Monday, August 31, 2009

Meeting for Draft of Intercity Rail Plan

Pennsylvania is making a comprehensive rail plan for passenger and freight rail. You can go to the meetings being held statewide and make comments on the draft. Here is an excerpt from the press release:

Three (3) Public Meetings have been scheduled to review the Draft Intercity Passenger and Freight Rail Plan. The draft plan will include goals, objectives, and recommendations (short and long term) for transportation improvements related to rail in the Commonwealth.

The plan will enable PennDOT to implement a more efficient and effective approach to intercity rail transportation within the Commonwealth. Specifically, consideration will be given to more frequent and timely passenger rail service and increased use of the freight rail system for goods movement. In addition, this plan will also aid in prioritizing rail projects throughout the state by identifying those that will provide the most benefit for the limited funding available. Prioritization will take into account multiple factors.

These factors include, but are not limited to; the availability of funding, the ability of the project/improvement to facilitate economic growth, and the minimization of impacts to the environment.

Each public meeting will be held in an open house format so community members can stop by to learn about the plan, ask questions and provide written comments.

Identical information will be presented at each location/meeting.

Monday, September 14, 2009
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
SEPTA, Board Room
1234 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Go and let PennDOT know that rail should be restored to the Lehigh Valley.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Specter, LaHood drive talk on transportation

The new secretary of the federal department of transportation came for his first visit to the Lehigh Valley. He mostly talked about roads but the article is below.
Specter, LaHood drive talk on transportation
They meet with local leaders to discuss issues, projects but make no promises for money.


August 25, 2009

Rail advocate Paul Marin chugged along with his ongoing plea for the restoration of passenger rail service to the Lehigh Valley. Airport director George Doughty touted the need for federal funding for the nation's airports. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski pitched the importance of money for his beloved American Parkway project.

There was nothing new in those appeals, offered at the America on Wheels museum in Allentown Monday. The big difference was on the receiving end: U.S. Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood was the listener, in person.

Introduced by Sen. Arlen Specter as ''the man with the money,'' LaHood visited the city with Specter after the two made similar stops in Norristown, Elizabethtown and Camp Hill earlier in the day.

The events were part of a kind of summer tour for Specter, a newly minted Democrat who will be opposed in next spring's primary by U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak of Delaware County. In the last three months, Specter has appeared with four other Obama Cabinet secretaries on different stops in Philadelphia and in Somerset County.

In Allentown, Specter and LaHood met with elected officials and transportation planners. In a roundtable discussion that amounted mostly to repeated pleas for more funding from Washington -- or at least to keep expected allocations from being cut -- neither official made significant pledges of new money for specific projects.

Rather, they talked broadly about the vital need for transportation improvements, including American Parkway, the ongoing Route 412 corridor work in Bethlehem, and Route 22 upgrades in the Lehigh Valley.

Participants included U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-15th District; the mayors of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton; executives of Lehigh and Northampton counties; several state House members; and representatives from the state Transportation Department, Lehigh Valley International Airport, Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority, Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and other groups.

Dent joined Pawlowski in support of American Parkway, and was cordial to Specter and LaHood, but took time to criticize an energy ''cap and trade'' proposal that has passed the House, with strong Democratic support, as a kind of back-door gas-tax increase that would provide no money for transportation projects.

In addition to LANTA board member Marin's focus on rail service, which was echoed by state Rep. Karen Beyer, R-Lehigh, state Rep. Jennifer Mann, D-Lehigh, stressed that Pennsylvania, with older transportation infrastructure than many states, can't afford to neglect the needed repairs and replacement.

Reacting to questions from Doughty and LANTA Executive Director Armando Greco, LaHood said the federal Highway Trust Fund ''is just inadequate.'' Declining gas-tax revenue as more fuel-efficient cars hit the highways will mean more stable sources of revenue must be found, he said, while pledging to ''work with Congress to put together a strong bill'' to provide adequate funding.

Michael Rebert, PennDOT's regional district executive, pitched in for his own plea, citing anticipated future funding shortfalls, particularly if the federal government does not approve the implementation of tolls on I-80. Specter declined to predict what the proposal's chances might be.

Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Michael Kaiser stressed the importance of widening Route 22 from four to six lanes, a plan recently shelved by PennDOT for lack of funding.

''That's the most dangerous stretch of road around, right?'' Specter replied, but again, made no commitment to the widening.

LaHood at one point complimented Specter, who became a Democrat in April, for his ''very courageous vote'' in support of the federal stimulus bill, but Sestak in a later phone interview questioned Specter's commitment to stimulus spending, particularly early this year, when he was still a Republican.

In February, Sestak said, Specter voted for a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. John McCain that would have provided economic stimulus strictly through tax cuts. Had that bill ultimately succeeded, Pennsylvania would have received no transportation stimulus money, Sestak said.

LANTA Gives Support to Passenger Rail Study

The Morning Call ran another article today about the fact that LANTA has finally endorsed the study for returning passenger rail to the Leigh Valley. It's good to see that change is finally coming to the organization. The some board members seem to view it as more of a pipe dream.

LANTA gives support to passenger-rail study
The transportation authority won't necessarily endorse conclusions to be reached


August 13, 2009

The Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority has endorsed a study aimed at determining the feasibility of restoring passenger-rail service between the Lehigh Valley and New York City.

The $250,000 review isn't new. In fact, LANTA board member Anne McHale said Tuesday she'd seen colleague Paul Marin's presentation about it so often that she hoped he wouldn't mind if she left the room next time he gave it.

''I don't need to see it again,'' she said with a laugh.

But after Marin's report, McHale, who as a Northampton County councilwoman supported the county's $75,000 contribution to the study, suggested LANTA should formally endorse the study. Her motion to that effect was approved by voice vote, without dissent, at the authority's monthly meeting in Allentown on Tuesday.

Executive Director Armando Greco said the vote represents LANTA approval of the study, though not necessarily any conclusions it might reach.

Marin, who also serves as treasurer of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., which contributed $100,000 to the study, said it should be completed by February. Lehigh County also allocated $75,000 to the consultant's review. LANTA has contributed no money.

Through the years, area political leaders have offered mixed views on whether passenger trains can, or should, return to the area after vanishing decades ago.

Some, including Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Michael Kaiser, have said the area's population, despite rapid growth, isn't nearly dense enough to support rail financially.

A year ago, Kaiser said that if a related study by New Jersey Transit recommends extending its Raritan Valley commuter rail line by about 21 miles from High Bridge to Phillipsburg, he'd reconsider the viability of a final link from there to the Valley. The Raritan line runs to Newark, N.J., where passengers can transfer to trains into New York.

Asked for an update Wednesday, Kaiser didn't exactly withdraw last year's comment, but he remained skeptical about passenger rail returning to the Valley.

''There will probably be further studies after this study,'' he said of the transit study and its local addendum.

Many significant obstacles remain, he said: ''I learned my skepticism early in life, and I don't consider that a bad thing. My job is to look at the facts and try to make decisions based on that.''

Marin and other rail proponents insist the time is right to push for passenger trains, particularly with Washington stoking the ailing economy. Rail projects can qualify for $8 billion in stimulus funding, Marin said, adding that 275 ''pre-applications'' for the money already have steamed into Washington, representing more than $100 billion in project proposals.

''What's beginning to happen is, there are signs of political will changing in Washington,'' Marin said. Passenger-rail restoration ''is going to happen through federal funding and leadership; we are at the front end of creating a national rail network'' not unlike the development of the interstate highway system 50 years ago, he said.

At its July meeting, the board welcomed two new members. Michelle Griffin Young replaced Donald J. Mahoney as a Lehigh County representative, and Lazaro G. Fuentes replaced Timothy J. Brady as a member from Northampton County.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

High Speed Rail Pre-Applications

Pennsylvania applied for 4 federal grants for high speed rail from the $8 Billion pie:

1.Keystone East Corridor Harrisburg to Philadelphia. – This would be improving the already existing electrified service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. This should be the first priority for high-speed rail and I'm glad to see it made the list.

