Is Reading ready to ride the rails again?
Pamela J. Shupp, executive vice president of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, appeared before the Berks County commissioners on Thursday to talk about an effort being undertaken by the chamber to restore passenger train service in Berks County.
Commissioner Mark C. Scott responded, expressing his skepticism about the feasibility of such an undertaking.
"I would hope that we don't engage in a feel-good, boondoggle study that has very little prospect of success," Scott said, citing the most recent study done in September 2011. "The studies have all shown that it's highly unlikely that the funding is available and the ridership projections are very pessimistic, shockingly so."
Scott said surveys have shown that everyone wants rail service in the area, but no one wants to pay for it. He said the 2011 study also found that rail service would attract about 700 riders from Berks County, at an annual operating subsidy of $760,000.
"Let's stop fooling ourselves, engaging in wishful thinking," Scott said. "We've done so many of these studies, and I'm sure it's politically attractive. Everyone is in favor of it until they realize that they have to pay for it."
Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach disagreed.
"The 2011 study is old news," he said. "I still believe passenger rail service to Reading and Wyomissing is a really, really big lift."
Leinbach said the idea has been renewed by SEPTA's decision to extend service to the King of Prussia area of Montgomery County. Also, a study is looking at extending rail service to Phoenixville, Chester County, which, according to Leinbach, would use the old line that runs between Reading and Philadelphia.
"We're looking at the viability of piggy-backing on the work that's already committed to with King of Prussia and the potential of that extension to the Phoenixville area," Leinbach said. "[This] makes it a very different kind of project than what was looked at in the 2011 study."
Passenger train service between Reading and Philadelphia ended in 1981.