PennDOT Consultant Includes Reading In Rail Study Proposal

A study conducted by a PennDOT consultant has proposed a plan to restore passenger rail service between Allentown and Reading, Pennsylvania's third and fourth largest cities. The proposal is part of a broader plan to reestablish passenger rail service in the region.

The study, which was unveiled on Wednesday, estimates that the service would cost over $450 million annually. The trains would operate along Norfolk Southern tracks, with a one-way trip taking approximately 46 minutes. However, the consultant warned that these trips could be delayed by freight trains, which are granted track priority.

The proposed route would connect to another planned line between Reading and Philadelphia. The study also highlighted that the line between Allentown and Reading could impact the high volume of freight transported to and from the Lehigh Valley and the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The study also revealed significant challenges with all five of the proposals, including missing facilities, with few of the former stations still in existence and those that remain requiring renovation. Most of the routes, including the one between Allentown and Reading, also run along or near historic properties and preserved farmland.

The study also laid out a 14-step, 10-12 year process that includes selecting a rail carrier, additional market study, environmental clearances, engineering, design, and construction. The report points out that the development of any of the Lehigh Valley passenger rail corridors will require a future project sponsor to lead the project process and overcome significant challenges during the initial years of the project development lifecycle.

In terms of travel demand, data collected by PennDOT from the U.S. Census Bureau estimates well over 30,000 people commute from the Lehigh Valley into the New York Metro for work, whereas around 70,000 people or more commute to the Philadelphia and Reading areas.

The feasibility of the Reading route will depend on whether that region’s efforts to re-establish passenger rail service to Philadelphia is successful. The next steps for the project would be identifying a project sponsor, conducting additional engineering and feasibility studies, and receiving input from the railroads involved.

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