Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Discussion relating to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Philadelphia Metro Area). Official web site can be found here: www.septa.com. Also including discussion related to the PATCO Speedline rapid transit operated by Delaware River Port Authority. Official web site can be found here: http://www.ridepatco.org/.

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BPP1999
Posts: 66
Joined: Sun Oct 21, 2012 9:33 pm
Location: Collegeville, PA

Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by BPP1999 » Sun Oct 21, 2012 10:19 pm

New user here, but have done a fair amount of research on this issue, including reading John Pawson's excellent book. I've also discussed rail restoration (primarily the R6/Reading) with my actual state legislator and staffers from Bob Casey's office and Jim Gerlach's. All 3 were very generous with their time and seemed interested that they actually heard from a constituent. They all expressed support for the rails but all said that, at least for the time being, our Federal government is not as generous with this type of funding (I guess Congress is too busy spending taxpayer money everywhere else but in our own country). There seems to be overwhelming support from the municipalities and the general public along the routes, and there seems to be bipartisan political support. As is typical of Pennsylvania, though, we can't seem to get out of our own way.

Does the R6 really need to go to Reading? While I think it's a great idea, service to Pottstown (20 miles past Norristown instead of 40) would push SEPTA all the way out to western exurbia at a greatly reduced cost. Does SEPTA really think the dual-mode locomotives purchased by NJT are "not proven technology" or is that simply their excuse to act in their typical one-horse, small-town fashion? The SVM seemed to be a bloated boondoggle and I don't blame the government for denying it but service via diesel to Pottstown seems very reasonable and would probably account for more than 50% of the increased ridership while only being 50% of the distance. In my first job I started with about 15 other kids out of college and 3 of us rode the R6 from Norristown to Center City (2 of us lived in Collegeville, the third lived in Pottstown, and had a parent who also worked in Center City). There absolutely exists a ridership for this line. In addition, imagine the private developers that would flock to build denser in Phoenixville, and imagine what could be done with the old Pennhurst Asylum, a mile from Royersford Station. But I digress - I don't need to convince the users of this website of the validity of passenger rail restoration. Of course you'd think more politicians would see the benefits of leveraging government spending to spur economic growth in previously distressed areas.

From what I've read Norfolk Southern's requirements are no liability for passengers, no impact on their schedules, and a user fee from SEPTA (these requirements all seem reasonable to me). Seems that if we stopped dreaming and started acting like the rail powerhouse we once were this could happen relatively painlessly. There's an estimate of $400 million to Reading that includes equipment procurement as well as station upgrades. Stopping, at least for now, at Pottstown, would lop off a huge portion of this price. Let's show success starting at Pottstown and spread the other money to other projects (see below).

As for Newtown and Quakertown, since the distances are shorter, can't they simply be electrified? This may also be the best option since there are not currently many diesel trains operating on these lines and they do cut through some fairly developed residential areas. It seems to me that the cost to electrify is about $25-$30 million per mile (someone who knows please tell me the correct amount). The Newtown extension is 15 miles and the Quakertown is 16. It appears these three long-overdue and much-needed projects could be done for less than 1/2 of the cost of the SVM, and this is over 10 years later.

I'm not trying to sound naive other regions in this country are seeing rail expansion - why can't we, especially considering the groundwork is already there.

Matthew Mitchell
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Location: Glenside PA

Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by Matthew Mitchell » Thu Oct 25, 2012 11:20 am

None of this is going to happen until the state gets a new transportation funding source.

Save your breath until then, or better yet, use it to put pressure on legislators and the governor to get the job done.

glennk419
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Location: Southeastern PA & Cape May County, NJ

Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by glennk419 » Thu Oct 25, 2012 4:34 pm

BPP1999 wrote:New user here, but have done a fair amount of research on this issue, including reading John Pawson's excellent book. I've also discussed rail restoration (primarily the R6/Reading) with my actual state legislator and staffers from Bob Casey's office and Jim Gerlach's. All 3 were very generous with their time and seemed interested that they actually heard from a constituent. They all expressed support for the rails but all said that, at least for the time being, our Federal government is not as generous with this type of funding (I guess Congress is too busy spending taxpayer money everywhere else but in our own country). There seems to be overwhelming support from the municipalities and the general public along the routes, and there seems to be bipartisan political support. As is typical of Pennsylvania, though, we can't seem to get out of our own way.

