WEST CHESTER –State Sen. Andy Dinniman on Wednesday brought together state transportation officials, SEPTA, community and business leaders to give a status update on what may be the most significant investment in Chester County’s public-transportation system.
“Major train station projects are on tap for five Chester County communities in my district. Local leaders share some of the same questions about timelines, potential improvements and upcoming economic opportunities, so it makes sense for us to gather in the same room and learn from our common experiences,” Dinniman said “Our train stations are the front doors to our communities. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and we want to get it right.”
“These station projects plus the rail improvements currently underway are giving Chester County a public-transportation system worthy of the 21st century,” Dinniman continued. “Now, major decisions regarding each of the five stations will occur over the next couple years, and today’s meeting kicked off that process.”
Dinniman announced that he has created a special webpage on his website through which the public can ask questions and get information about any or all of the station projects.
“Be assured that I have and will continue to insist that all citizens have access to information and the ability to submit their opinion on the planned new stations and associated economic development projects adjacent to the stations,” Dinniman said.
Transportation officials anticipate continued increases in train ridership due to the shorter travel times west to Harrisburg and East to Philadelphia. In September workers should complete construction of a new bridge in Lancaster, thereby eliminating the last at-grade railroad crossing between Chester County and Harrisburg and setting the stage for Amtrak to increase its top speed from 110 mph to 125 mph.
“Our trains will only get more popular as travel times decrease,” Dinniman said. “I expect more and more will opt to take the train when a trip from Paoli to Philadelphia takes half an hour instead of the 50 minutes it currently takes.”
The five entirely new or improved Chester County train stations will be in Paoli, Exton, Downingtown, Coatesville and Parkesburg.
Paoli is the busiest regional rail station west of Philadelphia with a ridership of 175,000 in 2013. After comprehensive meetings, stakeholders in Tredyffrin agreed that the new Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center should be located at the site of the existing station but with far better pedestrian and vehicular access including a parking garage. Specifically, extending Darby Road north of Lancaster Avenue will significantly improve access to existing and future parking lots.
On July 14, consultants presented Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors with a road-feasibility study aimed at easing traffic congestion and improving pedestrian walkways in the “Heart of Paoli.” The recommendations are being reviewed now by township staff and are scheduled to come before the Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors in October. At Wednesday’s meeting, transportation officials said that this fall they would present the community with preliminary design plans for the planned new station itself.
Near-term plans for the Exton Train Station include construction of a station building on the inbound side that will allow quicker boarding and improved handicap-accessibility. Farther out, SEPTA, PennDOT, and the Chester County Planning Commission have initiated discussions about improving access to the station for bus riders, bicyclists and pedestrians. Preliminary concepts include sidewalk and crosswalk improvements along Route 100 from the station to the Main St. at Exton shopping village and construction of a bus loop at the station.
Transportation officials said they are working on preliminary design for Downingtown’splanned new train station that they would like to present to borough officials this year. The station is slated to be located downtown at the intersection of Route 322 and Boot Road and include better parking, a ticket office, waiting room and handicap-accessible platform. Township officials envision the new train station will be part of comprehensive redevelopment of the downtown business districts aimed at offering more and better amenities for the more than 70,000 riders that use the existing Downingtown train station annually. Local leaders have tied the railroad station into a plan for a riverwalk and commuter-oriented residential housing.
A planned new Coatesville train station at the Third Avenue location plus renovation of Coatesville’s existing, historic train station promises significant economic and employment opportunities for the city. A year ago Lincoln University opened its Coatesville branch just several blocks south of the planned new station. Community discussion and planning has begun on the revitalization of the neighborhood adjacent to the station, and Coatesville’s city council just approved its 10-year comprehensive development plan of which a new railroad station plays an integral part. Ultimately the hope is that a new station will increase ridership and convince SEPTA to again make Coatesville part of its R-5 Regional Rail route.
On Wednesday state transportation officials reaffirmed their commitment to building a new station in Coatesville and in 2015, plan to improve the streetscape and parking around the existing station.
Officials on Wednesday said they would like to meet with Parkesburg officials this fall to revisit and confirm the train-station improvements they discussed with officials several years ago and then begin actual design work. The borough has decided that it wants to keep its train station where it is but with renovations such as indoor waiting rooms and restrooms; a 500-foot high-level platform with lighted canopy; improved accessibility to the westbound platform; expanded parking; improved pedestrian and vehicular access; and strengthened connections to the central business district.
~ News Release via Andy Dinniman, 19th Senatorial District ~