Time for ‘Disney Thinking’ to Bring Rail Service Back to West Chester | Notice
Robert Lund is an optimist with a job that would make most people a pessimist. As Deputy Managing Director of SEPTA overseeing its Engineering and Construction division, Lund is responsible for keeping SEPTA’s existing facilities in a good condition as well as building a few “major projects” such as Middletown / Wawa and King of Prussia Rail. Extensions.
SEPTA’s $ 7.4 billion 12-year capital budget to accomplish this work seems impressive until it is realized that the budget  does not fully resolve the backlog of $ 4.6 billion in good repair projects and  is about to take a hit of $ 2.2 billion, a reduction by one-third that will mean the postponement of projects already considered critical.
It was against this background that West Chester City Councilor Don Braceland summoned Mr Lund to a special borough council meeting and, like asking a man with a flat tire for a ride, asked him why SEPTA was not extending rail service to West Chester. .
It’s worth explaining that West Chester Borough leases most of the rail line from SEPTA to preserve the alignment for future generations and keep it from becoming a pervasive horror in the meantime. He maintains the line through a sublease to the West Chester Railroad tourist train operator, whose volunteers contribute more than $ 700,000 in labor per year.
The borough council appointed a railway restoration committee that has worked with SEPTA since 2014, but Councilor Braceland neither spoke to us before the special council meeting nor allowed to speak during it. Had it done so, we would have explained that SEPTA and the Committee mutually agreed three years ago that an extension of West Chester to scale the Middletown / Wawa extension of SEPTA, although feasible and profitable. , does not reach the level of a “major project” to justify its inclusion in the already oversubscribed and fiscally challenged 12-year capital plan.
But rail projects have lead times longer than most politicians’ attention spans. The Middletown / Wawa extension, which will open next year, was designed 35 years ago in 1988. And SEPTA’s No.1 major project, the King of Prussian railway extension, dates back even further to 1986. and was formally rejected by SEPTA in the 1990s. KoP Rail was only recently resurrected and added to the 12-year capital budget. Barely entered its design phase, it is still almost a decade after opening.
The West Chester expansion, which has only been in serious consideration for seven years, is hardly a toddler compared to these mature plans. As such, the Committee deals regularly with the Strategic Planning and Initiatives Division of SEPTA – the custodian of the 12-year investment plan – in relation to Engineering and Construction, whose job it is to lead it. Oh good.
In his opinion piece (Daily local news, June 21), Councilor Braceland said he heard: “Rail service to West Chester is just a pipe dream. “
I was at the same meeting and heard, “West Chester is not on the 12 year capital plan and therefore not on my radar”. Last year, SEPTA Planning helped put the West Chester extension on the updated state rail plan and continues to support its place in the regional long-term transport improvement plan at DVRPC. . The economic benefits study mentioned by the city councilor (which costs the borough $ 15,000) was suggested by SEPTA Planning to strengthen West Chester’s long-term ranking.
Meanwhile, the committee is working with the West Chester Railroad to find other short-term approaches to improve safety and stabilize track conditions on the 9.4 miles of railroad leased by the Borough through a No-cost federal infrastructure grant to West Chester, leveraging West Chester Railroad volunteer value money.
Councilman Braceland, in his opinion piece, twists the committee’s track work proposal and another contemplates the possibility of West Chester Railroad running an interim shuttle between West Chester and Middletown. He confuses the two propositions and dismisses them as unfounded in reality and the result of “Disney thinking”.
In fact, the nine-member committee includes several rail professionals, rooted with decades of experience in the “railroad reality” that he claims to have learned over the “past few months”. This includes people who, working with limited means, have extended SEPTA rail service in the past to the airport, Downingtown, Thorndale, Parkersburg, Wilmington and Newark, as well as the more difficult reality of making many rail cuts, including West Chester (personally wrote the 1986 SEPTA staff analysis that brought the R3 route back to Elwyn).
But maybe now is the time to “think Disney”. I know the city councilor meant the term derisively, but in reality Disney Transport is a remarkably disciplined and professional organization that moves 57,000 daily guests between its parking lots, resort hotels and theme parks using buses, trams, steam trains, ferries and of course. —Monorails (the fashion of the future and always will be …), while making everything seem effortless and fun (which, as someone who has worked “behind the scenes” with Disney Transport, I can assure you that this is not the case).
They say there is more than one way to skin a cat. While we wait for Councilor Braceland to produce that $ 500 million check he claims to be in his pocket, why not consider more entrepreneurial ‘Disney-style’ solutions that could bring rail service back to West Chester on a provisional basis, decades earlier and at a much lower cost than the traditional approach which relies on a massive infusion of money which we all agree is just not there.