Big, Beautiful Trains

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Why not us? 

The Atlantic City Council voted 9-0 last week on a resolution to give its support to a direct, high-speed rail line that would connect Atlantic City, via Toms River, to New York City.


At present no plans for such a rail line exist, so the project the council was giving its support to was hypothetical. But the right-of-way for a railway exists, through the Pine Barrens. Toms River has a lot of people in it and no train. Atlantic City has a big vacant, Bader Field, that it’s currently trying to auction off. Savvy persons see (or say they see) that the future of Atlantic City is Bader Field. The mere proposal of train service could enhance its value.

The subtext for this moonshot is the $1 trillion infrastructure initiative President Trump campaigned on, which appears to be stalled somewhere between the White House and Capitol Hill. Before he cancelled it, in the wake of Charlottesville, Trump had plans for an Advisory Council on Infrastructure that would have been led by Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, two real estate moguls with empires in New York City. Donald, I’m told, used to be a big deal in Atlantic City real estate. Maybe a project that linked Atlantic City with New York City would not have seemed so far off the radar. But the president still does not have an infrastructure bill.

Of course most people, in recent decades, have come to Atlantic City by car or bus. To them we owe our fascination with big, beautiful parking structures—and big, abandoned parking lots—but Atlantic City owes its existence to the train. And the young kids, I’m told, like public transport, where they can sip a cocktail or fart around on their phones.

Between 2009 and 2012, Caesars, Harrah’s and Borgata subsidized the Atlantic City Express Service (ACES!) for visitors who were too classy for the Greyhound but not classy enough to charter a helicopter. But the ACES was slow, unreliable and ran to New York by way of Philadelphia. High-speed rail would be different.

New Jersey is facing a Millennial apocalypse. Young people are fleeing its suburbs. They prefer cities where you can walk from work to the bar to the gym to public transportation. A lot of them work from home, or on flextime. Atlantic City, for all its foibles, is still a city. You can get chicken wings at 2:30 in the morning. It’s also the most affordable beach town in the Western Hemisphere. Maybe some of the cool kids can be persuaded to buy a second home–or even a first home–in the Queen of Resorts.

The council resolution says train service would increase property values and improve job opportunities for South Jersey residents. Atlantic City used to be the third busiest Greyhound bus hub in North America. Maybe it could become a destination again for day-trippers from New York City.

Councilman Jesse Kurtz of the Sixth Ward said the proposal was part of an effort to “mature” the rail concept “to the point where it’s something that our congressman could pitch to the Department of Transportation.”

“It’s a little proactive, but I thought that this is really the time to advocate for it,” he said. “When the funding comes, we’re already at the front of the line for projects.”

The Chief of Staff for Frank LoBiondo, Jason Galanes, said in order for the congressman to seek federal funding, the state would first have to identify the project as a top priority and add it to the TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) list. The resolution calls on LoBiondo and Congressman Tom MacArthur to work together to push for future funds for high-speed rail.

“Congressman MacArthur to the north of us seems to have a really good relationship with the president,” Kurtz said.

MacArthur raised $800,000 at a June fundraiser at Trump’s Bedminster golf course, hosted by the president, whose golf club was paid $15,221 for the privilege.

Maybe a train’s not so crazy. The crazy thing is to expect your government to work for you for a change.

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