Could passenger rail service return to the Lehigh Valley? The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is continuing its efforts to find out.
PennDOT has announced that it is funding a study to determine what it would take to bring passenger rail travel back to the Lehigh Valley.
The announcement comes as the $1.2 trillion federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocates $66 billion into improving and enhancing passenger rail service nationwide.
It’s not, of course, the first time the Lehigh Valley has studied the passenger rail issue.
Back in 2010, Lehigh and Northampton counties and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. funded an analysis of what it would take to create a “Pennsylvania Component” of New Jersey Transit’s Raritan Valley line from central New Jersey.
The report found that it would cost $650-$710 million in infrastructure costs and would need ongoing annual subsidies of about $11.6 million.
However, unlike that 2010 study, this new study will meet Federal Railroad Administration standards, a step necessary for the consideration of adding new routes to the system.
Speaking at a meeting of the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study, PennDOT Deputy Secretary Jennie A. Louwerse said the comprehensive study would determine the costs, ridership potential and ongoing expenses that would come from creating a passenger rail connection that would help riders travel beyond the Lehigh Valley region.
“The great thing about the Infrastructure Law is that it allows us to take a look at what it takes to reinstate [passenger rail] service,” Louwerse said to the LVTS. “…I believe this study will provide a solid foundation for the Lehigh Valley to know what do we need to do to make this happen.”
Louwerse said the study would likely start in the next two months and take about a year. .
It was estimated that building a Lehigh Valley rail extension would take at least a decade.
Pennsylvania currently has passenger rail provided by SEPTA, the Port Authority of Allegheny County and Amtrak, which runs a Pennsylvania line that stretches from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and a Keystone Service line running from Harrisburg to Philadelphia. Both of those Amtrak routes continue to New York City.