Does the R6 really need to go to Reading? While I think it's a great idea, service to Pottstown (20 miles past Norristown instead of 40) would push SEPTA all the way out to western exurbia at a greatly reduced cost. Does SEPTA really think the dual-mode locomotives purchased by NJT are "not proven technology" or is that simply their excuse to act in their typical one-horse, small-town fashion? The SVM seemed to be a bloated boondoggle and I don't blame the government for denying it but service via diesel to Pottstown seems very reasonable and would probably account for more than 50% of the increased ridership while only being 50% of the distance. In my first job I started with about 15 other kids out of college and 3 of us rode the R6 from Norristown to Center City (2 of us lived in Collegeville, the third lived in Pottstown, and had a parent who also worked in Center City). There absolutely exists a ridership for this line. In addition, imagine the private developers that would flock to build denser in Phoenixville, and imagine what could be done with the old Pennhurst Asylum, a mile from Royersford Station. But I digress - I don't need to convince the users of this website of the validity of passenger rail restoration. Of course you'd think more politicians would see the benefits of leveraging government spending to spur economic growth in previously distressed areas.

From what I've read Norfolk Southern's requirements are no liability for passengers, no impact on their schedules, and a user fee from SEPTA (these requirements all seem reasonable to me). Seems that if we stopped dreaming and started acting like the rail powerhouse we once were this could happen relatively painlessly. There's an estimate of $400 million to Reading that includes equipment procurement as well as station upgrades. Stopping, at least for now, at Pottstown, would lop off a huge portion of this price. Let's show success starting at Pottstown and spread the other money to other projects (see below).

As for Newtown and Quakertown, since the distances are shorter, can't they simply be electrified? This may also be the best option since there are not currently many diesel trains operating on these lines and they do cut through some fairly developed residential areas. It seems to me that the cost to electrify is about $25-$30 million per mile (someone who knows please tell me the correct amount). The Newtown extension is 15 miles and the Quakertown is 16. It appears these three long-overdue and much-needed projects could be done for less than 1/2 of the cost of the SVM, and this is over 10 years later.

I'm not trying to sound naive other regions in this country are seeing rail expansion - why can't we, especially considering the groundwork is already there.
Welcome. Very well thought thought out and written first post. I'm sure that you have already been through this and some of the other relevant sites where this topic has been discussed ad-nauseum. Probably the most serious proposal (besides the ludacrous SVM) over the last few years was for resumption of Bethlehem Branch service to Quakertown and/or electrification to a proposed terminus at Rt 309 between Telford and Sellersville. This proposal had very strong support from Bucks County and lukewarm support from Montco but quietly disappeared. There have also been proposals for reactivation of the Newtown Branch going back to the mid 90's and including the involvement of a private operator but these too died on the vine. Dr. Mitchell is quite right though that until a serious source of funding is obtained, these projects will remain on the drawing board while the costs continue to ratchet upward.
Glenn

BuddCar711
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Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by BuddCar711 » Thu Oct 25, 2012 8:46 pm

Matthew Mitchell wrote:None of this is going to happen until the state gets a new transportation funding source.

Save your breath until then, or better yet, use it to put pressure on legislators and the governor to get the job done.
Well the Gubernatorial election is 2 years away (and hopefully Corbett will be a 1-termer).

ChrisinAbington
Posts: 364
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Location: Abington, PA

Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by ChrisinAbington » Fri Oct 26, 2012 9:03 am

Yes, Corbett has not been particularly useful when it comes to a long-term solution to infrastructure funding. My opinion is that he's all for a solution, as long as no new taxes, fees, or surcharges are collected in any manner. Hence, there's no solution other than temporarily shifting money around in the short term.
I'll tell you what would be particularly useful though; a better view towards the city of Philadelphia from the rest of the state. The voters for most state senators would not want one one dime of their taxes allocated anywhere near the city because of various deep rooted opinions. That is the underlying problem towards why there has been no action on a funding solution. The delegation has felt no imperitive towards action, and the general populace has been quiet about the issue regardless of the likely impending demise of ACT44. The PA Turnpike won't keep borrowing cheap money forever.
Now back to the actual topic BPP brought up. I think most all of us on here would love to see MANY more expansion projects than just the Regional options listed below, but the support just isn't there outside of a few friendly members of the local delegation. Take a look at how badly the 422-Plus toll plan got beaten up, and that was only a user fee to improve basically two travel options on the same corridor. If you think that was bad, try seeing the uproar a % regional sales tax increase would induce. Those politicians don't necessarily follow the most popular path all the time, but they sure don't appreciate mobs of unhappy voters regardless of the worthiness of a project.
Welcome to the forum as well. Good post for an important topic.
Chris.

