Tuesday, January 24, 2012

NJ Transit Considering Extending Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Into Bergen County

The biggest joke about the NJ Transit Hudson Bergen Light Rail is that the current system has no stops in Bergen County. It's exclusively in Hudson County, with stops from Bayonne through Hoboken. Ultimately, the plan was to extend the light rail into Bergen County and two such plans are under consideration. There's a new push to deliver the light rail into Bergen County. It involves getting the environmental impact statements done and picking between two options for rail alignments.
Today, the public gets to give feedback to NJ Transit officials who say the project — which could cost more than $800 million — would alleviate traffic congestion, boost economic opportunities, and provide new transportation options for residents.

"You’ve got a county that is increasing in population," said Charles Ingoglia, director of public affairs for capital projects at NJ Transit. "To be competitive and be a place people want to live and work out of is really dependent on the transportation that’s available."

NJ Transit could, of course, opt to do nothing. But the agency is considering two options for extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail:

* Extend the system eight miles north from Hudson County to a new station in Englewood. This option would include stops in Ridgefield, Palisades Park, Leonia and Englewood.

* Extend a total of 12 miles north to Tenafly. This option would include all the same stops as the Englewood option but have two additional stops in Tenafly.

Under the proposal, electric trains would operate on existing tracks owned by CSX Transportation, a freight railroad company. Passenger rail has not operated on the lines, called the Northern Branch Corridor, since the 1960s, according to NJ Transit.

So of course there's going to be opposition from people who want light rail, but just not in their own backyard. It might result in some jobs or businesses having to relocate and some eminent domain condemnations to allow the right of way and stations/improvements to make the $800 million plan come to fruition.

Expect opposition from some communities who will complain about the increased noise of the light rail car horns, even though these same communities deal with heavy traffic, congestion, and added pollution resulting idling cars.

Since this is taking an already existing freight rail line and converting portions into light rail, it means additional and different rail and freight traffic patterns. Freight and light rail can't operate on the tracks at the same time, so freight must move when the light rail isn't operating. That means more overnight freight train traffic, which those closest to the rail lines would oppose.

There's also the not insignificant question of annual subsidies needed to operate the line:
The DEIS, based on 2008 figures, projects that light rail to Tenafly would attract 11,900 passengers, and cost $866 million, while going to Englewood would draw close to 10,000 riders, and cost $686 million.

In 2008 dollars, the draft statement says it would cost $23.5 million to operate and maintain annually but bring in just $8.5 million — needing a $15 million subsidy. The Englewood option would generate $5.7 million in revenue but cost $15.6 million to operate, relying on a $9.9 million subsidy.

The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system was launched in April 2000 under Gov. Christie Whitman but begins and ends in Hudson County. Today, it runs from Bayonne north to North Bergen, with stops in between to Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken and Union City.
Altogether, this is a portion of Bergen County that is underserved by mass transit and a light rail link would improve transportation and reduce reliance on cars and buses that already clog nearby highways (such as the Palisades Parkway, Route 4, and other major arterial roads). It would also finally give some truth in advertising to the name Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. The problem, as always, is that the costs are prohibitive and a return on the infrastructure may not be forthcoming.

Moreover, NJ Transit has repeatedly shown itself incapable of controlling costs, such that the project expansion would likely run to $1 billion or more, and that the operating subsidies will be far higher than expected.

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