A proposed $1.6 billion light-rail line between Glassboro and Camden has hit a significant roadblock: The Federal Transit Administration will not proceed with a required environmental study because the planned rail line has no owner or operator.

Without a completed environmental study, the 18-mile line cannot be built.

"Unfortunately, because you have not identified a project sponsor who can accept the responsibility for commitments in the environmental impact statement, and ultimately operate and construct the project, we cannot move ahead with the environmental document," the FTA's regional administrator in Philadelphia, Brigid Hynes-Cherin, wrote to John Hanson, chief executive of the Delaware River Port Authority.

The letter, dated July 29, was released by the DRPA on Tuesday following a request from The Inquirer.

The DRPA is overseeing the $8.1 million environmental study, but DRPA officials say the agency won't build or run the rail line. NJ Transit has agreed to pay for the study but has not agreed to build or operate the line.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the Gloucester County Democrat who has championed the rail line, said Tuesday the FTA action would not stop the line.

"It's going to get done," Sweeney said. "We're working to have NJTransit take the lead."

Sweeney said money for the line would be included in a renewed state Transportation Trust Fund, when the Legislature figures out a way to replenish that fund.

Jeffrey Nash, the Camden County freeholder who is vice chairman of the DRPA and a leading advocate of the rail line, said Tuesday that the proposed line "is very much alive."

"The environmental impact study is almost complete. FTA wants the community to identify a lead agency.

"We expect New Jersey Transit to take that leadership role. Discussions are ongoing."

The proposed line would restore passenger service to a corridor now used only by freight trains.

Required step

The draft environmental impact statement on the effects of construction and operation of the rail line was supposed to be published in June, as a required step in the process of getting federal and state approvals for building it.

The assessment is to examine effects of noise and vibration, air pollution, social and economic changes, and historic-preservation efforts.

In mid-July, STV Inc., which is conducting the study, said publication of the draft version would be delayed for "additional field surveys for threatened and endangered species and historic resources." At that time, STV said the draft version would be published later this year.

Now, the study is on hold until there is an owner and operator.

Both the DRPA and NJT said Tuesday they were discussing how to proceed, but neither had a timetable for moving forward.

"We can't commit to a timetable," NJT spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said.

Working together

"New Jersey Transit and DRPA are working together to advance the project," the DRPA's deputy chief executive, Michael Conallen, said. "We have worked collaboratively with NJT from the start, and now the FTA has required that we identify a single project sponsor before we go any further. We are working together to satisfy this requirement."

The proposed line would run alongside a Conrail freight line through Glassboro, Pitman, Mantua, Wenonah, Woodbury, Deptford, West Deptford, Westville, Bellmawr, Brooklawn, Gloucester City, and Camden.

It would connect to PATCO and River Line trains at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden, where passengers could catch trains to Philadelphia or Trenton.

A trip from Glassboro to Camden, with 14 stops, would take from 34 to 40 minutes, planners estimate.

Preliminary plans call for trains operating every 71/2 minutes during peak hours and 15 minutes during non-peak times.

Trains would operate until midnight, and as many as 18,000 daily riders are expected by 2030.