MichaelBug
Posts: 208
Joined: Wed Oct 06, 2010 11:34 am
Location: Collegeville, PA

Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by MichaelBug » Fri Oct 26, 2012 10:17 am

Also being a resident of Collegeville, I wholeheartedly agree with both of you. I have been commuting from here to Center City Philadelphia since 1988, & it's only been in the last couple of years that SEPTA's presence here in western Montco has been even seen as anything more than an afterthought. I have now seen an entire generation grow up here, basically completely unaware that passenger rail service to Philadelphia from Pottstown, Phoenixville & Royersford ever existed in the first place. I was beginning to think that I was one of the last to live here & work in CCP.

While my town has not itself have had passenger rail service since trains ran on what is now the Perkiomen Trail, I can say that many here would flock to a revived rail service running from Phoenixville, Oaks, etc. directly to the city. They don't really care whether it's diesel or electric, as long as it's a direct service (without changing trains in - horrors!- Norristown). I'm not so sure as to whether SEPTA would be the best operator of such a service, however.

We basically have a fair amount of SEPTA transit service around here, but it's still not well known by many that we do. The problem is more just that for a variety of reasons, it doesn't seem to fit the area's real needs that well. I can walk to the 93 bus from home (& so can most of the student population at Ursinus College, among others), but it will basically only take me to the Montgomery County Prison (which adds easily 10 to 15 minutes to the ride in itself), downtown Norristown or Pottstown. I can't get to King of Prussia without taking the 93 bus into Norristown first & then riding back out to KoP on the 99. I can't go to the Expo Center or the movies in Oaks without going to Norristown first. I can't get to Coventry Mall without transferring to another transit system (PART) that won't accept my Zone 4 TrailPass. I can't ride the 93 to Norristown & transfer to commuter rail without an almost hour-long wait on a weekend, or a truly dedicated, reliable connection any time. I can't even get to Wegmans in my own town, less than a 10 minute drive, on transit without riding to Norristown & back out (on the 99) & THEN hiking the better part of a mile from the opposite end of Providence Town Center, because no one apparently considered transit access when building the complex.

SEPTA will have quite a lot of work to do if it wants to make commuter rail a relevant option to many in my part of Montgomery County. They need to show that they can make ANY kind of public transportation relevant first.

Patrick Boylan
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Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by Patrick Boylan » Fri Oct 26, 2012 11:25 am

Resuming rail service won't solve the "can't get there" scenarios you mention.

25Hz
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Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by 25Hz » Fri Oct 26, 2012 11:53 pm

There is huge support in bucks for restoration of the newtown line, to the point where we have here in newtown land zoned for a new station and one track yard parallel to the platform track.

Day by day the rails push up through the asphalt patch on state street, as if they know service will be restored.

I think the newtown line should be put on top of the restoration list, as traffic here is insanely bad, mostly from people traveling to philly for work.
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Clearfield
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Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by Clearfield » Sun Oct 28, 2012 10:05 am

25Hz wrote:There is huge support in bucks for restoration of the newtown line, to the point where we have here in newtown land zoned for a new station and one track yard parallel to the platform track.
Except that the County Commissioners in both Bucks and Montgomery don't feel strongly enough to put up a dime for restoration.

If 'we here in Newtown' have land zoned for a new station and one track yard parallel to the platform track', thats wonderful. Really.

If the County governments have said NO voting with their purse strings, why don't you ask Governor Corbett for money to restore the line.

OOPS! Corbett won't fund failing bridges. Never mind................
"The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one".............. Spock

My opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of any organization, Association, or Authority.

Tritransit Area
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Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by Tritransit Area » Tue Nov 06, 2012 3:30 pm

HI BPP1999! Welcome to the board! You definitely are well educated on the various projects!

Regarding Reading:

I do believe the line should go to Reading...one day. What disturbs me is that the whole project is being looked at simply as one big Norristown to Reading extension of 62 miles! I agree that Pottstown would be a fantastic terminus for Phase I, as it is within the SEPTA area and basically will hit all of largest stops outside of Reading and Wyomissing. In the interim, BARTA could run a commuter route to Pottstown to not only connect people with trains to Philadelphia and King of Prussia, but to also close the gap in local transit service along the 422 corridor.

