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The
Process

Learn more about the process, the plans and the work that is being done to restore passenger rail service to the Reading, Pottstown and Phoenixville region.

The restoration of rail passenger service in the Reading – Philadelphia segment of the Reading – Philadelphia – New York Corridor is a complex process that requires the commitment and coordination of multiple stakeholders at the local, state, and federal level.

The process being undertaken by the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority (SRPRA or the Authority) is building upon the lessons learned from the studies of years past and is primarily focused on partnering with Amtrak as the proposed operator and participating in the Intercity Passenger Rail Corridor Identification and Development Program being led by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Other key stakeholders beyond the constituent counties of the Authority and Amtrak include the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the anticipated host railroads including Norfolk Southern, and the municipal governments, sponsor organizations and advocacy groups along the Reading — Philadelphia Corridor segment.

The SRPRA project plan is a phased approach, focusing on the most viable and realistically attainable service options to restore passenger rail service to the region in the short-term. The long-term possibilities for the service have wide-reaching benefits to expand additional mobility opportunities and an alternative to driving for adjoining communities.

Phase 1

Reading – Philadelphia Segment

  • Between four and six daily rail round-trips initially
  • Approximately eight or more daily rail round-trips when ridership grows
  • Integration of Amtrak Thruway Bus service to complement rail
Phase 2

Reading – Philadelphia – New York One-Seat Ride

  • Requires completion of Gateway Projects in New York (c2035)
  • Requires delivery of new Amtrak rolling stock
Phase 3

Long-Term Possibilities

  • Harrisburg – Connection with PennDOT Keystone/Pennsylvanian
  • Connection to Lehigh Valley

Learn about the history and importance of passenger rail, and the steps to restore the service to the region…

The History of Passenger Rail Between Reading and Philadelphia

Passenger rail service between Reading and Philadelphia has a long history dating back to the early 19th century. The first rail service between the two cities was established in 1838 by the Reading Railroad, which initially operated as a cargo carrier, primarily transporting coal from the mines in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania to the cities of Philadelphia, Reading and beyond. The Reading Railroad was one of the most important railroads in the country for transporting coal, and it was instrumental in the development of the region’s economy.

Before the rail line, the transportation of coal and other goods was done primarily by horse-drawn wagons and canal boats. The construction of the rail line greatly improved the efficiency of coal transportation, as it allowed for large quantities of coal to be transported quickly and at a lower cost. This led to an increase in demand for coal and the expansion of the region’s coal mining industry.

Reading Company Map
Reading Railroad Company Passenger Train
Reading Company Passenger Train
Reading Railroad Company Passenger Train

Passenger service on the route was also important for the communities it served, as it provided an important transportation link for people traveling between Reading and Philadelphia. It also played a key role in the development of the region’s industrial economy and had been a major player in the transportation of goods and people for over a century.

During the 20th century, passenger rail service between Reading and Philadelphia became increasingly popular as a means of transportation for both commuters and travelers. The Reading Railroad’s passenger line made stops at various notable stations along the way, including the Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, a bustling transportation hub and market located in the heart of the city.

The terminal was a major destination for travelers and commuters, and was served by several railroads in addition to the Reading. It was also a popular spot for tourists, who came to shop at the market and explore the city. Another notable stop on the Reading Railroad’s passenger line was the Chestnut Hill station in Philadelphia. The station was known for its ornate architecture and grand entrance and was a popular spot for photographers and sightseers.

The Reading Railroad’s passenger line also made stops at various smaller towns and villages along the way. These stops provided transportation for local residents and connected them to the larger cities of Reading and Philadelphia.

Some famous passengers who traveled on the Reading Railroad’s passenger line included 11 U.S. presidents and other notable figures. Presidents Chester Arthur and Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, are known to have traveled on the line during their visits to the region. Other famous passengers included actor W.C. Fields and baseball player Babe Ruth, who were both known to have traveled on the Reading Railroad for business and leisure.

In the 1960s and 1970s, passenger rail service between Reading and Philadelphia began to decline as more and more people began to use cars for travel. The bankruptcy of the Penn Central in 1970 created problems that precipitated the failure of several other railroads in the northeast United States including the Reading Railroad, which was absorbed into the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) in 1976. Shortly thereafter, Reading Railroad passenger rail service became the responsibility of SEPTA, which operated trains between Philadelphia and Reading until 1981.

Previous Studies

Since passenger service between Reading and Philadelphia ended in 1981, people have been trying to find ways to bring it back.  Over the years, many studies have been performed but none have led to successful restoration of passenger rail.  Although the SRPRA effort is new in several ways, from its character as intercity passenger rail to the availability of federal funding, we have carefully considered the work done before to fully leverage those efforts.  The studies listed below have all provided insights to benefit the current effort.  Although not a study per se, the SRPRA application to enter the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor Identification and Development Program is included because it includes the most current thinking regarding various topics, from route alignment to rolling stock. Visit the Resources page to view past studies.