2.Scranton to New York Rail Passenger Rail Service Program. – This would be a high-speed(?) rail service from Scranton to New York. This is a good idea but I don't see how it could possibly be considered high-speed rail, there is no way it will go about 70 miles an hour on the route they are going to have it take.

3.Pittsburgh High-Speed Magnetic Levitation Project. This would be a Maglev, or magnetic levitation line from Pittsburgh International Airport to Monroeville/Greensburg. – This is a waste of money but has been on the books for years. Maglev just doesn't pay off. It costs way too much for what it provides.

4.Keystone West Harrisburg to Pittsburgh High-Speed Rail Feasibility and Business Plan Study. – This would just be a study to expand high speed electrified rail service from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. This should be the second priority in our state for high speed rail. The state should really put some money towards upgrading this to 110 mile an hour track like the east side of the state.

It is a shame that Pennsylvania wasn't more ambitious. It appears that some states asked for a lot more. The Lehigh Valley also stands to get no piece of the pie for rail service to either New York or Philadelphia which is a shame considering it is the third biggest metropolitan area.

Read more at:

Trail Moves Foward

New walking and biking trail linking Coopersburg to Hellertown planned

July 10, 2009

Plans for an eight-mile walking and biking trail linking Coopersburg to Hellertown have taken a significant step forward.

Attorneys for SEPTA and the four municipalities that would host the trail met June 23 and have reached an agreement in principle on a $1-a-year 30-year lease of an abandoned rail bed that will become the trail.

The agreement could be ratified by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority's board in September, and approved by the four municipalities' governing bodies soon thereafter, said Hellertown Borough Manager Charles Luthar.

''[Municipal officials] will have a chance to look at the language. The engineers and attorneys have been looking at it,'' Luthar said. Topics of discussion have included maintenance of the trail and removal of railroad signal infrastructure, said Lower Saucon Township manager Jack Cahalan.

The municipalities have agreed to maintain the walking and biking surface, but do not want to be responsible for structures such as bridges.

SEPTA will leave its equipment intact, but remove any environmental hazards, Cahalan said.

''SEPTA retains the right of reversion, which means that if they want to bring back train service, they can notify us and take back control of the trail,'' Cahalan said.

The four municipalities hope to be able to open the trail to the public in the spring after resurfacing it, probably with gravel. Cahalan said he has been getting calls about using the trail, but he said people should stay off the rail bed for now, until it can be improved, and opened to the public in spring 2010.

Once the lease is approved by all four municipalities, the next step would be to create a steering committee and come up with funding to make improvements, he said.

Cahalan said the four municipalities plan to apply to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for a grant.

Well this article published in the Morning Call makes the chances of rail service being restored to the Lehigh Valley to Philadelphia look quite unlikely.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

LANTA unveils 12-year plan for future

The Morning Call ran this article on June 23, 2009. It says that LANTA views providing bus service to rail stations in the next 12 years. Despite not actively endorsing rail service or helping actively bring it back, LANTA does appear to believe it will have a future role as a feeder service. This is good to see considering the ability to have connecting transit service to the train is important as the service itself. Without the ability to interconnect with the LANTA system, many people will be discouraged from using rail due to the inability to get to their final destination. So while LANTA might still not be behind rail, they seem to plan on taking some kind of positive role in the future.

LANTA unveils 12-year plan for future

Recommendations include more 'through routes,' better service to business, education and employment centers Public attendance was limited, but the comments were positive Monday regarding the long-range plan being developed by the Lehigh Valley's public bus agency.

The Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority's ''Moving LANTA Forward'' plan features consultant's recommendations including more effective use of ''core routes'' such as Tilghman Street/Union Boulevard, Hamilton Street/Hanover Avenue, and Susquehanna Street/Broadway; increasing the number of ''through routes'' between major destinations with fewer stops and transfers, and more frequent service to existing and emerging employment and business centers such as Fogelsville, the Sands casino, Airport Center shopping plaza and Lehigh Carbon Community College.

Further down the road, Abrams-Cherwony Group of Philadelphia also proposes development of ''bus rapid-transit'' concepts such as dedicated bus lanes and limited traffic-signal pre-emption, and the development of ''satellite hubs'' with links to the existing service hubs in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.

