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Train Service On Front Burner Once More

Tracks that currently carry industrial trains through Pottstown PA would also be used for passenger service from Norristown to Reading PA under a new proposal.

Tracks now carrying industrial trains through Pottstown PA would be used for passenger service from Norristown to Reading under a new proposal.

An on-again, off-again proposal to establish passenger train service from Norristown to Reading PA, on existing tracks that run through Lower Pottsgrove Township and Sanatoga, apparently is on again.

Resurrection of the extended rail plan coincides with rapidly rising ridership on almost all public transportation services provided by the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). Bus, trolley, subway and train ridership hit record levels in recent months, thanks primarily to higher gasoline prices, and SEPTA recently expanded its schedules.

Finding money for public trasnportation initiatives, however, continues to be a problem regional planners hope to address during an Oct. 3, 2008, community forum.

A Reading area transportation study discussed earlier this month in Berks County suggests extending SEPTA’s R-6 regional rail line, currently running several times daily between Norristown and Philadelphia, further west to the Reading suburb of Wyomissing. The Reading (PA) Eagle newspaper reported the price of providing seven round-trip trains daily on the longer route was $500 million.

That cost is significantly less than the $2 billion sum attached to an idea once called the “Schuylkill Valley Metro.” Enthusiasm for an hourly Metro train run between Reading and Philadelphia died after several years of discussion because of its expense.

“Starting smaller, with just seven round trips a day, would allow a train service to establish itself and its ridership,” the newspaper reported Sept 5. Money to get the fledgling service running would come from federal, state and local municipal sources, along with private contributions. An unidentified company apparently has expressed interest in helping to pay for the trains.

Dependable train and trolley service was a staple of daily life in Sanatoga during decades gone by. Two separate train stations operated in Pottstown during the 1920s, and trolleys ran every 15 minutes from Sanatoga through Pottstown to Stowe, and less frequently from Sanatoga to Norristown. Ridership fell off, and later ended, as private automobile use grew.

Sixty years later, townships like Lower Pottsgrove and neighboring Limerick are struggling to cope with current and anticipated future traffic tie-ups along U.S. Route 422, which roughly parallels the proposed train route.

Employers whose workers rely on public transportation to get to their jobs, as well as anyone interested in how public transportation will be paid for in the future, may attend a free Transportation Funding Forum being hosted by Montgomery County on Oct. 3 from 8-11:30 a.m. at Presidential Caterers, 2910 DeKalb Pike, East Norriton PA.

The forum, its featured speakers and panelists will focus on how funding issues affect efforts to manage congestion, economic development, competitiveness, and quality of life. Roundtable groups will discuss potential solutions. Registration with the Montgomery County Industrial Development Corp. is required by Friday (Sept. 26, 2008); call Matthew Edmond at 610-278-3742 for details or more information.

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