Berks Commissioners approve creation of a tri-county passenger railroad authority

READING, Pa. — The Berks County commissioners took a primary vital step Thursday towards the long-term aim of restoring passenger rail service between Studying and Philadelphia.

The commissioners unanimously voted to approve the creation of a tri-county passenger rail authority collectively with Chester and Montgomery counties.

The authority might be named the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority, or SRPRA.

Greater than a yr in the past, a tri-county passenger rail committee was fashioned to take a look at the efforts to revive passenger rail service between Studying and Philadelphia, which led to 1981. 

The committee was an final result of research from the Pennsylvania Division of Transportation and the Berks Alliance, an area group that endorsed the restoration of the service.

The plan requires an authority to include a nine-member panel, and would come with one commissioner from Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties.

The Montgomery County commissioners additionally voted Thursday to kind the authority; the Chester County commissioners will vote subsequent week.

Previous to the Berks vote, a public listening to was held throughout which the commissioners heard overwhelming assist for passenger rail service from quite a few neighborhood and enterprise leaders and some residents.

Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach mentioned the formation of an authority doesn’t assure the return of passenger rail service, however that the county has by no means come this far throughout earlier makes an attempt to revive passenger rail.

“Each examine ended with the examine, and nothing occurred,” Leinbach mentioned. “It is not about going from Studying to Philadelphia; it is about opening up Berks County to the most important inhabitants heart and financial heart within the Western Hemisphere.”

Leinbach was referring to the hall between Boston and Washington, D.C.

“There are a whole lot of questions that have to be answered, however till the authority is authorised, we will not negotiate with Amtrak, we will not negotiate with Norfolk Southern or SEPTA, we will not settle for funding and we will not expend {dollars},” Leinbach mentioned.

The lifetime of an authority in Pennsylvania is 50 years, nonetheless, Leinbach mentioned this authority would require one other vote in three years for it to go ahead for the extra 47 years.

The profit to that’s that each one the unanswered questions, together with prices and out there subsidies, might be answered.

“Passenger rail might be the vital catalyst that makes Berks County a powerhouse county in southeast Pennsylvania,” he added.

Jennifer Murray, the superintendent of the Studying Faculty District, mentioned passenger rail would take away boundaries and create new training and labor alternatives for the district’s 18,000 college students and their households.

Amtrak train in Philadelphia

An Amtrak practice departs thirtieth Avenue Station in Philadelphia on March 31, 2021.

“Passenger rail would permit for residents to commute to and from southeastern Pennsylvania, the place salaries and wages are greater,” Murray mentioned, “which in flip, will generate extra native earned revenue tax income. Elevated actual property and earned revenue taxes gives native assets to assist instructional alternatives for our college students and reduces our reliance on state funding.”

Paul Janssen, the director of Excellence in Native Authorities at Albright School, mentioned the creation of an authority is worthy of the political and taxing assist from the county.

“The flexibility of companies in Berks County to recruit and make use of a labor power exterior of their alliance of vehicle entry is a recreation changer for Berks trade and commerce,” Janssen mentioned.

John Loyack, president of Alvernia College, cited information that implies passenger rail will generate $1.4 billion in regional revenue and can improve property values by $1.1 billion.

“This initiative has the potential to create vital enchancment for Berks County college students, colleges and the neighborhood at massive and supply larger entry to the benefit of high quality education schemes provided by Berks County faculties and universities,” Loyack mentioned. “Extra importantly, it creates the following key driver to put money into downtown, and we’ll create a wave of funding in housing, retail, restaurant and business improvement in our metropolis.”

John Weidenhammer, Wyomissing, representing the boards of the Berks Alliance and the Better Studying Chamber Alliance, referred to as the undertaking a recreation changer.

“The restoration of passenger rail service alongside the Schuylkill River hall will dramatically, positively change the trajectory of our neighborhood,” Weidenhammer mentioned.

“Rail restoration is a big financial improvement effort which can have an enduring constructive influence on the economic system of the area,” he added. “For too lengthy, we’ve got been minimize off from an inexpensive technique of transportation to Philadelphia, and as Studying has develop into more and more disconnected and [become] an remoted metropolis, now’s the time to behave.”

Darlene Garcia, government director for the Berks Latino Workforce Growth Company, mentioned elevated transportation alternatives are important for the rising Latino inhabitants.

Berks County commissioners passenger rail authority meeting

The feedback concerning the advantages of passenger rail continued for about an hour, taking over many of the commissioner’s weekly assembly.

However one Studying resident did communicate negatively about passenger rail. Harry Stouffer mentioned the difficulty is that no one within the room ever labored on the railroad and that they know nothing about them.

“Price is an enormous issue,” Stouffer mentioned. “Passenger service makes no revenue; Amtrak makes no revenue and bus service makes no revenue. Taxpayers assist it.”

Stouffer mentioned common employees might be unable to afford the service.

“The county goes to have one other authority, and this one goes to be astronomical,” he mentioned. “Who’s going to pay for it? The taxpayers.”

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