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The new rail system would connect Berks, Montgomery, and Chester counties. Photo: Getty Images.
The new rail system would connect Berks, Montgomery, and Chester counties. Photo: Getty Images.

New rail authority proposed for Montgomery, Chester, and Berks counties

The group of counties are considering a new rail system and authority within their regions.

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Montgomery, Chester, and Berks counties are seeking to create a new rail system and authority, proposed as the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority.

A new rail system between the regions would restore a passenger line that connects commuters between the Reading, Phoenixville, Pottstown, Norristown, and Philadelphia areas.

The proposed route would not incorporate transfers, and would only offer a one-seat ride. Currently, there is not a rail line connecting the proposed regions, and most ride on SEPTA buses.

The route would revitalize an existing rail line for freight trains. The route would extend from the proposed areas all the way to Philly’s 30th Street Station on SEPTA’s Regional Rail line.

For residents, community members seeking to offer input, three dates are scheduled for public forums.

Three public forums will take place with one occurring for each individual county. 

The public forums will take place on Wednesday, April 20 (the county commissioners’ board room in Norristown), Thursday, April 21 (virtual), and Wednesday, April 27 (virtual).

The public forums will feature the commissioners of each county, respectively. The commissioners are expected to vote on the fate of the proposed rail system.

If the commissioners approve of the route, then the new transportation agency would be given the power to further open discussions, move forward in securing funding for the project.

It is projected that each county would spend upwards of $100,000 in start-up costs. 

Overall, as projected by a 2020 PennDOT study, the range of total costs hover between $356-818 million.

One aim of the project is to influence economic development. Reading, Norristown, and Pottstown areas house middle to low-income communities.

22.8% of Norristown households do not have access to a vehicle. In Reading, 25.5% of households do not have a vehicle, and 12.8% of Pottstown households without, according to a 2019 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A Pottstown resident who served on the school board for 14 years, Amy Francis, reflected on a time when the area attempted recruiting teachers of color so as to “have our students experience a reflection of who they are,” Francis told WHYY.

According to Francis, the task was undoable since commuting to the area is a hassle without a major railway authority.

Additional stops on the proposed route, past the initial areas, are yet to be determined but will be considered.

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