The RiverLINE


RiverLINE in Camden, NJ. (c) 2004 C. Walton

The RiverLINE, formerly known as the Southern New Jersey Light Rail Transit System, formerly known as the Camden-Trenton Light Rail. The 34-mile journey from Camden’s Waterfront to the Trenton Transit Center.

This light rail line runs along the Delaware River waterfront between Trenton and Camden, stopping in Bordentown, Roebling, Burlington, Cinnaminson, Delanco, Riverside, and Palmyra along the way.  This differs from the HBLR and NCS in that this line is operated with 20 low-floor diesel light rail cars from Stadler AG from Switzerland.  There is no wire to be found anywhere along this line, and during the overnight hours when the system isn’t running, freight traffic serves different customers along the right-of-way in certain places.  A waiver from the Federal Railroad Administration was needed to allow this type of operation since freight trains are FRA-certified and light rail trains are not.  In order to permit this operation, the freight must run over these tracks at night and must clear up for RiverLINE light rail service during the day.

Much of the route is a two-track line, one track for each direction,but there are sections of the line that share a single track for both directions.  Because of this configuration, the capacity of the line is reduced to a train every 30 minutes during most times of the day, every 15 minutes during peak periods.  This rather unique configuration is more commonly found on lighter-used light rail systems such as Ottawa’s O-Train or Austin’s Capital MetroRail, where trains wait at a double-tracked station for another train to clear the single track in order to proceed.  The HBLR and Newark Light Rail have a two-track system with the exception of a single track between south of 22nd Street and north of 8th Street in Bayonne.  Even though the HBLR’s main frequency is 20 minutes, the level of service required to transport the 45,000 daily riders (on all three services) would require a double-track operation.  The RiverLINE’s ridership isn’t even a quarter of HBLR’s ridership, though the line does have its heavy load periods.

One of the great things about the RiverLINE is the scenery, particularly in the section between Trenton and Florence Station, where you get a relatively nice view of the river bank and surrounding towns.  Most of this section of the line is double-tracked, until you get to around Roebling.  The line also travels across the light bridge over the Rancocoas Creek just south of Burlington and along a small thoroughfare of sorts in Cinnaminson and Riverside.  The average speeds in these areas is roughly 35-45MPH, although through Palmyra and northern Camden, trains can top out at near their maximum speed of 60MPH.  The only really slow portion of the system is the street-running portion through downtown Camden and the waterfront.  The line runs past Rutgers Camden, the Waterfront Aquarium, the Walter Rand Transportation Center, and the Tweeter Center concert venue.

The Stadler cars are very comfortable for the longer rides that some riders would take, mainly from Camden to Burlington and from Burlington to Trenton.  (Not as many people ride the entire 34-mile stretch, though.)  The purple seats with the all-white interior make it very welcoming, as compared to the grey and grey bus-like interior of the HBLR and NCS Kinkisharyos, which are designed for short rides.  The RiverLINE run time is roughly an hour plus, while on the HBLR, most trips are less than 30 minutes, NCS less than that.

One of the more annoying things about the RiverLINE is not only the single-track operations in certain spots, especially through the Burlington Town Center (I am guessing due to space constraints in such a older, smaller town), but also the fact that the RiverLINE stops short at the Trenton Transit Center (connections to NJ Transit buses, commuter rail, and Amtrak) and doesn’t go up to the State offices.  There was a plan to extend the RiverLINE up that way, up State Street, but that was scrapped in favor of the Capital Connection, a nonsense collection of bus routes that are grouped together at least on bus stop signs to advertise bus routes that run between the State Offices and the train station.  (#600, #601, #603, #606, #609, and #610)

Otherwise, it’s worth a ride, and it’s an inexpensive ride ($1.50) as well.  To go 34 miles in an hour as opposed to the parallel #409 bus which used to take at least 2 hours and can run you almost $4 for the full ride.  This was BEFORE the RiverLINE, since the #409 is a skeleton of its former self.  If the line was double-tracked the entire way, the line would be able to push a few more trains out at 15-minute frequency, thus attracting more riders.  It would also be a bit nicer if there were bus bays at these stations for intermodal connectivity to neighboring communities.  NCS has this setup at Branch Brook Park, and HBLR has similar connections at Tonnelle Avenue, Bergenline Avenue, Port Imperial, and 34th Street.  It can go a long way as far as attracting ridership and fostering increased travel flexibility.  The new Pennsauken Transit Center is a step in the right direction, with a new connection to the Atlantic City Line.  There are a few park-and-ride stops as well for those who wish to drive at least halfway, but bus service for those who cannot drive is paramount to the increase in usage.  This is South Jersey, though, and transit is more of a poor person’s necessity more so than a travel option.  Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile investment.

Let’s examine some other light rail systems in the country.  I will combine my experiences with SEPTA’s light rail lines (Route 101 and 102) with their subway-surface lines (Routes 10, 11, 13, 34, and 36) and their trolley line (Route 15).  I will not include SEPTA’s Norristown High Speed Line (Route 100) as I feel it is more of a high-speed trolley with subway characteristics.  That speaks more to the type of vehicle used on Route 100 (more similar to a single-car subway train) compared to what is used on Routes 101 and 102 (more similar to the HBLR or NCS).


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