Also, while NJT and Montreal have the dual-mode locomotives, I'm not quite sure how "proven" they are as they are the first of their kind. I imagine that SEPTA would be watching to see how they work out, as it would definitely help with this extension and the Quakertown extension as well!

Regarding Quakertown:

This project, like others said, has a lot of support. At the moment, 309 gets very congested as people travel down the highway from places like Quakertown, Telford, Perkasie, Souderton, etc to access trains at Colmar/Lansdale. In fact, the amount of riders who come from the Pennridge area encouraged SEPTA to increase weekday train service to Colmar to encourage drivers to park there, rather than to take all of the parking at Lansdale Station.

Like the Reading project, most of the ridership (I think as high as 70%?) would come from south of Perkasie. The current idea for the project, which was a potentially electrified extension to a Park & Ride in "Derstines" right by 309 would retain that ridership for a fraction of the cost. The most expensive part of the line, if I'm not mistaken, is the Perkasie Tunnel, which is in terrible shape at the moment but has significant local significance, so upgrading it will be a challenge.

Regarding Newtown:

This line would be one of those things that is nice to have, especially with the way Newtown and, further down the line, Southampton have grown. There isn't a huge amount of support for this line because the entire extension is relatively close to existing Regional Rail lines and mainly would just take riders from those lines (though supporters argue that by providing a closer option for riders of those other lines, the Warminster and West Trenton line would be able to carry new riders that currently don't ride because of crowded trains and parking lots.

Another reason why the line doesn't have so much suppose is that it would be very expensive to bring the line up to modern standards. TMA Bucks did perform a feasibility study to see if it would be worth it to reactivate any type of service along the Right of Way, starting with the cheapest option, BRT. The study found that reactivation even as a BRT would be cost prohibitive, and therefore TMA Bucks didn't go any further to study the feasibility of reactivating the line as a rail line (which would be more expensive).
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Clearfield
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Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by Clearfield » Tue Nov 06, 2012 7:31 pm

Tritransit Area wrote:HI BPP1999! Welcome to the board! You definitely are well educated on the various projects!

Regarding Reading:

I do believe the line should go to Reading...one day. What disturbs me is that the whole project is being looked at simply as one big Norristown to Reading extension of 62 miles! I agree that Pottstown would be a fantastic terminus for Phase I, as it is within the SEPTA area and basically will hit all of largest stops outside of Reading and Wyomissing. In the interim, BARTA could run a commuter route to Pottstown to not only connect people with trains to Philadelphia and King of Prussia, but to also close the gap in local transit service along the 422 corridor.

Also, while NJT and Montreal have the dual-mode locomotives, I'm not quite sure how "proven" they are as they are the first of their kind. I imagine that SEPTA would be watching to see how they work out, as it would definitely help with this extension and the Quakertown extension as well!

Regarding Quakertown:

This project, like others said, has a lot of support. At the moment, 309 gets very congested as people travel down the highway from places like Quakertown, Telford, Perkasie, Souderton, etc to access trains at Colmar/Lansdale. In fact, the amount of riders who come from the Pennridge area encouraged SEPTA to increase weekday train service to Colmar to encourage drivers to park there, rather than to take all of the parking at Lansdale Station.

Like the Reading project, most of the ridership (I think as high as 70%?) would come from south of Perkasie. The current idea for the project, which was a potentially electrified extension to a Park & Ride in "Derstines" right by 309 would retain that ridership for a fraction of the cost. The most expensive part of the line, if I'm not mistaken, is the Perkasie Tunnel, which is in terrible shape at the moment but has significant local significance, so upgrading it will be a challenge.

Regarding Newtown:

This line would be one of those things that is nice to have, especially with the way Newtown and, further down the line, Southampton have grown. There isn't a huge amount of support for this line because the entire extension is relatively close to existing Regional Rail lines and mainly would just take riders from those lines (though supporters argue that by providing a closer option for riders of those other lines, the Warminster and West Trenton line would be able to carry new riders that currently don't ride because of crowded trains and parking lots.

Another reason why the line doesn't have so much suppose is that it would be very expensive to bring the line up to modern standards. TMA Bucks did perform a feasibility study to see if it would be worth it to reactivate any type of service along the Right of Way, starting with the cheapest option, BRT. The study found that reactivation even as a BRT would be cost prohibitive, and therefore TMA Bucks didn't go any further to study the feasibility of reactivating the line as a rail line (which would be more expensive).

I personally agree pretty much across the board.
"The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one".............. Spock

My opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of any organization, Association, or Authority.

