Schuylkill Valley Metro

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Schuylkill Valley Metro
Overview
Type Tram-train
Status Cancelled
Locale Pennsylvania
Termini Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Reading, Pennsylvania
Stations 20
Operation
Owner Norfolk Southern Railway
Operator(s) SEPTA
Technical
Line length 62 miles (100 kilometres)
No. of tracks 2
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

The Schuylkill Valley Metro (SVM) was a proposal for a 62-mile railway system that would link Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with the city of Reading, Pennsylvania in central Berks County, using the SEPTA Manayunk/Norristown Line and Cynwyd Line, plus two Norfolk Southern Railway freight-only lines. The proposal was rejected by the Federal Transit Administration; there are no plans to move forward with the project.

History[edit]

Main article: SEPTA diesel service

The Schuylkill Valley Metro (SVM) has its roots in the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown railroad in the early 19th century, which later became the Reading Company. The line served as a long-distance passenger and freight line between Philadelphia, Reading, and Harrisburg, nearly paralleling the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad — later incorporated as the main east-west line of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR).

Prior to 1976, the SVM line, which was electrified between Reading Terminal and Norristown in 1933, ran parallel to the PRR's Schuylkill Branch (which was also electrified to Norristown, in 1930 as part of the PRR's main electrification project), which connected Philadelphia, via the East-West Mainline, with Reading and Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The City of Philadelphia and suburban counties began providing public funds under contract with PRR and RDG for continuation and improvement of regional rail service. Because the Reading's Norristown line was considered the stronger of the two, PRR service was cut back to Manayunk in 1960.

Conrail assumed operations in April 1976, resulting in all freight activity shifting to the SVM line. Commuter service on the former PRR line was extended from Manayunk to Ivy Ridge in order to serve a new park-and-ride lot, but was curtailed in 1986 to the Cynwyd station in Lower Merion Township. SVM service to Reading, which used electric multiple-unit cars between Reading Terminal and Norristown, and diesel-electric "push-pull" cars from Norristown to Reading, continued in operation until SEPTA ceased funding in 1981, two years prior to taking over all of the electrified Philadelphia area commuter rail service.

Since its termination in 1981, the population shifted from Philadelphia itself out to the suburbs, with some residents commuting over 60 miles from Reading and its suburbs to Philadelphia on a daily basis. Although the completion of bypasses for U.S. Highway 422, U.S. Highway 202, and Interstate 76 allows travelers to reach Philadelphia without a traffic-control device, the increased number of automobiles has placed a strain on these three highways. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, under former Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker, along with U.S. Congressman Jim Gerlach of the state's 6th Congressional district, have placed pressure on the federal government to give funding for the new SVM project. No concrete plans have been approved.

In August 2006, Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell announced that funding for the SVM project would not be forthcoming and that it should be considered dead.[1][2] In December 2007, Montgomery County authorized an unsuccessful study that looked at possible new funding sources.[3] Congressman Jim Gerlach announced in April 2011 that the results from that Montgomery County study would be soon published.[4]

Physical description[edit]

The new SVM system, while identical in many ways to the old SVM line from the Reading days, would be completely different in many aspects. First, the line would use both sides of the former SEPTA R6 lines; the former PRR Schuylkill Branch between Suburban Station and Ivy Ridge (Cynwyd Line), and the former Reading's main line between Market East Station and Norristown (Manayunk/Norristown Line), before merging on the old Reading Main Line west of the current Norristown station. A new spur, called the Cross-County Segment, would split off at Port Kennedy (near Valley Forge), and would allow SVM trains to access King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and the Great Valley Corporate Center in Malvern, Pennsylvania, using the former PRR/Penn Central Trenton Cutoff (now Norfolk Southern's Morrisville Line) used by the former PRR as a freight-only bypass around Philadelphia, although an alternative would be to have the Cross-County segment serve only King of Prussia with SEPTA extending the existing Norristown High-Speed Line to King of Prussia, via the Trenton Cutoff.

Unlike the RDG trains, the new SVM would be entirely electric, with power being supplied by Amtrak, SEPTA, and (between Norristown and Reading) the Exelon Corporation, the successor company to the former Philadelphia Electric Company, later PECO Energy. Existing catenary wires, powered at 12 kV, 25 Hz AC, would be used on the old lines, with new high-tension catenary poles, powered at 25 kV, 60 Hz AC, and similar to the system utilized on the Northeast Corridor north of New Haven, Connecticut, would be employed west of Norristown.

Stations[edit]

SVM plans included stations currently used by SEPTA, along with new stations north of Norristown. As the SVM cars would only have motormen, and to allow compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, all existing and new stations would be built with high-level platforms. The stations are as follows:

SVM Main Line (Philadelphia-Reading)

SVM Cross-County Segment (Philadelphia-Great Valley)

  • 30th Street Station
  • Suburban Station
  • Market East Station
  • Temple University
  • North Broad Street
  • Allegheny
  • Manayunk (lower)
  • Ivy Ridge (lower)
  • Miquon
  • Conshohoken
  • Norristown Transportation Center
  • Port Kennedy (upper)
  • King of Prussia (at Court & Plaza mall complexes)
  • Cassett Road
  • Great Valley (near Great Valley Corporate Center)
  • Glenloch (near Exton)

Planners intended to operate trains at 15-minute intervals during peak travel times, Mondays to Fridays, and at 30-minute intervals at all other times. Norfolk Southern Railway trains would have been able to use most of the system at all hours, but would have been restricted to overnight movements at some locations after SVM ceased operations at night between Midnight and 6 a.m.

