Doylestown, PA
84°
Sunny
5:47 am8:26 pm EDT
July 19, 2024 5:46 pm

Local News

Getting passenger rail back on track in the Lehigh Valley will take time and money, new study finds

iStock

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 27, 2024

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation on Wednesday released its much-awaited feasibility study of bringing passenger rail back to the Lehigh Valley, identifying five possible route options. All five have high potential price tags and operating costs, and the consultants who compiled the study estimated the project would take 10 to 12 years to complete. 

“The goal here was simply to lay out the opportunities and the challenges of reestablishing Lehigh Valley passenger rail service to look at the various options for how you might do that, and to lay out the pathway to implementation,” Liz Hynes, project manager for consultant WSP, said at the start of the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS) meeting where the report was unveiled. 

There are significant obstacles for all of the routes, including old or outdated infrastructure, and potential conflicts with Norfolk Southern freight railways, or with other passenger rail lines like NJ Transit and SEPTA. The report authors did not consult with any of the other rail carriers as part of their work, and the report did not include analysis of ridership demand.

In some instances, portions of the land to be used for the proposed route has already been sold and repurposed into rail trails, parks or for other private and commercial uses. New stations would have to be constructed, along with a new equipment maintenance facility in the Allentown area. 

Even if local officials decided to move forward with one of the options, the estimated capital costs would be between $450 million and $739 million, and estimated annual operating costs range from $2 million to $29 million — and a dedicated funding source would need to be identified, according to the report. 

Here’s a look at the five proposed corridors that the study’s authors considered to be most feasible, how long the trip would take, and some of the key costs and potential concerns. The projections are based on the assumption that the route would include three round trips per day:

Allentown to NYC via Hackettstown, NJ (2 hours, 30 minutes): This route would follow Norfolk Southern tracks to Philipsburg and Dover & Delaware River Railroad to connect with the NJ Transit Morris & Essex line in Hackettstown. The capital costs are estimated at $474.9 million, and it would operate over existing freight lines. There are potential environmental constraints, with historic properties and preserved farmlands located along the route.

Allentown to NYC via High Bridge, NJ (2 hours, 20 minutes): This route would connect via Norfolk Southern tracks to the NJ Transit Raritan Valley Line in High Bridge. Capital costs are estimated at $469.9 million, and it also would operate over existing freight lines. There are historic properties and preserved farmlands located along the route, and a contaminated site along the route as well.

Allentown to Philadelphia via Landsdale (1 hour 46 minutes): This route uses Norfolk Southern tracks to Bethlehem, Lehigh Valley Rail Management within Bethlehem, the Saucon Rail Trail (owned by SEPTA) to Coopersburg, Upper Bucks Rail Trail (SEPTA) to Quakertown, East Penn Railroad (SEPTA) to Telford, and Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad (SEPTA) to connect with the SEPTA Lansdale Doylestown Line in Lansdale. Capital costs are estimated at $635.8 million, and it also would operate over existing freight lines. Parts of the route have been converted to rail-to-trail parks. There are historic properties located along the route.

Allentown to Philadelphia via Norristown (1 hour, 52 minutes): This route follows the Norfolk Southern Railway to Bethlehem, uses Lehigh Valley Rail Management tracks within Bethlehem, the Saucon Rail Trail (SEPTA) to Coopersburg, Upper Bucks Rail Trail (SEPTA) to Quakertown, East Penn Railroad (SEPTA) to Telford, Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad (SEPTA) to Lansdale, and CSX/Norfolk Southern (SEPTA) to connect with the SEPTA Norristown Line in Norristown. Capital costs are estimated at $739 million, and it also would operate over existing freight lines, with some portions of the route converted to rail-trail parks. There’s a contaminated site along the route, and historic properties as well.

Allentown to Reading (46 minutes): This route would use the Norfolk Southern Railway to connect with the planned Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority service between Reading and Philadelphia. The estimated capital costs would be $450.3 million, and it would involve operations over freight lines. Environmental constraints include the potential reconstruction of a creek crossing, and there are historic properties and preserved farmlands along the route.

The report will be open for comments on the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s website until April 12 and PennDOT’s AdvancingPArail.com site. The next steps for the project would be identifying a project sponsor, conducting additional engineering and feasibility studies, and receiving input from the railroads involved. 

“For too long, the Lehigh Valley, despite its statewide significance as an economic powerhouse and model for regional revitalization, has been neglected when it comes to passenger rail and train service,” state Rep. Josh Siegel (D-Lehigh) said in a statement following the release of the report. “The state has a major role to play in helping make this next groundbreaking and dynamic investment in the Lehigh Valley and I intend to be one of its strongest champions. Our residents deserve this investment; the time has come.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.