Last Thursday, Jan. 25, SEPTA held a public meeting to announce the results of the feasibility study of restoring rail service to West Chester. The event was held in the Marian Anderson building at Cheyney University, which would have a stop on the restored line. Over 100 people attended the event including West Chester University students, faculty and alumni.
On display were nine posters showcasing the results of SEPTA’s feasibility study, including a six-foot-long satellite map of the route at the back wall. The route would add stops at Cheyney University, Westtown and West Chester University on Nields Street. The route would find its terminus in West Chester borough on Market Street where the West Chester Railroad Heritage Association now runs 90-minute trips to Glen Mills on the tracks which once carried the original SEPTA line to West Chester.
That original service to West Chester was canceled in 1986 when daily ridership fell to 109, but according to SEPTA’s study daily ridership of a rebuilt route would hit 1400. Though higher than when the route was closed, that number is unlikely to attract federal and state funds “based on capital cost and ridership projection” according to the “Conclusions” poster at the event. Lack of government funding could become a roadblock for the proposed extension. While SEPTA declared it feasible, they stated that “local or other funding will be required to advance the project.”
Fortunately for the project, Dianne Herrin, mayor of West Chester Borough “[thinks] one area of focus for the Borough of West Chester can be to provide municipal support for the redevelopment of the borough train station on Market Street.” However, she relayed that “this will certainly be up to our community, but I have no doubt our municipality will do what it can to help this project become a reality. In addition, given the tremendous benefits this restored rail line will bring to the borough as a whole, I believe we can help generate significant community-wide support for a capital campaign.”
There is indeed citizen support. As a representative from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission which is the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the nine counties surrounding Philadelphia, reported, among all the people he spoke to at the meeting last Thursday none vocally opposed the Wawa to West Chester extension.
Borough resident and recent WCU alumnus Mark Zeits said he “[supports] the idea. There would be less driving to the city, I would go more for sure. It really opens up easier travel to areas beyond Philly as well and makes that more simple. I’d be able to commute more and engage in more events in Philly. Having that would let me keep living in West Chester for a few more years.”
These thoughts were largely echoed by Mayor Herrin, who said that if we collectively ponder the connections a rail line would bring, “We can see a future where students who don’t have access to other forms of transportation can get to West Chester University from the city or any stop in between. We see business people using the line to get into the city from West Chester.”
“By restoring rail service to West Chester, we will be helping to create an even more vibrant community with a higher quality of life for everyone,” she continued emphasizing the environmental benefits of less traffic congestion.
One group who represents a significant declaration of public support is the borough-appointed Committee to Re-Establish Rail Service to West Chester tasked with “[investigating] options and to cause, as soon as possible, the reestablishment of rail service.” They meet monthly in the Spellman Building on Paoli Pike. For her part, Herrin “will support [the committee] to Reestablish Rail Service to West Chester in making connections and creating partnerships that will be critical to moving the project forward.”
Zeits remarked, “The role of West Chester local government is obviously to cooperate with SEPTA and they have the power to tax and to raise additional levies to pay for it, so they should take advantage of those powers, because it could only be a benefit to businesses and people in the area.”
West Chester urban planning professor and Director of Sustainability Bradley Flamm said that “the line coming in will likely raise property prices and encourage development in the area” and while “Transit oriented development (TOD) is an effective way of creating more livable communities by mixing land uses and creating higher densities where people have the option of accessing the things they want to access without having to own their own car; they can walk, they can bike, they can take public transit to the things they want to do.” Significant TOD real estate developments “[are] generally most successful on very high ridership public transit corridors.”
Flamm also explained that the borough should consider restoring the line between West Chester borough and 30th Street Station rather than running the current SEPTA 104 bus route that is accessible but less time convenient due to traffic and its many stops. Furthermore, he concluded by saying, “an additional good thing about being connected to the regional rail system is that . . . you could get to the airport just by making a single transfer.”
Aaron Gallant is a third-year student majoring in urban and environmental planning with minors in anthropology and Spanish. ✉️ AG851503@wcupa.edu.