The historic Reading Railroad is planning a comeback as Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority holds its first meeting

A black freight train, operated by Norfolk Souther, speeds by on a track, as seen from the former train station in Phoenixville, PA.

File photo: Freight train operated by Norfolk Southern rolls past the former train station in Phoenixville, Pa., on Aug. 21, 2018. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

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There is still no timeline or a price tag, but the mission to restore passenger rail service from Reading to Philadelphia has finally kicked into gear.

The Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority, also known as SRPRA, held its first meeting Wednesday afternoon.

“The first meeting was great. We accomplished a lot. We set the foundation for bringing passenger rail back to Reading, Pottstown, and Phoenixville on the route to Philadelphia — and beyond,” said Chester County Commissioner Marian Moskowitz, who is also vice chair of the new authority.

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The historic Reading Railroad, a fixture in the board game Monopoly, once connected Philadelphia with its northern suburbs, but that was more than 40 years ago. Money problems derailed the line’s ability to stay in business.

Since then, there have been constant rumblings seeking to resurrect passenger service. In April, the wishes of some to restore the train line took on new life. Chester County joined Montgomery and Berks counties in approving the creation of SRPRA.

The bipartisan group of elected officials involved in the project worked on this behind the scenes for quite some time, but Wednesday’s meeting was different in some ways.

“For many of us, it was the first time the whole authority and the big group were able to be in-person. We had had some smaller meetings prior, but it was really the first time for us all to be together in person, and we really set a strong foundation to ensure that this is going to be a successful project, and a successful authority moving into the future,” said Phoenixville Mayor Peter Urscheler, another member of the authority.

The inaugural members of the new authority discussed the basic bylaws of the organization, the creation of a website and bank accounts, the hiring of an executive director, their relationship with Amtrak, and how SRPRA plans on filing for funding from the Federal Railroad Administration.

As far as a timetable or a cost for the project, Moskowitz emphasized that there are plenty of studies and more research that need to take place before there is an answer on that front.

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SRPRA has to evaluate the lines that are already existing. It also has to see what stations meet the ADA requirements.

Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence, Jr. is another member of the new authority. He said that SRPRA will also have to have conversations with Norfolk Southern, the company behind the area’s industrial lines.

“You’ve got to put it through a more formal process … since we would want to run on their tracks, they would not negotiate with individual counties, or all three counties at once. That’s why it was important to have a single entity in place. So that single entity could work with Amtrak, and then also work with Norfolk Southern, as opposed to having three different counties, even with representation trying to do it,” Lawrence said.

He believes that SRPRA is a great example of regionalism or “what can happen when counties get together to work on a mutual goal.”

Despite the long road ahead, Moskowitz, Urscheler, and Lawrence all share a great deal of enthusiasm about the project.

“When this train arrives, it will give access to every socio-economic group that is out there. From jobs, travel, and shopping, we’re also helping the environment, because we’re taking the cars off the road. This train line will provide hundreds of millions of dollars in economic stimulation to communities along those lines. And I think that that’s worth waiting for,” Moskowitz said.

While communities along the proposed line will have to wait for train service, Amtrak has recently established the new Thruway Bus Service in June that connects Reading and Pottstown to Amtrak’s network via Philadelphia.

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