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Long-sought Glassboro-Camden rail line took a step forward. Will it get built?

If all goes well, the line could begin operating in 2028, DRPA officials say.

A rendering of the Woodbury station on the proposed $1.8 billion Gloucester-Camden Line, light rail service from Camden to Glassboro.
A rendering of the Woodbury station on the proposed $1.8 billion Gloucester-Camden Line, light rail service from Camden to Glassboro.Read moreCourtesy of Delaware River Port Authority

Nearly 20 years after planning began, a proposed $1.8 billion light rail transit line between Camden and Glassboro has taken a step forward, with a recently awarded $200 million contract for preliminary engineering and design, project management, and land acquisition.

The 18-mile-long Glassboro-Camden Line would restore passenger rail service to a corridor now used only by freight trains.

“This will set us up to begin construction,” John Hanson, chief executive of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), the bistate agency heading up the project. It also operates PATCO and the toll bridges linking New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Train service to link fast-growing Gloucester County with Camden, Philadelphia, and Trenton has been discussed for decades to close what planners consider a gap in the regional transit system.

The latest step is a sign of momentum in the project, but there is still a long road ahead, including the need to win state or federal funding to build it.

Some community groups are opposed, citing environmental and noise concerns, and arguing the Glassboro-Camden Line would not be cost-effective. Most South Jersey political leaders and Rowan University, a large employer that would have a station at its campus, support the project.

The trains would be diesel-powered and run along 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 joint venture between two transportation planning and engineering firms, AECOM and STV Inc., won the $200 million contract for the latest pre-construction work on the rail line, which is expected to take three years.

About $56.6 million would go to the design and project management work, with the balance to acquire land and property easements, formalize an operating agreement with Conrail, the owner of the rail right-of-way, and obtain permits, said Michael Venuto, the chief engineer for the DRPA.

Funding is coming from the South Jersey Transportation Authority, a partner with the DRPA in the development, Hanson said. The authority was formed by the Legislature in 1991 to run the Atlantic City Expressway, Atlantic City International Airport, and several shuttle buses and public parking lots.

Earlier, NJ Transit kicked in $8.1 million for an environmental-impact statement on the project, published in February 2021 after delays caused by the need for extended studies of historical resources and threatened and endangered species along the proposed route.

“It would be outside our [legal] purview to fund it,” the DRPA’s Hanson said. There are no plans for county or municipal funding, he said. It also remains to be determined what entity would own and operate the system when built.

Ideally, the line could be operational by early 2028, Venuto said.