Succession[edit]

"SEPTA has several techniques for sandbagging unwanted projects — raise concerns over safety, estimate costs unrealistically high, or push for rail trail conversions to stave off repeated calls for service restoration."

- Gerry Williams, Railpace Newsmagazine columnist[5]

Norristown Extension[edit]

After the plan was rejected by FTA, the Montgomery County Planning Commission initiated the R6 Extension Study (later called the Norristown Extension) as an alternative approach.[6][7] Unlike the SVM, the R6 Extension Study would only see electrification extended as far as King of Prussia (with SEPTA extending the Norristown High Speed Service) and no major reconstruction of any platforms. Any service west of King of Prussia would require new construction and the purchasing of extra push-pull consists hauled by dual-mode locomotives. Funding for the R6 Extension Study was to be provided by revenue earned via a proposed plan to toll U.S. Route 422 between Pottstown and King of Prussia.[8] The tolling idea, suggested by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), was lambasted by several regional politicians, most notably Pennsylvania House of Representatives member Mike Vereb. Vereb and the influential passenger rail advocacy group Pennsylvania Transit Expansion Coalition jointly appeared at a DVRPC open forum on September 13, 2011 where DVRPC Executive Director Barry Seymour was presenting.[9][10][11] On October 5, 2011, under increasing pressure and opposition, DVRPC cancelled the tolling proposal and plans for the Norristown Extension.[12][13] As of October 2011, there are no plans to restore passenger rail service beyond Norristown.

Greenline[edit]

Another alternate approach, known as the Greenline, proposed to serve the towns of Oaks and Phoenixville via a new connection at the current Paoli/Thorndale Line at Paoli Station. This project was cancelled when funding could not be obtained.[14][15]

Criticism[edit]

Transit expert John Pawson, author of Delaware Valley Rails: The Railroads and Rail Transit Lines of the Philadelphia Area, made a pointed argument as to why the SVM has continually been pushed by elected officials given its many obstacles. In a November 2010 communication sent to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission Regional Citizens Committee, Pawson stated the following:

Tax policy and political ideology should not distort and stifle the rail system. Other major metropolitan areas that enjoy radial commuter rail services are gradually extending their networks. We have been stymied by planned absurdities such as the Schuylkill Valley and Cross County Metros that are political constructs.

If we grant that the two very largest U.S. rail networks, those around New York City and Los Angeles, are generally out of scale for our needs and our consideration, we arrive at three other multiple-route networks that are near our scale level, those radiating from downtown Chicago, Boston, and Washington (see Commuter rail in North America). Researching their routes shows that their respective average route lengths measured from the center city terminal to outer terminal are about 40, 32, and 61 miles. By contrast, the 13 routes of our network by SEPTA's figures average just 21.5 miles. The shortest extendable route (the Fox Chase/Newtown Line) ends within city limits just 11.6 miles out, at Fox Chase. Too many citizens and commuters in our region are not being served by our contracted network. If other regions can afford their more extensive services, so can we.

A former Montgomery County chief planner infamously, publicly, and repeatedly stated that "those who want to work in Philadelphia should live there, not here". This anti-regional bias likely resulted from this state's anomaly of the City Wage Tax and its related tax legislation. Tax revenues are sent to Philadelphia whether one works or lives there; the governments of the bedroom suburban communities are shut out of the tax revenue. This unusual set of circumstances apparently is what has led to those past strange rail service proposals, the Schuyulkill Valley and Cross County Metros. These constructs would have served to put residences and most job sites both in the suburban counties, making the workers using the lines taxable. This is an odd and disturbing misapplication of the Land Use Planning principle that was contrived predominantly to serve governmental tax needs rather than the citizens' actual needs to commute between residential and job locations.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Rail link to Philadelphia won't occur, Rendell says". Reading Eagle. 2006-08-24. 
  2. ^ "Metro project gets lukewarm support". Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  3. ^ "Community log: Transportation study". Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  4. ^ "Congressman meets with borough officials". Retrieved 2011-04-27. 
  5. ^ Williams, Gerry (August 2008). "SEPTA Scene". Railpace Newsmagazine (Picataway, New Jersey: Railpace Company, Inc.) 7 (8): 49. 
  6. ^ "R6 Extension Study". 
  7. ^ Hambright, Brett (August 10, 2010). "Technology is making tolls (almost) painless". Reading Eagle. Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  8. ^ Hambright, Brett (December 12, 2010). "Decision near on Route 422 tolls". Reading Eagle. Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  9. ^ PA-TEC 422 Corridor Transportation Improvements Proposal
  10. ^ PA-TEC news: Sept 2011
  11. ^ "Crowd gives 422 tolling plan unwelcome reception". The Mercury. September 13, 2011. 
  12. ^ "REPORT: Tolls not the 'best option' for Route 422". http://www.newsworks.org/ (Journal Register News Service). October 5, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Report backs off 422 tolling plan". http://www.newsworks.org/ (Daily Local News). October 6, 2011. 
  14. ^ Citizens for the Train
  15. ^ phoenixville.patch.com "Greenline not moving forward"
  16. ^ dvrpc.org

External links[edit]