NJT Central Jersey Line Proposal
Background and Rationale
What is half forest, half suburban, and people debate exist? Central Jersey! This area, usually defined as Mercer, Middlesex, Ocean, and Monmouth counties, has many towns and small cities that have not great transit connections. While Middlesex county does operate a local bus service, and NJT does operate a collection of express bus routes out of its Howell Garage, there are only three cross-county local bus routes and two very commuter-oriented rail lines. This proposal would have a new line, called the Central Jersey Line, running along underused or abandoned tracks, connecting the interior of Ocean, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties with each other and the Northeast Corridor for fast rail service to New York. One advantage of this line is that it would not cost a lot to build, but still provide connectivity that is very much needed for this area. Except for a short portion between Freehold and Farmingdale, the line runs along already-extant trackage, mainly used by Conrail. Using these tracks would provide quick connections amongst towns, and would stimulate economic growth. With brand-new service to seven towns and much-improved service to two, it would be a benefit for both commuters to New York and day trippers from New York. Using this line, one could get from the Manchester/Whiting station, the last stop, to New York Penn Station (or vice versa) in just over 90 minutes. That commute today takes about 2 hours by car, and there are no public transit options. Going from Lakewood to New York would take 75 minutes by train, a trip that takes 100 minutes today by bus. In addition, shuttle buses would operate from Freehold station to Six Flags Great Adventure, causing an even bigger ridership draw. So, it’s clear that this line should be built. But how hard would it be to operate it?
Operating this line would not be immensely expensive or resource-consuming. Earlier, I mentioned freight usage by Conrail on some of the lines. That train is a once-a-week train that runs Thursday afternoons. Passenger operations on the line could easily be scheduled around that train, as it runs during the midday, not the rush hour. The Northeast Corridor, a much busier line, has a daily freight run down it during rush hour. It really isn’t hard to schedule around that freight. The main issue is electrification. Electrification is expensive, and would also block large freight loads from being sent on the line. The solution, however, is simple. NJT already has a contract with Bombardier to deliver new dual-mode diesel-electric locomotives for fleet expansion and older locomotive retirements. If NJT assigned four of these locomotives to this line, it would work out easily. In addition, the new station at South Brunswick would be the perfect place to switch between electric and diesel operations. The one complication is in Farmingdale, where the line would have to go into a new station, then reverse out. However, this is also a non-issue, because NJT trains operate in push-pull mode regularly, and reversing directions would be easy, especially at a dedicated station. Overall, this collection of freight lines are an amazing asset for Central New Jersey, and they should absolutely be upgraded and turned into passenger lines!