Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby limejuice » Thu Jul 10, 2008 3:59 pm

Nyterider wrote:The Newtown line is useless and won't be missed. It runs no more than 3 miles from any point on the West Trenton line. Losing the possibility of service to Bethlehem, on the other hand, is a much more serious blow. There is NO alternate route for rail between Philly and the Lehigh Valley. The Lehigh Valley should eventually get train service to Philadelphia and to New York City, although admittedly New York is always the more viable market. This is a state transportation issue and state government should intervene before it is too late, just like they acted to save Amtrak service to Harrisburg.


The Chestnut Hill lines run parallel to one another - never more than a mile or so apart, but neither line is hurting for ridership. The Hill East is about 3 miles from both the Norristown line and the Main line. The West Chester line is within 3 miles of the R2 Wilmington until you get south of Wallingford. They all serve different population clusters, and so would the Newtown line.

Folks from the immediate Newtown area might not use the Woodbourne park & ride a short distance away, but seem far more likely to use Cornwells Heights. Maybe it's a lack of parking capacity, or maybe it has to do with ritualistic driving habits. Say I live in one area and commute along a certain corridor. I eventually become used to the services on that corridor. Say for example, I semi-frequently go to a Wendy's along that corridor. Then I move a short distance away, in the same general area. There now may be a Wendy's that is closer to my new home, but along a different corridor. I will still remain loyal to the old Wendy's, because it is what I'm used to, and it's along a corridor that I frequent. Case in point - Newtowners aren't using Woodbourne, they're using Cornwells Heights, because they ritualistically drive I-95 to get to the city.

Now Newtown happens to be the only population center of its size and proximity to the city that lacks direct rail service. I mean Phoenixville is only a hair further out, and with significantly more potential riders, but rail service out that way is really a no-brainer anyway. Pitting Newtown against Quakertown is a little interesting. All you have to do is go to Hatfield, and the population density drops dramatically. You have to restore more railroad towards Bethlehem to get the amount of riders that you would get from restoring to Newtown. There's also a handy political advantage to Newtown service. Montgomery County obviously couldn't care about the line, where Bucks is more enthusiastic. Now say they restore Newtown service - and only service Newtown, Village Shires, Holland, Churchville, and Southampton. Then you have these shiny new trains whizzing through Montco, making no stops for the new Woodmont 'station' development, the Toll Brothers' new Huntingdon Place development, or the new Walnut Hill development - making a bee line for the city. Shouldn't be all that difficult then to find someone that'll pick up the tab for some nice deluxe ADA-compliant stations. Perhaps even Bryn Athyn will get on board! Hell, the gas prices are hurting everyone. Those folks could use a little more interaction with the immediate 'outside world' anyway. Of course, the Bethlehem branch has the advantage of a workable right-of-way and trackbed, whereas Newtown - in some, but not all places - needs total reconstruction. Personally, I think it's a wash between the two. Another thing to consider is the mobility of the populations. I'm willing to bet more Newtowners, Churchvillagers, and Southamptonites are commuting to jobs that are more than 10 miles from home, whereas more Hatfielders, Soudertonians, and Sellersvillagers probably work in or around their communities. One more consideration is the added strain on system capacity placed by more riders or more trains. If the extensions are operated as shuttles, I think you can keep the same number of trains, and simply add cars. But if you're providing a one seat ride, then you might need to be adding trains during the rush. Having more trains on the line between Philly and Lansdale has the potential to get ugly with this glorious new stripped-down excuse for a signal system, whereas if you're only adding trains between Philly and NX (mostly 4 tracks, except Wayne Jct - NX) there's less potential for bunching. Generally, I believe if you're closer to home, it's easier and cheaper to maintain and operate.

Bringing service all the way to the Lehigh Valley, and Reading for that matter, almost seems like a completely different ball game. This really falls under the scope of intercity passenger rail, not commuter rail, doesn't it? Is there really a large number of daily commuters coming from Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton and Reading - large enough to warrant regular train service? Or is there just a great deal of interest to link the population centers, with casual ridership potential? If the latter is the case, then the service might do well to be operated by a new authority. Granted, Septa historically operated trains to Allentown and Pottsville, but that was long ago, and they have since become specialized in operating mostly Philly-centric intra-city services. It would probably be more sensible from a operational/managerial perspective for Septa to simply accommodate such a service while someone else runs it. I mean Septa never exactly seemed to be aggressive about expanding their services anyway.

Anyway, those are just my biased thoughts, loosely based on half-assed research.
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby dreese_us » Fri Jul 11, 2008 12:53 am

I have mentioned this before and still believe that this would work. Turn the restoration of the Quakertown and the Newtown line into one project. Have DMU's or reconditioned RDC's run between both points, or possibly running through to Bethlehem. Make Fern Rock the transfer point for diesel service( it worked well during rail works). Diesels running express from Lansdale (Quakertown Line) and County line Station(Newtown Branch) to Fern Rock would provide a fast ride and convenient transfer point. The only problem would be constructing a short south to north connecting track at Newtown Junction.

I am amazed at how many people are willing to right off the Newtown Branch just by looking at a map. Traffic through towns along this corridor at rush hour is unbearable. Since Septa temporarily suspended service on the Newtown Branch, population has grown quite a bit along this line.