Discover the Authority to organize and strategize…

Step 1

Establishment of the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority

Before there was the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce established the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Committee with the goal of determining how the effort might be successful where previous attempts had failed. After months of evaluation of the previous studies, the group decided that key alliances would position SRPRA differently. For one, Amtrak and SEPTA were on board as key partners but, even more importantly, SRPRA is lead concurrently by representation from Berks, Chester, and Montgomery Counties and the effort will not advance for one county unless it is successful for all three.

The creation of the SRPRA is not a guarantee that passenger rail will return, but it is a crucial initial step to continue the long process of research and planning. Commissioners from each County noted that while there had been talk of restoring passenger rail service before, this is the first time any type of initiative has gotten this far. County leaders are also optimistic that this effort will be successful due to the potential funding available through the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill.

As a precursor to restoration of passenger rail service in the Schuylkill River corridor, SRPRA worked with Amtrak to launch the Thruway Connection bus service between Reading and Philadelphia on June 6, 2022.

The Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority (SRPRA) oversees and implements the restoration of passenger rail service between Reading and Philadelphia and is supported with equal representation and funding from Berks, Chester, and Montgomery Counties. The SRPRA has the power to formalize agreements, pursue funding opportunities and partner with rail operators and state and federal transportation agencies.

MILESTONES
2021
Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Committee Established by Commissioners from Berks, Montgomery and Chester Counties
June 2022
Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority Incorporated
June 2022
Amtrak Thruway Connection Bus Service Launched
June 6, 2022

Amtrak Thruway Connection Bus Service Established

This service consists of two daily trips in each direction, and is one of many Amtrak Thruway Connection bus routes that Amtrak operates as an integrated part of its Northeast Corridor and National Network.
September 2022
Executive Director Hired
October 2022
Engaged Consultant—Transportation for America (T4A)
DOCUMENTS & LINKS

STATUS: Complete. Authority incorporated June 2022.

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Next: Preparing for the return of regional passenger rail…

Step 2

Preliminary Planning

Initial planning establishes all of the work that the Authority must undertake to achieve a successful result and bring passenger rail back to the region. It started with a Letter of Interest to the Federal Railroad Administration when it was announced that the FRA would identify worthy projects in a Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) Program that would guide intercity passenger rail development throughout the country.

Funding by the FRA is integral to the success of the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority’s objectives and preliminary planning has revolved around submitting a successful application and aligning with partners who can the SRPRA get to the next phase.

Corridor Identification Program

The Corridor Identification Program, by the Federal Railroad Administration (an entity of the US Department of Transportation (USDOT)), is the pathway for all intercity passenger rail corridor projects created as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), aka the Bi-partisan Infrastructure Law, on November 15, 2021. SRPRA submitted Expression of Interest letter to FRA in July 2022 and CIDP application in March 2023. SRPRA was accepted into CIDP December 8, 2023.

The FRA CIDP includes 3 steps:

  1. Scoping Exercise (CIDP Step 1)
    Within this step, the statement of work, schedule and cost estimate to prepare the service development Plan (SDP) are defined. Additionally, project management team roles and responsibilities, processes and procedures for maintenance of schedule and budget, and compliance with federal reporting requirements are addressed.
  2. Service Development Plan (CIDP Step 2)
  3. Preliminary Engineering & Design (CIDP Step 3)
MILESTONES
July 2022
Letter of Interest Submitted to Federal Railroad Administration
March 2023
Corridor Identification and Development Program Application Submitted
December 2023
SRPRA Accepted into the Corridor Identification and Development Program
December 2023
AECOM Selected as Planning and Design Consultant
March 2024
CIDP Step 1: Scoping Exercise Initiated
DOCUMENTS & LINKS

This notice details the application requirements and procedures for the selection of eligible corridors to participate in the Corridor Identification and Development Program and obtain grant funding appropriated in fiscal year 2022.

STATUS: Accepted into FRA CIDP December 2023. Step 1 of CIDP (Scoping Exercise) underway.

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Onward: Understanding the the coordination and development of services…

Step 3 (CIDP Step 2)

Service Development Plan

The Service Development Plan is a business plan, operating plan and capital plan, that documents the investment case for a proposed passenger rail service. It must demonstrate operational feasibility, financial feasibility, and value and merit of the proposed passenger rail service.

Preparation of the Service Development Plan (SDP) is an essential element of participation in the Corridor Identification Program of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the detailed application requirements for which are expected to be released in early December 2022. The Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority (SRPRA or the Authority) submitted the mandatory Expression of Interest letter in July and is planning to submit its application in accordance with the FRA requirements and deadline once they are announced. In anticipation of the application process, the Authority has engaged Transportation for America (T4A) to assist the Authority with its application preparation and potentially with preparation of its SDP. Upon acceptance of the SRPRA application by FRA, the Authority will quickly advance its SDP to completion for review by FRA.

MILESTONES
DOCUMENTS & LINKS

What is the Service Development Plan?

The SDP is a business plan, operating plan and capital plan, that documents the investment case for a proposed passenger rail service. The SDP must demonstrate operational feasibility, financial feasibility, and value and merit of the proposed passenger rail service. The FRA provides a structure within which an SDP must be organized. The structure includes the following components:

  • Rationale, Goals, and Objectives
  • Identification of Alternatives
  • Planning Methodology
  • Demand and Revenue Forecasts
  • Operational Analysis
  • Station and Access Analysis
  • Conceptual Engineering and Capital Programming
  • Operating & Maintenance (O&M) Costs and Capital Replacement Forecast
  • Public Benefits Analysis

When is the SDP Prepared?

