The equipment, the operating plan, the public-private partnership that built and operates the system and other aspects of the River LINE represent new and innovative approaches to rail transit service. Combining them all in one package geared to provide the most service at the best price in an area that was previously transit deficient makes the whole project close to revolutionary. The unconventional River LINE offers a number of interesting attributes:
- *a turnkey design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM) approach to construction and on-going operation by a consortium of suppliers, including Bombardier Transportation which now operates and maintains the system;
- *the first low-floor, articulated diesel multiple unit (DMU) light rail cars in the United States;
- *new-build line segments that combine dedicated LRT median running and streetcar- like operation in mixed traffic;
- *time-shared use with Conrail freight trains for much of the route; and
- *an inventive combination of advanced rail traffic control, automatic train stop signaling, and temporal separation that yields maximum safety and track availability for passengers and freight alike.
But underneath the technological and operational innovations, there is something even more vital to the River LINE's success: its people.
"I know it sounds trite," says Bombardier's Al Fazio, general manager of the River LINE. "But it really is the dedication of the people at every level that makes it work."
The fact that the River LINE has turned out to be southern New Jersey's Little Engine That Could has pleased many and surprised others. Typical of all things new and different, the River LINE had a small group of vocal critics who questioned its viability on a continent where the automobile seemed to be king. They weren't convinced that high quality rail transit could change travel habits in the closely spaced communities on its 34-mile route from the NJ Transit Trenton rail station to the Entertainment Center on Camden's Waterfront.
Those concerns have been put to rest. River LINE's multiple innovations and the skilled personnel who make it roll have rail transit thriving along the Route 130/Delaware River corridor. There are real indications that the line serves not only as an alternative to the automobile, but is also helping re-energize the historic communities it links together.
Since its launch on March 14, 2004, River LINE performance and ridership have exceeded projections. The line exceeded its first-year target of 5,900 daily trips. Weekday average ridership today ranges between 7,000 to 8,000 trips and typically jumps to 10,000 to 12,000 trips for major events at entertainment, leisure and cultural venues along its route. On-time performance for the line is consistently above 95 percent.
Joe North, NJ Transit's general manager of light rail operations, says the River LINE's success is all the more impressive if you add in impacts beyond the right-of-way. He points out, "This was new territory for us because it's not just about providing excellent rail transit. Our executive director, George Warrington, declared from the outset that a big part of the River LINE would be positioning it as a catalyst for economic development."
The River LINE story starts in the mid- 1990s, when the late State Senator C. William Haines became the line's first champion. Haines believed rail transit could ease highway congestion and spur environmentfriendly, transit-oriented "smart growth" in southern New Jersey, just as it does in the northern end of the state.
Since going into operation, the River LINE has given many riders a new transit option. For others who are transit dependent, it has boosted access and mobility. Aiming for maximum connectivity, the line plugs riders into other well-established rail services operated by NJ Transit and Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor, the Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO) Speedline service between Camden and Philadelphia, and the many services operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). This interconnected rail grid creates a wide-range of non-automotive travel options throughout the region, the state and the entire Northeast Corridor.