I don't believe local service to Quakertown, transferring at Lansdale and stopping at every station between center city and Quakertown will convince commuters to park their cars. Provide dependable express service, and then you may even be able to charge a slight premium.
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby Nyterider » Sun Jul 13, 2008 5:47 pm

Hey everybody...

Would I like to see both the Newtown and Bethlehem lines carefully preserved for future use? Of course I would! For a rail advocate to be against it is like being opposed to motherhood or clean air. It is my opinion that 50-100 years from now, the loss of the Bethlehem Line will be felt more acutely by a larger population due to it's intercity aspect. If we can only save one line, I'd fight for the Bethlehem right of way. Sometimes one has to pick their battles. And if nothing else, the Bethlehem line is double track. It has a slight chance of accomodating a track and a trail if it comes down to that.
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby jrevans » Mon Jul 14, 2008 10:46 am

Wow.

I don't know what to say. SEPTA is paying someone to rip out the tracks that I want preserved and restored?

Wow.

Once they are gone, they are gone. At least leave one track in there..... :(
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Bids are in

Postby jrevans » Mon Jul 14, 2008 10:51 am

By the way, the bids are in and published now....

http://www.septa.org/business/bidtab/In ... lation.pdf

I'm speechless. Well, not really.

Which option are they going with? A or B?

Can they at least donate some of the rail to the Reading Company Technical and Historical Society?

Too bad the East Penn Railway can't suddenly expand their service out to Hellertown....
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby jfrey40535 » Mon Jul 14, 2008 11:54 am

I'd still like to know why transit dollars are being spent to do this (unless the townships are paying SEPTA)?? They cry they don't have money to improve service but they're always deconstructing something! Does anyone know if the million to pull the rails is coming from SEPTA's budget?
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby walnut » Mon Jul 14, 2008 9:33 pm

The contractor will pay SEPTA $3 million to remove the track and clear and grade the right of way.

This isn't the great deal it sounds like. For a few million the track could be put back in service for freight. Studies alone for replacing the track can run to the millions.
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby Suburban Station » Mon Jul 14, 2008 11:00 pm

I'm speechless. jcasey@septa.org
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby jfrey40535 » Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:32 am

Don't bother writing him. IT won't do you any good. SEPTA has no interest in that line, and the townships have no interest either.Go to the press. In these times, there should not be 3 rails-to-trails projects on ex-SEPTA commuter lines. In any case, I say let the townships have their hiking trails. They'll need something to do when they can't afford to drive to work anymore because gas is so high and they all lost their jobs.
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby jrevans » Tue Jul 15, 2008 10:28 am

I emailed Joe Casey last night and this morning I received a phone call from somebody at SEPTA. (I didn't catch his name....)

We had a long detailed discussion about the line and the trail. Basically, Lower Saucon, Upper Saucon and Hellertown approached SEPTA about making a trail. (Later, Coopersburg joined in too.) SEPTA is open to the idea, as they want a "caretaker" for the line. He said that they are concerned about stormwater management everywhere, and after hiking the Bethlehem Branch, I know there are some drainage issues up there.

He emphasized that they know service restoration will cause their lease to be terminated and that SEPTA is not giving up rights to the line or abandoning it.

He also said that they are not talking about a paved trail, but just a bare trail. I suggested that they leave in one track and make the other track area the trail. To that idea he said that the townships wouldn't like the issues that would cause for maintenance and the tripping hazard.

He also mentioned that he met with AdamC the other day to discuss this same thing.

Since he was concerned about a "caretaker" I floated the idea of a volunteer railfan group to cut trees and clear the ROW. He didn't know about that, because of liabilities, but he didn't dismiss it either. I told him I could probably round up some people with chainsaws and cutters and clear the ROW North of Quakertown. I didn't really get a response to that one.

I also noted SEPTA's reduction of service, as opposed to expansion. He noted that they are going to expand service to Wawa and with the new source of dedicated funding, are going to look elsewhere too. He also mentioned another rail line that is being used as a trail, but I wasn't familiar with the name that he used.

When I questioned rail removal on a non-abandoned railroad, he said they consulted with their legal council and saw no problems. He said that since they are state chartered (like PADOT) they have some extra leeway. I told him I'm pretty sure that they are still a railroad and governed by the STB on matters like this.

He was a nice guy, but my next step is to write a letter to the STB....
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby Jersey_Mike » Tue Jul 15, 2008 10:31 am

Reminds me of them time when SEPTA tried to scrap the historic subway cars it didn't own.
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby scotty269 » Tue Jul 15, 2008 12:55 pm

You emailed Casey and got a phone call the next morning from a SEPTA Rep?

Customer Service - A+
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby jrevans » Tue Jul 15, 2008 1:04 pm

TheOneCalledA1 wrote:You emailed Casey and got a phone call the next morning from a SEPTA Rep?

Customer Service - A+


I was impressed. And he was rather knowledgeable and courteous. Hopefully it's a sign that SEPTA is actually improving....
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby jfrey40535 » Tue Jul 15, 2008 2:23 pm

Its impressive that you got a phone call, and its probablly helpful that we have new blood running the show, but that isn't going to save the line. I still think going to the press would have a much more dramatic impact, at least in terms of questioning why the townships are dead set on a hiking trail instead of a transportation corridor.
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Re: Bethlehem Railroad Line - right of Way Track Cleanup

Postby scotty269 » Tue Jul 15, 2008 2:33 pm

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