The River Line is a 34-mile long light rail line operated for New Jersey Transit by the Southern New Jersey Rail Group (SNJRG). It was constructed on the rail tracks that were originally the Camden-Bordentown section and the Bordentown-Trenton Branch of the Camden & Amboy Railroad (C&A) . The River Line runs between Trenton and Camden in South Jersey; 21 stations serve the line.
Project Type:New Line Project Mode:Light Rail Average Weekday Riders:8,748 Length (mi):34.00
Economic Distress:0.90 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):1508 Population Growth Rate (%):-0.33
Employment Growth Rate (%):0.51 Market Size:4,672,179 Airport Travel Distance:59.4 Topography:3
Region:New England/Mid-Atlantic State:NJ County:Mercer, Burlington, & Camden counties
City:Trenton, Camden, Bordentown, Burlington, Beverly Urban/Class Level:Metro Local Area:City N/A
Impact Area:Local Area Transportation System:NJ Transit GIS Lat/Long:40.074558 / -74.868981
Initial Study Date:1998 Post Constr. Study Date:2009
Constr. Start Date:1999 Constr. End Date:2004
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): 2004 Planned Cost (YOE $):N/A
Actual Cost (YOE $):1,100,000,000 Actual Cost (curr $):1,350,000,000
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
Select a region to display the conditions for that region:
NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
|Income (in $M's)||19.54||10.06||29.60|
|Output (in $M's)||42.36||27.54||69.90|
The River Line, a 34-mile long light rail line operated for New Jersey Transit by the Southern New Jersey Rail Group (SNJRG), is the longest light rail line in the United States. It was constructed on the former rail tracks for the Camden-Bordentown section and the Bordentown-Trenton Branch of the Camden & Amboy Railroad (C&A). The River Line runs between Trenton and Camden in South Jersey. Twenty-one stations serve the line.
The construction of the River Line occurred between 1999 and 2004, at a cost of approximately $1.35 billion (in 2013 Dollars). The primary motivation for the project was revitalizing the cities and towns where the stations are located (from north to south: Trenton, Bordentown, Florence Township, Burlington, Beverly, Delanco Township, Riverside, Cinnaminson Township, Riverton, Palmyra, Pennsauken Township, and Camden), and boosting business growth in southern New Jersey. Businesses have created an estimated 630 jobs within the counties of Camden, Burlington, and Mercer as a direct result of the new transit line.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
The River Line runs between the city of Trenton in Mercer County and the city of Camden in Camden County and passes through three additional cities and six towns and boroughs in Burlington County. The final stops in Camden County connect riders to several entertainment centers. The students from the Camden campus of Rutgers University take the River Line heading north to make use of the bike trails located along the Delaware River. The River Line also provides the opportunity for commuters to transfer in Camden to travel to Philadelphia, or in Trenton to travel to Princeton, Newark, or New York City.
The River Line runs mostly parallel to the Delaware River and U.S. Route 130, which is located entirely within the state of New Jersey and connects U.S. Route 1 and Interstate 295. Transfer stops for the River Line are at the PATCO Speedline's Broadway Station (Walter Rand Transportation Center) and the Pennsauken Transit Center (Atlantic City Line), providing transfers to/from Philadelphia, PA.
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), 59 miles from the River Line, is the closest commercial airport. For passengers traveling by the River Line to the EWR airport, connections are available at the Trenton terminal. NJ Transit has exclusive access to the rail to provide passenger service from 5:30 AM to 10:10 PM, Sunday through Friday, and Saturday night until 1:06 AM. Conrail has exclusive access for freight at all other times.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
The River Line provides transit access for three southern New Jersey counties: Mercer, Burlington, and Camden. Mercer County is the 12th largest county in the state of New Jersey with a population of 363778 (as of 2009). According to the U.S. Census, in 2000, Mercer County’s labor force totaled 255,378. The unemployment rate was 4.1%, the same as the state and national unemployment rates. Mercer County has since seen increases in its unemployment rate. As of 2009, Mercer County’s unemployment rate was 6.2%, compared to 7.21% for the state of New Jersey. In 2000, manufacturing, education and health services, and trade industries were the primary employers in Mercer County. In 2009, educational and health services sectors were the top-two employers in the county, accounting for 25.2% of employment.
