NJ Transit restored service between Philadelphia and Atlantic City on Sunday morning without fanfare or fuss.
“Track 2, Atlantic City!" an announcer at 30th Street Station intoned, and train No. 7861 opened its doors as though no time had passed since the line was shut down on Sept. 5.
By 6:43 a.m., nine people had boarded to rumble southeast through the Mother’s Day gloom.
All smiles as they took their seats, sisters Florence Walker, 62, and Jacqueline Robinson, 65, of the Philadelphia area, were traveling for a two-day getaway to talk and reconnect. “It’s a sisters thing,” Robinson said. “We’re going to Atlantic City to enjoy each other,” Walker said. “We’ve been going there since we were children.”
Service had been suspended on the Atlantic City line to allow the transit agency to finish installation of the Positive Train Control safety system, which automatically ensures that trains travel at a safe speed.
The line is popular with tourists to the Jersey Shore’s gaming city as well as with everyday commuters to University City from Cherry Hill. Riders had grown frustrated as an expected January resumption of service was postponed.
More outcry followed when officials said the rail line would reopen Memorial Day weekend.
Mother’s Day proved the charm.
“I thought it was a wrap, that they were getting rid of this train line for good,” said Sunday passenger Michael New, 41, a security company CEO in South Philadelphia traveling to see his aunt and grandmother. “I’m quite happy it’s back.”
NJ Transit executive director Kevin Corbett was also on board to make sure all went according to plan. He added that his agency had been suffering from a decade of neglect. “If you don’t invest in your transit system," he said, "your service deteriorates. For me, the last year has been painful. We’ve been really working hard at turning things around.”
With Corbett was Anthony Greco, an assistant executive director at NJ Transit who said that the same number of trains that had worked the line in the past – 24, back and forth each day – will be in service now. The agency tweaked the schedule to ensure a train arrives in Philadelphia every morning at 7:21.
“That was our customers’ most common request” when the line was dormant, Greco said. “We fixed the arrivals gap between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.”
Greco believes the Philly-to-A.C. run will eventually attract 1,000 riders daily, the level it recorded before the service interruption.
As the train rolled, riders got comfortable. “I’m going to Atlantic City to entertain myself,” said Darnell Barnes, 62, a semiretired nurse’s assistant from Feltonville. That meant no kids, no distractions. “I choose to spend my Mother’s Day this way,” she added.
Day-tripper Louise Jagod, who is “over 70” and lives in Collingswood, was riding with her sister, scientist Mary-Frances Jagod, 57, also of Collingswood, to have some A.C. fun.
But, she added, laughing as New Jersey blurred wet and gray outside the window, “I’m really here because I wanted to be sure this train is really running.