The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation had the first of three open houses on a combined state freight and rail plan Monday night.
The event, held at SEPTA headquarters, was meant to get public comment for a plan that will provide a blueprint for state rail investments.
The Intercity Passenger and Freight Rail Plan is the first time PennDOT has tried to look at the interests of passenger and freight rail together, according to Eric Madden, PennDOT’s deputy secretary in charge of freight.
He said the idea for the plan arose out of discussions he had with his counterpart, who handles passenger train service, and their realization that, to expand passenger service in Pennsylvania, new lines will have to run on existing freight track. For example, Amtrak service west of Harrisburg runs on tracks owned by Norfolk Southern, and to increase passenger service to Pittsburgh that freight company will have to be heavily involved.
Madden also said that PennDOT wants to “get ahead of” the federal high-speed rail push. The Northeast Corridor and Keystone Corridor, which runs from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, are the two federally designated high-speed corridors that run through the state.
Though the plan will not be ready to submit as part of the effort to get a slice of the $8 billion in funding the Obama administration has allocated for high-speed rail, PennDOT hopes that it will provide a framework for future state and federal funding, including the federal transit reauthorization bill.
“If money does come, we’ll be ahead of the game,” Madden said.
PennDOT has had more than 60 interviews with different stakeholders, including the trucking association and metropolitan planning agencies like the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, said Chris Bishop-Edkins of AECOM, a consulting company hired by PennDOT to develop the plan.
She added that the state plan is going to “try to be complementary” with existing regional plans.
Though the plan will be released in October and is still short on details — no one is opposed to bringing the state’s rail network into a state of good repair by 2035, but the devil is in the details — Greg Krykewycz, a senior transportation planner for the DVRPC, said that PennDOT, in its conversations with him before the open house, seemed to be “pulling from the partner agencies.”
PennDOT will be having two more open houses, one in Harrisburg on Sept. 15 and another in Carnegie on Sept. 17.
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