A sizable chunk of New Jersey’s population leaves the state for work every day. NJ Transit has long capitalized on this, providing the bulk of its passenger rail service between Trenton and Manhattan. In fact, nearly 80 percent of NJ Transit’s weekday passengers are taken to and delivered from New York Penn Station.

That ridership is comprised of roughly 276,000 passengers a day, a number that has grown by steady leaps. By the end of 2007 NJ Transit reported a 5.4 percent increase in overall ridership and a 7 percent increase in traffic entering and leaving Penn Station.

The increase is so dramatic that NJ Transit has spent millions to meet the demand. In July senators Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg approved $75 million to NJ Transit’s ARC project, which aims to build two new single-track railroad tunnels between New Jersey and New York, additional Penn Station capacity under 34th Street in Manhattan, and signal and track improvements along the northeast corridor. .

Also in July NJ Transit spent $310 million to buy 26 dual-powered engines from Bombardier, the Canada-based maker of most passenger train cars in North America. A month later NJ Transit added 50 multi-level cars to its passenger fleet. The state-funded, $76 million purchase will bring the number of multi-level cars to 329 by the end of 2010. Bombardier’s shipment is expected to be complete in 2012.

Such meteoric growth has been attributed mainly to one thing: Gasoline. Despite a recent drop in petroleum prices, filling up your car grew increasingly expensive this past year. Fed-up citizens defected the highway for the railway in record numbers. And even though global economic woes are actually driving gas prices down, rail ridership has shown no appreciable signs of declining.

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