive.''

Lakehurst Mayor Stephen F. Childers said: "Many people who have moved down to the Shore area still have friends and family up north. As people get older and the roads get more congested, driving becomes less desirable. The train is the way to go."
Navy Capt. Dwight Cousins of the Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station said, "A direct rail line for shipping will make our operation more efficient." Cousins noted that equipment for launching planes from and landing them on aircraft carriers is manufactured at the Lakehurst base.

In a written release, a group called the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, while saying it supports eventual establishment of a MOM line, called on NJ Transit to postpone the current effort until the state Department of Transportation, which oversees NJ Transit, resolves its budget problems.

NJ Transit spokesman Ken Miller said, however, that the public meetings must be held now so New Jersey can continue to qualify for federal money for the line.

NJ Transit will accept written comments until Jan. 31. E-mail correspondence can be sent to [email protected]. Letters can be directed to James Schwarzwalder, project manager, NJ Transit, One Penn Plaza East, Newark, NJ 07105-2246. Comments can also be faxed to (973) 491-7767.

Joseph Picard (732) 557-5738 or [email protected]

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