Study backs western route for rail line

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 09/10/06

A new study by a consultant, who was recommended by NJ Transit, reaffirmed earlier conclusions that the Monmouth Junction route for the proposed Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex rail line would have the highest number of riders of three alternatives.

The study by AECOM Consult Inc., on behalf of Monmouth and Ocean counties, was undertaken to determine how many more people would ride MOM trains, if they used the proposed Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel to New York.

"I think this is the convincer," said Daniel Kerwin, a member of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers board and a Jamesburg resident. "The Monmouth Junction alignment is the clear winner. It's been the clear winner for the last 10 years."

Three routes are being considered for the line, through Red Bank, Matawan or the Monmouth Junction section of South Brunswick. The Monmouth Junction line has been opposed by officials in three Middlesex County towns and by officials of that county and supported by Monmouth and Ocean counties.

A copy of the study, obtained by the Asbury Park Press, showed that by using the T.H.E. Tunnel, there would be 20,700 weekday boardings (one-way trips) via Monmouth Junction; 18,400 via Matawan and 13,400 via Red Bank.

The highest projected ridership was 41,000 weekday boardings using a modified Monmouth Junction route, which called for more frequent rush hour service, improved speeds and fewer stops to cut 13 minutes.

Douglas Bowen, president of the N.J. railroad passengers group, called the ridership figures pretty healthy.  "Those are good numbers, that would put it in the top tier (of NJ Transit lines with the highest ridership)," Bowen said. "NJ Transit could justify the project to the Federal Transit Administration (for funding)."

Other scenarios studied used additional factors, such as highway congestion, a shortage of parking at other rail stations and demographic information, which also boosted ridership projections.

The "fourth alternative" was the Monmouth Junction "same time" alternative, which reduced the 123-minute Lakewood-to-New York running time to 110 minutes by "improving speed and fewer stops." The study does not say what stops would be eliminated. That alternative gives Monmouth Junction the same 110-minute traveling time as the Matawan alternative.

Monmouth County Freeholder Theodore J. Narozanick said the study makes a case for the Monmouth Junction route.
"It's coming along great now," Narozanick said of MOM. "But we're not home yet. How we sell it (to Middlesex County and NJ Transit) will be a job."

In addition to NJ Transit's support, Narozanick said he'd also seek the endorsement of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, which is the first stop for federal funding of transportation projects in a 13-county region.

Several Ocean County commuters interviewed at the Dover Township Park and Ride said they support MOM.

Valerie Mahoney of Dover Township spends three hours a day riding a NJ Transit bus to her Manhattan job as a human resources director. While she said a train might not get her there much faster, it would be an attractive option.  "I'd be able to do more work. It would probably be a smoother ride," Mahoney said.

Katie Gouin, 21, of New York said she'd visit her parents at their summer home on Long Beach Island more often if she could ride a train. She said Ocean County's mass transit options are inadequate when compared with other regions near the city.

Bill Jones, 42, of Little Egg Harbor was waiting to pick up his mother, who was traveling from New York, at the park-and-ride . He also takes the bus to the city to visit her.  Having a train in the area would be great, but Jones said he wished it would go all the way to Atlantic City.

Others said the current bus service is adequate. Xavier Campbell, 25, said he uses the bus to get back and forth between New York and Beachwood.  "The bus is faster," he said when told the approximate times riders could expect on MOM from Ocean County.
But he added that riders would probably like to have another option.  "It wouldn't be a bad idea," Campbell said.

Bill Breunig, 40, of Barnegat said he'd love to be able to take a train to his job in New York each day. Now he rides the bus.  Breunig said, as he got off the bus, that he was skeptical the money would come through to actually build the line.  "It would be great," he said, but "they'd never fund it."

NJ Transit and officials of Monmouth and Ocean counties are scheduled to meet about the study on Wednesday, said Dan Stessel, NJ Transit spokesman.

"We just received it, and we'll review the counties report to make sure it meets all the federal requirements for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement," Stessel said. "Ridership projections are one of several factors taken into consideration."  Other factors to be evaluated include distance, estimated cost and historical and environmental impacts of each proposed route, he said.

"The most important part of the study is, assuming the trains go to Manhattan, it provides the best benefits," said Damien Newton, Tri-State Transportation Campaign New Jersey coordinator. "(Monmouth Junction) provides access to the Northeast Corridor line, which is where the business and population centers are."

Building a Monmouth Junction MOM line also would provide more access for travelers to the Shore during the summer season and other options, he said.
The study was undertaken after officials of Monmouth and Ocean counties questioned the difference between NJ Transit ridership studies and those done by the Monmouth County Planning Board. NJ Transit's study predicted 9,000 weekday boardings on the Monmouth Junction alternative, while the county study forecast 22,000 weekday boardings.

Also to be reckoned with is opposition in Middlesex County. Jamesburg and Monroe officials question the need for the line and raised concerns about safety and noise. Transit advocates contend the opposition is mostly political and said NJ Transit Board member Kenneth Pringle and Vice-Chairman Myron Shevell, both of Monmouth County, should push to get the line built.

"Shevell and Pringle should be jumping up and down at every meeting, they have to fight for Monmouth and Ocean," said Ralph Braskett, Committee for Better Transit state coordinator. "The freeholders should camp at their office, make it an issue and put pressure on the state to make it a higher priority."

Tristan J. Schweiger contributed to this story. Larry Higgs: 732-643-4277 or [email protected]

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