WEST CHESTER — Although there is considerable support from residents to reestablish rail service between the borough and Philadelphia, along the existing Elwyn Line right-of-way, SEPTA has no current plans to bring commuter trains back to the Market Street Station.
Robert L. Lund Jr., SEPTA deputy general manager, addressed about 40 residents at Monday’s special in-person borough council meeting concerning the future of rail service.
Lund explained that SEPTA prepares annual projections for the upcoming 12 years and this year’s plan does not include the upgrading of West Chester rail service.
“It’s not part of our next 12-year projection,” Lund said. “Our needs are so great and it’s not something we anticipate.
“It’s not our top priority.”
Lund pointed at an existing SEPTA $4.6 billion backlog for infrastructure costs that he said needs to be addressed.
“Backlog infrastructure is our first priority—being able to safely run the service,” Lund said.
Mayoral candidate Eric Lorgus asked how citizens could bring the train back.
Rail supporters were told that they were doing a fine job and to keep at it.
“We are getting the facts out there so we can all make decisions with information,” Lund said. “There is a planning phase and an evaluation phase.
“It doesn’t happen right away, it takes time. Push SEPTA to keep putting it on the agenda.”
The audience, which included several members of the rail restoration committee and Chester County SEPTA board members, Skip Brion and Kevin Johnson, heard that renovations might run at least a half billion dollars--$500 million to $600 million—which is about double what has been suggested recently by restoration advocates.
“Everything comes with a price tag,” said Francis E. Kelly, SEPTA assistant general manager of public and government affairs. “This is not a cheap date.
“How do we pay for it?”
A heritage tourist railroad now uses the tracks that SEPTA commuters stopped riding in 1986.
Lund said that there are nine miles of single track, 25 bridges and seven public and five private crossings that would all have to be upgraded.
Four of nine stations would need to be rebuilt, and made fully ADA accessible. Those stations are located at Cheyney, Westtown, West Chester University and West Chester. Parking would be limited.
SEPTA is currently relooking at all of its bus routes and is considering connecting a station on the Paoli-Thorndale Line to West Chester by bus.
Lund said that unfortunately there is not currently enough room at the Exton
Station to provide for bus access. Lund also noted that SEPTA regional rail ridership is at 20 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
Councilman Bernie Flynn asked how federal funds might be allocated locally.
A full study takes 18-24 months to prepare and is expensive.
“It has to be an attractive project because it’s in competition around the country,” Kelly said.
The heritage railroad’s vice president, Tom Hickey, presented a report to borough council that was prepared by the Advisory Ad-hoc Committee to Reestablish Rail Service to West Chester.
The nine member committee was established in March of 2014 and is charged “to cause, as soon as possible, the reestablishment of rail service to West Chester.”
The volunteer West Chester Railroad Heritage Association lovingly maintains a single track once used by commuters. On weekends and holidays tourist trains haul riders to picnic lunches.
“Maintaining century-old track, bridges, and drainage is a continuous, labor intensive challenge performed by WCRHA volunteers,” Hickey said.