Published in the Asbury
Park Press 6/17/01
An Asbury Park Press editorial
NJ Transit last week awarded a $4.5 million contract for the environmental impact study that's required for a proposed passenger rail line from Lakehurst to qualify for federal aid. This step brings rail service from interior Ocean and Monmouth counties closer than it has ever been to becoming a reality.
The consulting firm that received the contract has two years to examine the impact of two routes -- one follows an existing freight line to connect with Amtrak's Northeast Corridor at Monmouth Junction in South Brunswick and one that joins the North Jersey Coast Line at Red Bank. NJ Transit Executive Director Jeffrey Warsh has said he favors passenger service on both routes, although he and advocates of rail service from Lakehurst agree the Monmouth Junction connection is the top priority. It would offer passengers a greater choice of destinations.
Unlike an earlier -- and far less extensive -- report that concluded the rail line wasn't needed, this study starts from the premise that passenger service is essential for the fast-growing towns in western Monmouth and Ocean counties. The mandate is to determine how to get it done with the least impact on people who live in homes near the tracks.
Because the routes follow existing rail rights-of-way, getting the trains running won't require the destruction of wetlands or woods, as would any new highway. The environmental impact, beyond what opponents of the rail line have conjured up, mostly involves safety and noise issues. NJ Transit is confident those can be addressed.
The proposed rail line will be competing with others in New Jersey for state transportation aid and with projects nationwide for federal funds. The figures from the 2000 census placed an exclamation point on the case that's been made repeated by state, county and local officials from this area: The towns along the route to Monmouth Junction all grew by more than 25 percent during the 1990s. Route 9 simply cannot handle any more commuter buses or rush-hour cars.
The consultants will want to hear from
everyone who is interested in the rail line. The opponents from Middlesex
County will be as vocal as ever, but their case is weak. The broad coalition
of area residents who have fought for rail service are ready to answer
them. They have the facts and are eager to present them as persuasively
and as soon as possible.