Thursday, January 22, 2004


Today's editions of The Phoenix offers more details on the 14 January meeting in Philadelphia regarding the Schuylkill Valley rail project. The meeting involved officials from SEPTA, PennDOT, Urban Engineers (SEPTA's parrot/consultant), and Congressman James Gerlach (R-6th).

Chester County Commissioner Andrew Dinniman (D) offered his perspective on what now appears to be a staged project which is proposed to end in Phoenixville as opposed to King of Prussia or Valley Forge.

"While half a loaf is better than no loaf and vehicle traffic in Phoenixville would be greatly assisted, we still would not have solved a regional gridlock problem along the 422 Corridor," said Dinniman.

Partly in response to (the FTA's "not recommended" rating), meeting participants considered a plan of action. "The purpose of the meeting was to get folks together and decide, 'Do we need to agree to change the path we are on?'" said (Roy Kienitz (chief of staff to Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet).

"Everybody involved likes the project but it has a huge $2 billion problem."

All together now...


DVARP President Don Nigro continued to push the association's position that the project operate as conventional commuter rail utilizing shared track. Some of Schuylkill Valley's more vocal proponents, including Greater Valley Forge TMA executive director Peter Quinn - who did a wonderful job rounding up "parrots" to read virtually the same exact statement verbatim at a hearing in King of Prussia two years ago - still don't get it.

Quinn argued that running both freight and passenger service on the same track is a "disaster waiting to happen." He called for building additional tracks side by side in the rail bed alongside existing tracks.

Apparently Quinn doesn't spend a lot of time travelling beyond the Banana Republic of Upper Merion. At least not by rail...

With a handful of exceptions, every single commuter railroad and virtually all Amtrak routes outside of the Northeast and Keystone corridords have operate over freight railroad rights-of-way. SEPTA shares portions of the R3 West Trenton and R8 Fox Chase lines with CSX freight trains. There have been far too few major problems with the commuter railroads operating over freight tracks (though Amtrak is a different story). Did it ever occur to Quinn that adding yet another track to the corridor for the entire length may be part of the reason that this project is now priced out at $2 billion (and climbing), running the risk of being the "Big Dig" of commuter rail projects?

On the flip side...

Gerlach said those involved are seeking a "lean and mean" project and that $45 million of federal funding has been secured for design and engineering.

Maybe the freshman congressman can explain to Quinn and some of his most fervent followers that the gold-plated "MetroRail" alternative has little to no chance of ever being built.

On a related note, the SEPTA Board is expected to approve a contract realted to Schuylkill Valley at today's rubber stamp meeting.

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