2009-06-03 / Front Page

Lakehurst to Red Bank is panel's rail selection

Efforts continue to institute passenger train service for inland Monmouth, Ocean

Passenger train service could come to inland Monmouth and Ocean counties if NJ Transit administrators follow through on the recommendation of a working group of stakeholders.

According to a May 27 press release from NJ Transit, members of a working group from Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties have reached "common ground" for a proposed route for a new rail line that would provide residents of Monmouth and Ocean counties with rail service to Newark and Manhattan.

The NJ Transit press release states that "citing a shared desire to select a project alternative in order to move forward and to work together for the benefit of residents in the growing region, officials from the three counties have urged NJ Transit to focus on an incremental approach toward a project that would create a new rail line from Manchester/ Lakehurst in Ocean County to Red Bank in Monmouth County, with a spur from Freehold Township to Farmingdale. The line would connect to the existing North Jersey Coast Line in Red Bank."

From Red Bank, the train would run north to Newark and New York City.

An existing freight line runs through Shrewsbury Borough, Eatontown, Tinton Falls, Colts Neck, Wall Township, Howell, Lakewood, Jackson, Toms River, and Lakehurst/ Manchester, and would become available for passenger service, according to NJ Transit.

An NJ Transit spokesman told Greater Media Newspapers no new train stations have been identified nor are there projections as to how many patrons would be served by the route.

The working group's "common ground" does not mean that a decision on any passenger train line has been made by NJ Transit administrators, said Joe Dee, a spokesman for the agency.

NJ Transit is continuing to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that is examining three passenger rail options. The DEIS study has been in the works for the better part of this decade, but there is no date established for the publication of the report, Dee told Greater Media Newspapers on May 29.

The other two train lines under examination in the DEIS are:

• A passenger line running between Lakehurst in Ocean County and South Brunswick in Middlesex County, connecting to the Northeast Corridor with service north to Newark and New York and south to Trenton and Philadelphia.

That line would run through Lakehurst and Lakewood in Ocean County, Howell, Farmingdale, Freehold Township, Freehold Borough, Manalapan and Englishtown in Monmouth County, and Monroe Township, Jamesburg and South Brunswick in Middlesex County.

That alternative has been supported by governing bodies in Monmouth and Ocean counties and opposed by governing bodies in Middlesex County.

• A passenger line running between Lakehurst in Ocean County and Matawan- Aberdeen in Monmouth County, connecting with the North Jersey Coast Line at the existing Matawan-Aberdeen station. Part of that train line would run through Marlboro on a path roughly parallel to Route 79. The Lakehurst to Matawan line is opposed by officials and some residents in Marlboro.

Dee said none of the three options being considered in the DEIS are "positioned to compete (for funding) at the national level." He said the working group was examining the situation "with fresh eyes."

"We wanted to try to look at these options again with the goals of reducing the cost (of the lines) and maintaining service."

He said the Lakehurst to Red Bank line emerged as common ground among the members of the working group.

Asked if the final decision about a passenger rail option rests with NJ Transit, Dee said, "At this stage we are exploring our options and we are committed to working with the community."

Marlboro Mayor Jonathan Hornik was pleased to learn that the NJ Transit working group has asked for consideration of the Lakehurst to Red Bank line and not the route through Marlboro.

"I for one, since running for office, have been a strong opponent about running the rail line through Marlboro. I believe it would have to run through too many environmentally sensitive areas. I believe it is a very dangerous situation and would only create more traffic in our area where our roads and corridors can't handle it," Hornik said. "I have been very vocal about that, and I have been in discussions with the Monmouth County freeholders. I am pleased with the decision to go with the Red Bank line."

He said he will continue to monitor the situation, pointing out that during the past 20 years, the Marlboro passenger rail line proposal has been taken off the table and then put back on several times.

Officials in Red Bank — where there is already a train station on the North Jersey Coast Line and where trains that pass through the borough already cause daily traffic issues — had a completely different point of view than Hornik.

Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna said, "It is absolutely the height of illogic nature to try to funnel this particular rail line at some distance from where the need is just to save a few dollars and curry political favor in another county. That's the blunt nature of what I'm saying."

Menna said the new rail service would sound a "death knell" for Red Bank and its neighboring municipalities if it goes according to plan.

"Adjacent mayors have told me they will be cooperating with us and giving us all of the resources possible, as this has a great impact on them also," Menna said.

The Lakehurst to Red Bank line does not yet have the support of the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders. Previously, the board has supported the Lakehurst to Monmouth Junction line.

Monmouth County Freeholder John D'Amico, who participated in a meeting with NJ Transit representatives and other stakeholders on May 21, told Greater Media Newspapers on May 29 that he believed the transit agency was going to brief officials in the affected towns on the Red Bank route prior to making a public announcement about the working group's selection of the Lakehurst to Red Bank option.

At the May 28 meeting of the freeholders, D'Amico's fellow members of the board were upset that they had learned about the decision regarding the Red Bank route in the media that day. D'Amico said he had not had a chance to brief the freeholders.

"Their reaction (to reading about the NJ Transit decision) was understandably harsh," he said.

D'Amico acknowledged that in the more than 20 years that a passenger rail line for the inland Monmouth-Ocean region has been discussed, there has always been opposition from one or more parties for every possible route. He said the final decision rests with NJ Transit.

The freeholder said a proposal for rapid bus transit on Route 9 and Route 18 — which is planned for Middlesex County and could apparently be extended south to Monmouth County — may be "the best we can do."

He said he would discuss that option with the freeholders.

Dee, the NJ Transit spokesman, noted that the rapid bus transit plan is not part of the passenger rail service DEIS.

The NJ Transit working group consists of officials from Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties as well as the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and NJ Transit. It was established several years ago to help facilitate discussions to move the passenger rail project along, according to the press release.

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