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Which 5 routes are being considered for Lehigh Valley passenger train service? Here are the pros and cons for each

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About a dozen years from now, if you hopped on a passenger train in the Lehigh Valley, where would you end up?

Penn Station in the heart of Manhattan? Center City Philadelphia? How about 30th Street Station in Philly? Perhaps Reading?

All four of those places were listed as potential final destinations in the Lehigh Valley Passenger Rail Analysis that was released Wednesday by PennDOT and consultant WSP.

The Lehigh Valley Passenger Rail Feasibility Analysis has identified the following five candidate corridors for restoring passenger train service between the Lehigh Valley and New York, Philadelphia and Reading.
The Lehigh Valley Passenger Rail Feasibility Analysis has identified the following five candidate corridors for restoring passenger train service between the Lehigh Valley and New York, Philadelphia and Reading.

After going over 12 potential routes, the study narrowed it down to five. You can view them in the map above.

Here are the pros, cons, costs and likely travel time for each:

Allentown to New York via Hackettstown, New Jersey

  • Description: Utilizes the Norfolk Southern Railway to Phillipsburg and Dover & Delaware River Railroad to connect with the NJ Transit Morris & Essex Line in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
  • Pros: Active rail corridor with Norfolk Southern Railway Class 1 freight infrastructure in place. The route can avoid some of the freight line by using the shortline Dover & Delaware Railroad.
  • Cons: Could affect Norfolk Southern freight supply chain. Less direct of the two routes to New York. Must utilize New Jersey Transit and Amtrak lines east of Hackettstown, possibly pushing capacity. New Jersey cooperation needed.
  • Estimated capital cost: $474.9 million. $145 million for rolling stock.
  • Estimated annual operating costs: $23.6 million to $28.8 million.
  • Estimated travel time to New York: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Allentown to New York via High Bridge, New Jersey

  • Description: Uses the Norfolk Southern Railway to connect with the NJ Transit Raritan Valley Line in High Bridge, New Jersey.
  • Pros: Most direct route to New York. Class 1 freight infrastructure in place.
  • Cons: Could affect Norfolk Southern freight supply chain. Operations use active New Jersey Transit, Conrail and Amtrak lines east of High Bridge, possibly pushing capacity. New Jersey cooperation needed.
  • Estimated capital cost: $469.9 million. $145 million for rolling stock.
  • Estimated annual operating cost: $16.5 million to $20.1 million.
  • Estimated travel time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Allentown to Philadelphia via Lansdale

  • Description: Uses the Norfolk Southern Railway to Bethlehem, Lehigh Valley Rail Management within Bethlehem, Saucon Rail Trail (SEPTA) to Coopersburg, Upper Bucks Rail Trail (SEPTA) to Quakertown, East Penn Railroad (SEPTA) to Telford, and Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad (SEPTA) to connect with the SEPTA Lansdale Doylestown Line in Lansdale.
  • Pros: Most direct route to Philadelphia. Uses mostly in-service corridors.
  • Cons: About 12 miles of track have been removed for rail trails. Could affect Norfolk Southern freight supply chain. Routing through Bethlehem is unclear. Potential conflict with SEPTA routes south of Lansdale. SEPTA may not permit dual-mode (diesel/electric) locomotives through the Center City tunnel in Philadelphia.
  • Estimated capital cost: 635.8 million. $102 million for rolling stock.
  • Estimated annual operating costs: $5.1 million to $10.2 million.
  • Estimated travel time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.

Allentown to Philadelphia via Norristown

  • Description: Uses the same routes as the Lansdale corridor, then connects with the SEPTA Norristown Line in Norristown.
  • Pros: Can provide a diesel-only route to 30th Street Station.
  • Cons: About 12 miles of track have been removed for rail trails. Could affect Norfolk Southern freight supply chain. Routing through Bethlehem is unclear. Potential conflict with SEPTA Norristown Line operations.
  • Estimated capital cost: $739 million. $102 million for rolling stock.
  • Estimated annual operating costs: $5.5 million to $10.8 million.
  • Estimated travel time: 1 hour, 52 minutes.

Allentown to Reading

  • Description: Uses the Norfolk Southern Railway to connect with the planned Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority service between Reading and Philadelphia.
  • Pros: Lowest anticipated operating costs of all the alternatives. Class 1 freight infrastructure in place.
  • Cons: Could affect Norfolk Southern freight supply chain. Future rail connections to Philadelphia are proposed by the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority, but not yet certain. Downtown Reading may not have the same travel demand characteristics of New York and Philadelphia.
  • Estimated capital cost: $450.3 million. $102 million for rolling stock.
  • Estimated annual operating costs: $2.2 million to $4.3 million.
  • Estimated travel time: 46 minutes.

Other routes considered

  • Allentown to Pottstown via Boyertown.
  • Allentown to Norristown via Pennsburg and Oaks.
  • Allentown to Trenton, New Jersey, via Phillipsburg, New Jersey.
  • Allentown to New York via Bloomsbury, New Jersey, and Flemington, New Jersey.
  • Shorter connector corridors were studied inside the cities of Allentown and Bethlehem to determine station sites along with approaches to the Trenton Transit Center to connect with New Jersey Transit.

Read the full Lehigh Valley passenger train study

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