https://www.citizensvoice.com/news/wilk ... -1.2508691
Wilkes-Barre eyes rail service to Philly
BY STEVE MOCARSKY / PUBLISHED: JULY 16, 2019
Wilkes-Barre city officials believe it’s time to look into re-establishing intercity passenger rail service between Wilkes-Barre and Philadelphia.
City Director of Operations Butch Frati will serve as proxy for Mayor Tony George at a Wednesday meeting of the Lackawanna/Luzerne Metropolitan Planning Organization to request that the MPO seek funding for a feasibility study of such service.
Frati said the meeting is open to the public and public comment on the proposal would be welcome.
George was out of the office Monday afternoon, but city Administrator Rick Gazenski said Controller Darren Snyder has been researching the benefits of re-establishing the service and spearheaded the effort to lobby for a feasibility study.
Snyder said getting the study on the organization’s agenda is the first step toward seeking state and federal grants that could fund the study, and he thinks re-establishing the rail service could be more feasible now than ever before.
“Milennials are looking to be in downtown areas and don’t necessarily want to have to drive to work” or live in large, congested cities, Snyder said.
He pointed to a February 2019 report by the state Transportation Advisory Committee titled Intercity Passenger Rail Success Factors, which recommends that consideration be given to conducting an in-depth feasibility assessment of the Reading-Pottstown-Philadelphia corridor — and possibly others — for passenger rail service.
Snyder believes the combined populations of Luzerne, Lehigh and Carbon counties — close to 750,000 — represent “a huge number of people where you could have that critical mass that could make passenger rail service feasible.”
Snyder said the Reading Blue Mountain Northern Railroad already has over 300 miles of main line track extending south from Luzerne County through Carbon, Schuylkill and Berks counties. Branch lines extend into Columbia, Lackawanna, Northumberland and Wyoming counties.
And, he said, rail service is important to companies such as Amazon that are looking to relocate, and he noted that Reading Blue Mountain has increased freight service on its lines between Wilkes-Barre, Allentown and Reading in recent years.
Reading Blue Mountain broke all of its records for revenues, freight carload traffic and passenger excursion guests in 2018, ending the year with double-digit growth in both freight and passenger revenue, according to a company news release.
Noting that the Luzerne County Transportation Authority plans to relocate its headquarters from Kingston to Wilkes-Barre in the former Murray Complex, which lies between Pennsylvania Avenue and a double set of railroad tracks, Snyder said the site also would be ideal to accommodate a train station.
He believes the re-establishment of rail service from here to Philadelphia would spur economic development in the region and improve the quality of life. “It could change the whole dynamic of Northeast PA,” Snyder said.
Snyder and Frati both noted that re-establishing the service also would ease congestion on the region’s highways.
“How much more money is (the state Department of Transportation) going to invest in widening the interstates when it might make more sense to put the money into rail service? You have to crunch the numbers and see studies,” Snyder said. “You’ll never know until you look into it.”