COLD SPRING — If you sit on a bench at Cold Spring Railroad Station and wait for the next train, a cobweb could grow between your head and a post before the next one arrives.
The rails are getting a bit rusty. No longer is the rumble of a diesel locomotive heard or a whistle at a Bennett’s Crossing or in Cape May.
No trains were run all summer by Cape May Seashore Lines on the Cape May to Court House section due to poor track condition. The railroad flourishes at the far end of the tracks, operating trains from Tuckahoe to Richland in Atlantic County.
The dream of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJARP) and others is for the state to appropriate $27 million to replace railroad ties from Cape May to Tuckahoe, some sections of rail, tighten about 39,000 bolts, upgrade ballast under tracks with 43,000 tons of clean stone and complete repairs on four bridges. A total of $1.8 million would be spent on the movable bridge that crosses the Cape May Canal.
A report from NJARP includes input from Mayor Chuck Chiarello of Buena Vista Township, Mayor William Pikolycky of Woodbine and Dennis Township Administrator Jody Alessandrine, according to Paul Mulligan, Cape May Branch liaison for NJARP.
The tracks are owned by New Jersey Transit (NJT) and leased to Cape May Seashore Lines from Cape May to Tuckahoe with track rights provided from Richland to Tuckahoe. Interestingly enough, NJT has granted track rights to Cape May Seashore Lines to Winslow Junction, which connects to Philadelphia.
The track project would employ 18 to 20 personnel on a daily basis from 16 to 24 months, according to the study. When finished, 42 miles of good track would exist from Cape May to Richland and a trip that could be made one-way in about 90 minutes.
A track washout in Dennisville that occurred due to the April 15 nor’easter has kept trains from running on the Cape May branch since all locomotives are currently trapped on the north side of the problem area.
In addition, 8.6 miles of track are out of service from the 4H Fairgrounds in Court House to Woodbine, where all 30,000 railroad ties are beyond their service life.
From 4H to Cape May, about 15,500 ties have been replaced of a needed 50,000.
To repair just the section from Cape May to Court House, 13 miles, would cost $7 million and from Court House to Woodbine, 10 miles, is priced at $14 million.
For repairs on the canal bridge and the Woodbine to Tuckahoe section, 5 miles, is estimated at $7 million.
Mulligan sees advantages to restoring the entire rail line including possible park-and-ride service for car-choked Cape May and a station stop in Rio Grande that could provide transportation for visitors or employees from the Wildwoods by connecting the train to the Five Mile Trolley.
He projects a train from Richland to Cape May running on weekends 10 months per year. Another train would operate from Rio Grande to Cape May on a daily basis about 10 weeks of the year.
Mulligan said Cape May could benefit from the restored tracks because the train would put visitors in the city for four hours before the return train.
Restoration of the full line could bring in more tourists from the Richland Station, which is only 35 minutes from Philadelphia, 45 to 50 minutes from the Delaware Memorial Bridge and an hour and 10 minutes from Trenton, said Mulligan.
He said every railroad tie does not need to be brand new but the “youngest” ties between Court House and Woodbine are 35 years old with the average tie at 50 years old. The life expectancy of a tie is about 25 years, he said.
In the world of transportation, $27 million is not a huge sum of money, said Mulligan
“New Jersey Transit has capital budget every year of $1.5 billion,” he said. “New Jersey DOT which includes New Jersey Transit has a capital budget in excess of $3 billion every year.”
He said the project would need a push from our local assemblymen and senator.
“We have to show the executive branch in Trenton this is valuable to the economy of this region, a region that doesn’t get its fair share of transportation projects,” said Mulligan.
Motorists pay a gasoline tax, which funds transportation projects.