Satellites could be developed at high-traffic locations such as Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest; Emmaus; Lehigh Valley International Airport; the area of Routes 22 and 512, and Route 33's Freemansburg Avenue interchange, site of the planned St. Luke's Hospital's expansion.

Eventually, Abrams envisions LANTA being involved with long-range plans for the restoration of passenger rail service between the region and Philadelphia and New York, not as a direct operator, but by running bus routes to area train stations. Development of ''light rail'' or trolley operations within the Lehigh Valley could be another part of the LANTA's future.

The proposed 12-year plan, for which Abrams was paid $250,000, was presented to the public at 3 and 7 p.m. Monday at the Lehigh County Government Center, Allentown, and similar public meetings are scheduled at the same times today at Bethlehem City Hall and Wednesday at the United Church of Christ, 27 N. Third St., Easton.

At Monday's afternoon in Allentown, only five people attended in addition to officials from LANTA or Abrams. But the few who spoke were generally positive, and sometimes enthusiastic.

''I'm quite pleased with the bus system here,'' said Robert Clarke, an Allentown retiree who no longer drives a car, relying on LANTA for basic transportation. The future plans would only improve services, he said, liking in particular Abrams' proposal to improve service to inter-city bus terminals such as Bieber and Trans-Bridge.

Frequent customer David Lahr of Allentown also looked forward to many of the proposed improvements.

Future service demands, the state and federal funding picture and other variables will help determine how much of the plan gets implemented.

The LANTA board wants to consider the public comments being gathered before formally adopting the recommendations, but the administration basically views them favorably, said Executive Director Armando Greco.

Poconos Rail Service Likely to Return

The Morning Call posted another article on rail service on the front page Monday June 9, 2009.

Poconos train to New York City is on track

EPA approval allows officials to enter funding phase for construction and engineering.

The two-decade effort to restore passenger rail service from the Poconos to New York City has received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, clearing a critical hurdle that now allows the $550 million project to be funded.

The EPA declared a ''finding of no significant impact'' for the project, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey Jr. and Arlen Specter announced Monday.

The decision allows officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to enter the equally critical funding phase for construction and engineering of the rail line, which would connect Scranton and the Poconos to Hoboken, N.J., and New York City.

''I believe the project is so important it will be funded,'' Specter said Monday after a meeting with Lehigh Valley-area Democrats.

Specter, D-Pa., said the project has the support of several high-profile senators, including Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who wants to extend the rail line to Binghamton, N.Y.

New Jersey's Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez also back the rail line, Specter said.

New Jersey officials, facing the loss of billions in highway funding unless the state meets air quality improvements under the Clean Air Act, want to remove some of the 20,000 commuters who cross over daily from Pennsylvania and travel along the Interstate 80 corridor.

The train could also serve Monroe County's so-called Wall Street West project, a facility that would back up the nation's financial data in the event of a crisis.

''Wall Street wants to diversify, not have everything in southern Manhattan after their experience on 9/11, so we will get the funding,'' Specter said.

Federally approved rail projects can receive up to 50 percent of the cost under the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program, but competition for the federal dollars is fierce.

Lawrence Malski, chairman of the Northeast Pennsylvania Regional Railroad Authority, said the project will be completed in phases to allow for lower funding requests. If that's successful, initial Pennsylvania service from Delaware Water Gap could be up and running in four years.

''We've now cleared the way to get the funding to start construction,'' Malski said.

Once completed, the service would be operated by New Jersey Transit, with service from four rail stations in Monroe County at Delaware Water Gap, East Stroudsburg, Analomink and Mount Pocono, and one in Scranton.

The Mount Pocono station could serve gamblers from New York and New Jersey wishing to visit Mount Airy Casino Resort, which is nearby.

A portion of the rail line would run through Northampton County near Portland. There also would be two new rail stations in New Jersey, in Andover and Blairstown, with the Andover station serving as a connector to direct service into New York's Penn Station.

Construction is already under way on seven miles of track connecting Andover to Port Morris, N.J., Malski said.