As was hinted at last week, SEPTA and PennDOT appear to have finally come to their senses regarding the controversial $chuylkill Valley rail corridor.
The Inquirer reported in today's editions that SEPTA and Norfolk Southern, which owns the right-of-way between Norristown and Wyomissing, are looking into the possibility of NS operating the rail line. This is one option being considered by the task force led by Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet) and U.S. Rep. James Gerlach (R-Pa./6th). Other options include operating 30 minute peak and 60 minute off-peak service as opposed to service levels that were to have doubled.
The costs of the line would also be dramatically reduced from the current $2 billion (and rising) price tag to between the $500 million-$700 million range.
The operating plan would involve a one-seat ride between Reading and Philadelphia, however an engine change from diesel locomotives to electric locomotives, presumably at Norristown.
If SEPTA and NS sign off on this plan, it would mark a major shift away from the boondoggle known as "MetroRail", which would've become nothing more than a glorified trolley operating over the entire corridor.
"This is a Chevy type of approach instead of a Rolls-Royce approach," Norfolk Southern regional vice president Craig Lewis said yesterday. "Everybody knows that a two-seat ride will not have the potential of a one-seat ride."
The agreement, awaiting signature by both Norfolk Southern and SEPTA general manager Faye Moore, represents a sea change for both partners.
Under prior SEPTA general manager Jack Leary, plans to electrify service to Reading and run light-rail vehicles on new track ran afoul of turf and safety concerns by Norfolk Southern. With political static and high costs in the way, that plan failed to gain Federal Transit Administration approval.
"The two sides went at each other like gladiators in a Roman arena," Lewis said. "The attitude now is, we have to look at circumstances, evaluate them, and cooperate."
Added Chris Patton, chief of long-range planning for SEPTA: "We are making progress." Inquirer
Well, gee, what took you so long to figure that out? Maybe it was the FTA's rejection of the MetroRail scheme that forced SEPTA to wake up and get real...