In an unusual move, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has allocated a little more than $15 million for a new station before it is designed.
The station, at Coatesville, lies along Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor, and the funding is part of a larger effort by PennDOT to improve service and infrastructure along the state-subsidized corridor.
Though plans for a new station have yet to enter the design phase ― PennDOT’s still conferring with city and Chester County elected officials and taking the pulse of the neighborhood ― Toby Fauver, deputy secretary for transportation, said the allocation “shows a commitment from the department” to the economically battered city.
Usually, the agency only commits money to projects that are designed and ready for construction.
The money is expected to cover the cost of new high-level platforms, accessibility improvements and a pedestrian overpass — though the state isn’t totally sure how much the whole project will cost.
Along with another $1.3 million pledged from other sources, the money will also be used to construct some kind of waiting area for riders that’s “way better than a normal bus shelter” but not a full-fledged station building with public restrooms.
But before any of this money is actually used, PennDOT wants to join the project with some kind of transit-oriented development to stabilize the neighborhood.
The goal, Fauver said, is to use the new train station as an economic development tool. And the additional street traffic and a stabilized neighborhood will hopefully, in turn, make riders waiting for a train feel safe.
The current station suffers from low ridership and doesn’t have any Amtrak amenities or a place to buy tickets.
There’s little prospect in the immediate future for SEPTA to expand service to Coatesville, even after the new station is built ― which is still several years into the future.
Since the state subsidizes both Amtrak and SEPTA service along the Keystone Corridor, it doesn’t think it makes “good business sense” to expand SEPTA service to a little-used station, Fauver said.
Instead, he hopes a new station will increase ridership and will in turn lead to Amtrak increasing service to the station.
If PennDOT and other stakeholders can settle on a plan and deal with some environmental issues at the site, Fauver hopes the state will begin the federally mandated environmental assessment process in March or April, which will take about a year.
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