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Atlantic City Transit Line Won’t Relaunch Until After March Madness

Bad news for those looking to make a quick trip to Atlantic City for March Madness.

Camden and Burlington County residents joined legislators and state officials Wednesday night in Cherry Hill to discuss NJ Transit service. While most had one question in mind they wanted answered, that wasn’t the only topic discussed.

NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett announced that the Atlantic City line will restart service Friday, May 24. The Princeton Dinky line that runs between the college town and the Princeton Junction station on the NYC-Trenton line will also restart on May 24. Both lines have been shut down since early September.

The announcement came last week, one day after Governor Phil Murphy mandated an announcement for the restart date. Corbett initially wanted to give the decision a few more weeks.

“Considering that the aggravation people are suffering to nail that down, I was in the governor’s office today, showed them the array of options and the difficulties and what would be a good safe date,” Corbett said before announcing service would restart the Friday before Memorial Day.

How this impacts NJ gamblers

Those assembled in the Cherry Hill rec center certainly dealt with aggravation and weren’t pleased to hear they would wait about three more months for service to return. For those looking to take the train to AC to bet March Madness, the start of baseball, or even to get some spring rays before the “shoobies” take over, looks like they’re out of luck. Currently, buses service the route, which takes longer and has to deal with the traffic train commuters seek to avoid.

Cherry Hill’s station off Route 70 and Cornell Avenue services a variety of residents in the Jersey suburbs. Many of them now have to drive the hour-plus up and down state roads and deal with traffic, miles of underdeveloped land through the Pine Barrens, and, of course, the random deer.

Bettors in South Jersey will also have a new outlet to bet live in the coming months, not too far from the now-dormant train stop. The eligible license for the shops and properties occupying the old Garden State Park race track will finally become a book this spring, giving locals another place to go (although NJ has really taken to online betting, according to the handle numbers since September.)

The AC Line is a bit of an outlier for NJ Transit. It’s the only heavy rail line that doesn’t terminate in New York City or Hoboken. Unlike the North and Central Jersey commuter lines, both ends get a fair amount of ridership if properly used.

In South Jersey, riders do have the option to switch to PATCO for quicker service to Camden or Center City Philadelphia in lieu of riding straight to 30th Street Station. Atlantic City-bound service is not only for tourists but for casino workers, whose round-the-clock schedules can make utilizing mass transit a bit tricky.

Why the shutdown and delay?

Officials blamed the inability to adopt Positive Track Control, the safety measure made mandatory by federal law that led to the shutdown, on the inertia and budget cuts of prior administrations. Riders expressed hope of restoring service to pre-recession levels, citing studies that claim hourly service would double ridership and help cut the operating deficits. NJ Transit also hired more engineers to operate the lines, which could also lead to more frequent service.

Leah Madden of Stratford was one of the most vocal critics during the hour of question-and-answer discourse last week. She usually drives to Lindenwold but prefers taking the AC Line to 30th Street versus the more crowded and shorter ride on PATCO. Getting to work in West Philadelphia means more time on SEPTA, which runs with more delays than the NJ Transit lines.

“If there was an open line of communication, we would appreciate that more than the radio silence which has been,” she said to the commissioner and NJ Transit Board Chair Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti. She cited her family’s work on the rail line and for Amtrak and one of her reasons to use the service.

Both sides agreed there needed to be more communication from the transit management side. More public forums were announced and will take place in the coming weeks in other towns serviced by the rail line.

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