Matthew Mitchell
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Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by Matthew Mitchell » Tue Nov 06, 2012 9:46 pm

The argument for trying to get the full length of those Reading and Lehigh Valley services in the initial phase is that the cost recovery further out is worse than the cost recovery on the inner segment of the line, so it's harder to get funding for the outer segment as a separate project, and thus doing the inner segment as an initial phase lessens the chances that the outer segment gets built.

BPP1999
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Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by BPP1999 » Thu Nov 29, 2012 8:29 pm

Matthew Mitchell wrote:The argument for trying to get the full length of those Reading and Lehigh Valley services in the initial phase is that the cost recovery further out is worse than the cost recovery on the inner segment of the line, so it's harder to get funding for the outer segment as a separate project, and thus doing the inner segment as an initial phase lessens the chances that the outer segment gets built.
Yes, but if the inner segments get built in 5 years (I'm simply making this up), and the expanded service is a success - which it will be - then that will serve two purposes. First it will encourage people living beyond the extended service to consider working in CC via the train. Second, it will show the nay-sayers, politicians, and other anti-train Neanderthals that passenger service expansion is a good idea. All during this time, as history shows us, the areas beyond the inner segments will continue to grow. Continued growth in exurban areas will cause the projected ridership numbers in the outer segments to increase. Rome wasn't built in a day and passenger service to Pottstown and Perkasie in the near-term is a heck of a lot better than no service to Reading via Pottstown or Bethlehem via Quakertown ever.

I know this topic has been debated again and again and again here and other places but it seems like - in typical Philadelphia AND Pennsylvania fashion - these projects are being made out to be much harder than they actually are. We simply can't get things done here.

Matthew Mitchell
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Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by Matthew Mitchell » Sun Dec 02, 2012 9:51 am

BPP1999 wrote:
Matthew Mitchell wrote:The argument for trying to get the full length of those Reading and Lehigh Valley services in the initial phase is that the cost recovery further out is worse than the cost recovery on the inner segment of the line, so it's harder to get funding for the outer segment as a separate project, and thus doing the inner segment as an initial phase lessens the chances that the outer segment gets built.
Yes, but if the inner segments get built in 5 years (I'm simply making this up), and the expanded service is a success - which it will be - then that will serve two purposes. First it will encourage people living beyond the extended service to consider working in CC via the train. Second, it will show the nay-sayers, politicians, and other anti-train Neanderthals that passenger service expansion is a good idea.

But the way grants get done to fund these projects, the success of the inner segment doesn't help you. If anything, it hurts: if you get passengers from the Lehigh Valley to drive to Shelly to take a phase I service, they don't count as new riders gained for phase II, and the project fares worse in competition with other projects in other cities.

As I implied above, the ridership and cost recovery of a more distant segment is always going to be less than a closer, shorter segment (except in some unusual cases). It's probably fair to say that for any corridor, you're only going to get one shot at a federal grant. Anything after that is going to have to be funded locally. So it makes sense to try and get as much of the funding as you can in the initial stage.

Further, there is considerably less nimbyism in the areas we're talking about than there was in the past. Even though there was considerable opposition to DVRPC's plan for the 422 corridor, it was predominantly an opposition to tolling the road than it was an opposition to rail. Newtown is pro-rail, and what little opposition there was to a Quakertown/Shelly service was predicated on the noise and vibration of freight trains rather than the quieter passenger service.

neroden
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Re: Reading, Newtown, Quakertown restoration

Post by neroden » Sun Dec 09, 2012 6:08 pm

Tritransit Area wrote: Regarding Newtown:

This line would be one of those things that is nice to have, especially with the way Newtown and, further down the line, Southampton have grown. There isn't a huge amount of support for this line because the entire extension is relatively close to existing Regional Rail lines and mainly would just take riders from those lines (though supporters argue that by providing a closer option for riders of those other lines, the Warminster and West Trenton line would be able to carry new riders that currently don't ride because of crowded trains and parking lots.

Another reason why the line doesn't have so much suppose is that it would be very expensive to bring the line up to modern standards. TMA Bucks did perform a feasibility study to see if it would be worth it to reactivate any type of service along the Right of Way, starting with the cheapest option, BRT. The study found that reactivation even as a BRT would be cost prohibitive, and therefore TMA Bucks didn't go any further to study the feasibility of reactivating the line as a rail line (which would be more expensive).
To me, this sounds like study sandbagging; BRT is routinely more expensive than rail service. Perform an actual feasibility study on rail service, guys.

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