River Line Back Running On Weekend Schedule As Lawmakers Seek Answers

No exact timetable has been released for when full service will be restored, but transit officials said they hope to complete the inspections on all 19 of the system’s trains before the end of the weekend.

Service on NJ Transit’s River Line light rail began slowly returning to normal this weekend as the transit agency continued to perform emergency inspections on all its trains after a defect was found with the wheels on one of the vehicles.

Service on the line was temporarily suspended Thursday night after the defect was discovered so that all 19 trains could be inspected, but the transit agency began slowly restoring service Friday as more and more trains were inspected and repaired. By Saturday morning, the system was operating on its normal weekend schedule.

Late-night trains from the Entertainment Center station in Camden were also scheduled to run Saturday night following a concert at the BB&T Pavilion on the waterfront.

No exact timetable has been released for when full service will be restored, but transit officials had said they hoped to complete the checks on all the trains before the end of the weekend in order to have full service available Monday.

“It’s a highly intense process that takes about five hours for each (vehicle),” NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said, noting that each of the wheels needs to be examined and checked.

So far only a small number of wheels have been identified as defective, but the agency wants to ensure vehicles are completely safe before they are returned to service.

“Safety isn’t just a high priority, it’s a core value here,” Snyder said.

The inspections began after defects were discovered on the wheels of one of the trains Thursday, prompting service to be temporarily suspended. The defect was believed to be limited to one set of wheels delivered by the original manufacturer, but transit officials decided to inspect all the system’s vehicles “out of an abundance of caution.”

Express bus service from the Trenton Transit, Florence, Beverly/Edgewater Park stations was offered throughout the day Friday, and alternative bus service was also provided at bus stops near the other stations.

The temporary suspension was the latest flap to plague NJ Transit rail operations, which have experienced widespread delays, cancellations and other problems due to both mechanical problems and engineer shortages.

The River Line isn’t operated by NJ Transit, which contracts out operations and maintenance of the line to Bombardier Transportation. However, the light rail hasn’t been immune to service disruptions.

New Jersey Sen. Troy Singleton and state Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, both Democrats from the 7th Legislative District, said delays and service problems have grown “too frequent” and both have urged NJ Transit must take steps to improve the reliability of the rail line, one of the few mass transit systems operating in South Jersey.

“I’m constantly getting texts and tweets that the River Line has broken down or the trains are late,” Murphy said earlier this week in an interview where she indicated she hoped to discuss the situation with NJ Transit officials soon.

The assemblywoman tweeted Friday that she spoke with NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett that morning about the situation and that she planned to remain in “constant communication” with the agency until full service was restored.

Corbett also met with Bombardier Transportation’s Americas division president on Friday at the River Line’s operations and maintenance facility in Camden for a briefing on the inspections and service restoration plans, officials said.

Singleton said he has asked NJ Transit to provide him a list of recent breakdowns on the South Jersey light rail, as well as explanations for each instance.

“Additionally, I have reached out to the Governor’s Office to convey my disappointment and let them know that this is simply unacceptable,” Singleton said Friday. “We have been told that NJ Transit executive leadership is on the ground with its contractors to fix this latest issue. I have requested that they keep my office apprised of when service will resume as I will continue to monitor this situation.”

The light-rail system was launched 15 years ago and has received a mix of both praise and criticism over the years. Some critics have labeled it as one of the worst financial boondoggles in state history due to its modest ridership, saying it has failed to justify its $1.1 billion price tag and its multimillion-dollar operating costs.

Just over 2.7 million people rode the River Line during the 2018 fiscal year when NJ Transit spent $26.4 million on the system’s operations, according to NJ Transit figures.

The total number of riders was down about 5 percent from the line’s peak ridership year in 2013 when close to 2.87 million people rode the light-rail system.

Former Gov. Chris Christie blasted the line in December 2017 during one of his final news conferences before he left office.

“The River Line is a joke. Nobody uses it,” Christie said in response to a reporter’s question about the line’s possible extension farther into downtown Trenton.

“It was a bad idea to begin with, and it’s proven to be a bad idea,” he said. “Any of you watch that line? It’s almost never ridden. You don’t double-down on a loser.”

Supporters of the line have said it provides an economic benefit for the towns along the line and an alternative mode of transportation from automobiles.

“People rely on it to get where they need to go,” Murphy said. “More and more people tell me they ride. They deserve the option to take mass transit.”

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