The process of developing the SDP is iterative. The Authority will prepare an initial version of the SDP and will update it as new information becomes available as a result of work being performed both within the SDP preparation process (such as Conceptual Engineering) and outside the process (such as documentation required under the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA). As an example, during operations analysis, results may be found that change the infrastructure improvements needed to support the proposed service, which would in-turn affect capital and O&M costs.

As illustrated in this timeline, the preparation of the initial version of the Service Development Plan generally overlaps with the Conceptual Design and Engineering stage, while subsequent updates of the SDP take place as needed during the Preliminary Design and Engineering, Final Design and Engineering, and Construction stages of the project.

STATUS: Pending completion of Scoping Exercise. Targeted start spring 2024 with completion targeted for spring 2025.

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Moving Along: Success starts with optimal design & excellent engineering…

Step 4 (CIDP Step 3)

Preliminary Engineering & Design

The third step of the FRA Corridor Identification Plan includes Preliminary Engineering & Design—also called “30% engineering”—where all major elements of the service are defined.

During this step, critical infrastructure needs and improvements such as track, tunnels, stations, signals and PTC are addressed. National Environmental Protection Act documentation is also required the defines categorical exclusion and selected analyses still required—including air quality impacts, traffic impacts, historic resources, and others.

Station Planning

Although the SRPRA has taken a leadership role in the effort to restore rail passenger service in the Reading – Philadelphia Corridor segment, the Authority will not have direct responsibility for some aspects of the project. Among these is the planning and development of passenger rail stations suitable for Amtrak intercity passenger train operations. The role of the Authority regarding stations is the subject of a formal policy, and the Authority has endorsed the use of all applicable Amtrak standards in the station planning and development process.

Station Development Policy
The SRPRA has adopted a policy regarding station development that is consistent with Amtrak’s, by which primary responsibility for providing station facilities typically rests with local entities, including the municipalities in which proposed stations are located, as well as local private sector entities and civic organizations. The SRPRA will help coordinate and facilitate station development in a supporting role once the lead entity and its partners have committed to the station project. The Authority may also take a major role with regard to the portion of station facilities within the host railroad right-of-way, essentially consisting of the station platform(s).

Regarding standards, the Authority has shared Amtrak’s Station Planning and Development Guidebook with parties pursuing a potential station in their community. The Guidebook addresses the planning and development process, along with design standards generally required by Amtrak and specifically required for compatibility with freight trains in a shared-track environment such as is proposed between Reading and Philadelphia. The Authority has also made available Norfolk Southern’s General Principles Guiding Norfolk Southern’s Evaluation of Passenger Station Proposals, which will apply to stations developed on their property.

Local Station Partners
As station planning and development activities advance in the communities of Reading, Pottstown and Phoenixville, information will be shared on the Authority website and links will be provided to websites of station project sponsors.

In terms of funding, on March 17, 2023 it was announced that the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance was awarded a Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development grant of $142,346 to support station development activities, potentially including site identification, study of zoning strategies to foster development that complements the planned rail service, and other activities. Additionally, on April 7 it was announced that the Borough of Pottstown received a Thriving Communities grant from the US Department of Transportation, which will help support initial planning for their passenger rail station.

STATUS: Pending approval of Service Development Plan. Targeted start spring 2025 with completion spring 2026.

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Anticipating Arrival: Envisioning your regional rail’s complete and professional culmination…

Step 5

Final Design, Engineering & Construction

Once all three steps of the CIDP have been completed, SRPRA will have Preliminary Design (30% Design) and environmental documentation materials and will be poised to enter final design and then construction.  Final design and construction will require additional grant funding, applications for which are planned to be prepared during Step 3 of the CIDP effort.

MILESTONES
DOCUMENTS & LINKS

STATUS: Pending approval of Preliminary Engineering. Targeted start spring 2026 with completion in 2028.

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All Aboard! Passenger rail that will transform regional transportation…

Step 6

Operation & Start of Service

During Steps 2 and 3 of the CIDP, and potentially into final design, agreements will be negotiated with Amtrak as the proposed operator, and with Norfolk Southern and either CSXT or SEPTA as host railroads.  These agreements will embody provisions developed collaboratively with Amtrak and the Host Railroads during and after the CIDP effort.  Several important issues will remain to be fully addressed at that time. For example, the coordination of timing of the service start-up and delivery of Amtrak’s new Aero trainsets, which will dictate whether the service is launched with existing locomotives and cars or with the new trainsets.  Funding for the initial years of operation is anticipated to be provided by the FRA, but long-term funding and governance of the service remains to be agreed and finalized.

MILESTONES
DOCUMENTS & LINKS

STATUS: Pending completion of all engineering, design and construction. Targeted start by 2029.

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Are you excited?

Additional details on the planned restoration of the service can be found in our Public Outreach Presentation HERE.

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