In 2009, Burlington County had a population of 448,734, with an 8.6% unemployment rate. In 1998 when the River Line project was announced, the unemployment rate of the county was around 3.2%. Trade and manufacturing industries shed many jobs due to the recession of 2008, but trade sector employment slightly improved around 2011. The county’s job growth between 2008 and 2011 resulted from many businesses moving into new office buildings in Mount Laurel and Evesham. Manufacturing jobs in the county experienced a 20.6% decline, and payrolls dropped primarily because of the decrease in demand for manufactured products considered discretionary. Professional and business services were also major employers in the county in 2009.
Seven out of 21 stations serving the River Line are in Camden County. In 2009, the county had a population of 517,879. In 2012, the educational and health services sectors were the major employers in the county, followed closely by the trade and transportation industry. Prior to the recession of 2008, the trade and transportation sector was the leading employment sector, but its share of employment declined as some stores and distribution centers moved to neighboring counties, such as Burlington and Gloucester. However, it should be noted that the change in the relative importance of this sector to the economy of the county was slight with the employment share for this industry decreasing from 26.4% in 2002 to 25.5% 2012.
The three counties had a combined population of more than 1.2 M in 1998 which increased by 4.3% to 1.3 M in 2009. The combined unemployment rate for the three counties of Mercer, Burlington, and Camden before the River Line project construction (1998) was 4.03% which increased to 7.02% in 2009 due to the recession of 2008. The combined per capita income of the three counties was $31,172 in 1998 which increased to $46,501 by 2009.
Multiple planning agencies worked for over three decades to plan and build the River Line. In 1960, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA)—the precursor of NJ Transit—produced a proposal for rail rapid transit service to Lindenwold, Moorestown/Mount Holly, and Woodbury Heights/Glassboro, via three existing railroad corridors. This idea was considered too costly, and the DRPA chose to focus its resources on the more promising Philadelphia-Lindenwold corridor.
After much political debate, funding of the River Line project was approved, and the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the project was completed in 1998. NJ Transit's Board of Directors approved a light rail transit alignment from Glassboro to Trenton with diesel light rail transit cars. The board also established the Trenton-Camden corridor as the initial operating corridor (IOC). In 1999, NJ Transit contracted with SNJRG, a consortium of firms selected to design, build, and operate the system. After five years of construction, the system opened to the public on March 14, 2004.
The River Line project was primarily motivated by stakeholders’ desires to revitalize the economy of the area, restoring the prosperity and growth seen in southern New Jersey during the 1920s. Supporters felt that the transit line would promote infrastructure improvements and attract economic investment. In addition to the redevelopment of historic towns located along the River Line and Route 130 corridor, another project objective was to provide an alternative transit option with shorter travel times and fewer environmental impacts compared to buses. Rutgers, Cooper Hospital, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey are some of the major employment centers that are accessible via the River Line.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
The River Line project provides rail transit service for southern Jersey, especially between cities and towns in Burlington County where, prior to the River Line, the only transit option for commuters was a long bus ride. According to data provided by NJ Transit, River Line service has resulted in a decrease in travel time between stations, when compared with bus lines. For instance, data show that a trip between Bordentown station and Burlington town center station would take 14 minutes via the River Line, 10 minutes via car, and 32 minutes via bus number 409.
When the River Line opened in 2004, it immediately attracted an average of 3,000 riders on weekdays. Five years after its opening, the River Line more than doubled its ridership to 7,900 trips per weekday or more than 2.5 million passengers in 2009. Annual ridership increased to about three million passengers in 2016.
According to New Jersey Transit estimates, about half of the riders have been diverted from private vehicles. Approximately half of the riders use their private vehicles to access River Line stations.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
The primary economic impacts of the River Line project are found in the areas within one-half mile of stations. However, the extent of impact differs for each station area. For example, in Trenton and Camden, where the River Line is just one of the many transit options at the city centers, the effects of the River Line have been minimal. The opening of the River Line coincided with the economic recession of 2008. Cities along the River Line in South Jersey have not fully recovered, potentially limiting the impact of the River Line on the economy of the communities the system serves.
