Phoenixville mayor: Passenger rail plans chug along, even if slowed by COVID-19

Section of the Norfolk Southern Railway
Photo credit Tariq Zehawi/ via Imagn Content Services, LLC
By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHOENIXVILLE (KYW Newsradio) — Phoenixville’s mayor said grassroots efforts to restore passenger rail service to the community are still on track despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Peter Urscheler said a community task force has been studying ways to restore a route that would run from Reading through Phoenixville and into Philadelphia.

A recent report issued by the group suggests the project would cost nearly  $195 million, but the economic benefits would be nearly double that.

Urscheler said the borough recently applied for a $3.1 million federal grant for a railroad station.

“We have put in a grant specifically to start acquiring properties and potentially acquiring space where we would do that station,” he said.

The borough is looking to develop a site and build a five-level parking garage with 350 spaces to support it.

He said the community is seeing an influx of young professionals who are demanding high-quality public transportation.

“We are seeing such a shift in the way that people are utilizing their cars and their desire to utilize public transportation for a number of reasons — convenience, the environment, etc.,” Urscheler said.

The mayor conceded that negotiating track rights with freight operator Norfolk Southern Railway, which now owns the former Conrail track on which rail service ran until 1981, has been a stumbling block in the past.

“We have had conversations ourselves personally with them,” Urscheler said. “But when it comes down to the actual coordination of the railroad, that would be left up to the operator of our service.”

He said Norfolk Southern has demonstrated a willingness more recently to work with other groups to share track in other freight-passenger rail partnerships.

“There are other lines that Norfolk Southern owns throughout the country, where they work very closely with railroad groups and individuals who are working to restore service,” Urscheler said.

He said it's possible that a similar relationship could develop here.

Urscheler said the pandemic may have slowed the timetable down, but it  hasn’t derailed the community’s desire to get passenger trains rolling again sometime in the near future.​