Lakewood supports return of rail service

Advocates of passenger
train plan hope to sway
towns that oppose MOM

Staff Writer

Lakewood supports
return of rail service
Advocates of passenger
train plan hope to sway
towns that oppose MOM
Staff Writer

LAKEWOOD — The clatter of steel wheels on railroad tracks and the far-off shrill of an approaching train engine’s whistle was once a daily sound here.

Passenger rail service would return to Lakewood if the Township Committee had its way.

Fifty years ago, the last passenger train stopped running in Lakewood after a century of service. Since then, traffic jams, air pollution and frayed tempers in America’s most densely populated state have led to growing support for train travel as an alternative to the automobile.

According to members of the New Jersey Rail Coalition and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, passenger train service could be restored to Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties by implementing a plan to use existing freight tracks.

The governments of Middlesex County, South Brunswick, Jamesburg and Monroe Township oppose the plan, which the state has placed on a list of priority transportation projects.

Estimates for the cost of restoring the passenger service between Lakehurst and South Brunswick have ranged between $400 million and $500 million.

NJ Transit is presently conducting an environmental study of that route and several other possible passenger rail routes through the region.

Advocates have insisted that no reason offered by the reluctant parties is compelling enough to block the project. They said that the potential benefit of once again providing passenger rail service outweighs any possible objection to it, and that is a message the Township Committee supports.

At its July 8 meeting, the governing body passed a resolution in support of the restoration of passenger rail service to inland Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties.

"We want to show how serious we are about bringing rail service back to Monmouth and Ocean counties," said Committeeman Charles Cunliffe. "There isn’t a better way to go to work. We have to get all the other townships on board. (This is) definitely a project that needs to be done."

The committee’s support is exactly what the rail coalition said it wanted to hear. While the group solicited signatures outside the meeting, inside the auditorium residents expressed their support for the initiative in comments addressed to the committee.

"I think we have extremely receptive people in Monmouth and Ocean counties," said William Hobday, who referred to opponents of the rail project as NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard). "I honestly believe that if the correct lobbying (is used), they can’t keep this away."

Resident Bob Schaeffer said the only passenger railroad that ran through Lakewood recently was the model set in his basement.

"There has been a 500 percent growth in Lakewood in my lifetime," he said. "Route 9 has only been widened once. It would have to be (widened) five times" to accommodate the increase in traffic in that time.

Schaeffer urged support for the Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex (MOM) line.

Richard Orne, chairman of the Lakewood Airport Advisory Committee, said he supported a return to rail travel in the area despite his position as an advocate for air travel. He cited the high-density population in the communities it would serve. However, he questioned why the service was being targeted primarily toward those traveling out of Lakewood to their places of business.

"While everybody’s saying we need rail service to Newark or New York City, how about people coming here?" Orne asked.

Orne also said adding more buses to existing commuter fleets servicing the shore area would compound the traffic problem rather than alleviate it.

After the meeting, Bernard Gindoff, chairman of the Lakewood Transportation Board, cited the need to increase public awareness of the issue so that a groundswell of support could be generated. His hope was that municipalities not yet committed to MOM could still be swayed to change their positions.

"The public needs this," he said.

Committeeman Menashe Miller agreed.

"Way back in the yesteryear, trains were the preferred mode of transportation," Miller said. "With the advent of the automobile, more and more people traveled by car. Now the pendulum is swinging back the other way. It’s time to leave the congestion (caused by) automobiles (behind) and go back" to train travel.