Although the economic impacts of the River Line have been smaller than expected, the new transit route had positive effects in some of the small cities and towns it serves. Based on a study by the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, the River Line is credited for being a significant factor in the revitalization of Burlington County’s river towns such as Florence and Cinnaminson. After the line opened in 2009, many developers from New York and northern New Jersey became interested in the towns on the Delaware riverfront.
Some developers have seen the new transit service as an amenity and have shown interest in undertaking projects near the line. The developer of a 97,000 sq. ft. condominium project in Cinnaminson, who had purchased the property before the announcement of the transit service, substantially changed the design of the project, to provide better pedestrian connections and improved integration with the nearby transit station.
The significant number of housing units that have been built along the River Line attracted big box stores, such as Walmart, and supporting retail businesses in the area. More than 80% of the jobs created as a direct result of the River Line were at retail businesses. In addition, many developers have shown significant interest in vacant and underutilized properties in municipalities throughout Burlington County. Other municipalities, especially those with little or no undeveloped land, have experienced less development since the River Line opened.
According to the housing authorization data available from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the growth in construction permits along the River Line corridor between 2000 and 2007 was greater than the rate of growth in permits for the state overall (0.4% growth rate for the corridor compared to 0.15% for the State).
Additionally, between the time when the project was announced and 2009, five years after the River Line opened, owners of residential units in lower-income census tracts near the River Line stations saw net increases (as high as 70%) in the value of their homes. Real estate professionals largely agree that the transit line is in part responsible for the increase in property values.
For the real estate industry, the River Line has been an important marketing tool to sell residential units that have been built near stations, especially units designed to appeal to young professionals. The River Line was a factor in a developer’s decision to build 38 two and three story townhouses in Burlington City. The redevelopment of two former knitting mills located between Riverside’s town center and the train station into 65 residential condos is another example of River Line impacts.
The opening of the River Line also encouraged the establishment of many small businesses. For example, Riverton’s River Line Inn (five guest rooms) opened after the Line started service to accommodate the growth in tourism within the riverside cities.
Overall, around 1,000 jobs have been created around the stations between the opening of the line and 2009, and an estimated 630 of these were a direct result of the River Line project. As mentioned earlier, more than 80% of these jobs are in retail businesses while manufacturing and office jobs account for the remaining 20% of jobs.
Not all the developments in southern New Jersey can be linked to the opening of the River Line, especially for Trenton and Camden, where the River Line is just one of the many transit options at the city center. Several factors have affected the attraction of new businesses and improvements to the economy in southern New Jersey.
Major expansions of Cooper University Hospital and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Camden have contributed to attracting more development to the city. However, River Line stations are thought to have increased developers’ interest in residential and mixed-use development nearby, which, in turn, increased the ridership of the line.
U.S. Route 129 was also built around the same time that the River Line started construction (mid-1990s). Many local professionals believe that the existence of needed infrastructure and the economic development impacts of Route 129 and the River Line suggest at least some degree of synergy. Initial interest generated by the construction of Route 129 near where the Cass Street station and Hamilton Avenue stations are now located, focused on light industrial and warehouse uses, but has since changed to more diversified land uses.
According to interviews, zoning policies supported the developments in small towns and cities (such as Riverside and Burlington) along the River Line, as the idea of having a new transit option attracted some developers to turn abandoned warehouses and factories into new high-density residential areas. The National Bank Center was also seen as a financial incentive and attraction by developers, as it played a decisive role in the New Jersey Housing Mortgage Finance Agency’s decision to finance affordable units in the area.
An analysis of the local land use plans and zoning policies showed that most of the cities located along the River Line light rail had not developed supportive policies to encourage transit oriented development (TOD) around the stations. The necessary infrastructure for more developments was already provided. Although many communities are moving towards transit investments, these alone are not sufficient to spur economic development in an area.
Organization, Name, Title
NJ Transit, Tom Marchwinski, Director of Forecasting and Research
NJ Transit, Vivian Baker, Director, Intermodal and Interagency Coordination
Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Karin Morris. Associate Director (Planning)
Burlington County Economic Development and Regional Planning Office, Edward Fox, Regional Planning Coordinator
Local Businesses Interviewed: Boomerang Inc., Cinnaminson, Walmart, Petco, Pennsauken
Case Study Developed by University of Maryland