Death of the Greenline

When you are a revitalization coordinator in a town, you learn to “go wide” with projects so you can have the greatest impact in a community. Business people and governments raise a bunch of money, articulate all their hopes and dreams, and hand them to you to make a reality.

In Phoenixville, this included creating a train project to provide public transportation from Oaks to Paoli through downtown Phoenixville. At the time, there was an effort to get the Schuylkill Valley Metro completed, and there was not a lot of support from anyone other than those in Phoenixville who traveled the South on 29 auto trip every day.

I received a call the other day from my good friend and Phoenixville booster Manny DeMutis.  I believe the greenline was his idea. At the time were trying to find a way to make Phoenixville’s “Phoenix Steel Site” available to public transportation and help Phoenixville’s repositioning in the Regional Marketplace. There were developers who were willing to look at the steel site, if there was public transportation. 

Together we organized the “citizens for the train” and held meetings to discuss the process of making the train from Phoenixville to Paoli a reality. We had committees and numerous volunteers to aid our efforts. We thought we could actually do something. We had a corporate sponsor as well as one of the top train guys in the United States, Tom Hickey, working with us.

Of course, we had our detractors and people that wanted something else to happen. First there was the County Trail people, where an individual working for the county called the Norfolk Southern and tried to purchase the line for a trail after we announced our plans. I found that there was a yet unpublished study for something called the “Patriot Trail.” I wrote a letter to the County commissioners asking why the County was trying to undermine our efforts?

Then, at the next meeting, staff from the County Planning Commission came to our meeting and suggested that we work on bus rapid transit instead. I suggested that if he was serious with the effort that we would help him form “citizens for the bus” and they could meet in my room at Molly Maguires… not much came from that offer as people were unanimously looking for a train.

So one thing leads to another, and I get a corporate grant to hire Gannett Fleming to do a study. It appeared that the train project was within our capabilities for action. I needed to have an “alternatives analysis.” This is where things got a little weird. I could not get the borough of Phoenixville to rate the project as their number one project. Jean Krack was steadfast in his support for the Northern Relief Route as the TOP transportation project in the borough.

I approached the County Planning Commission and met with the Director, Ron Bailey and the Transportation Director. They told me they would only support the project if I got every municipality to support it as their number one transportation project.  That included Trydiffern Township, which of course was advocating for the Paoli Train station. I could see their point. I could not even be the number one project in Phoenixville. We did not get the TCDI grant, one of the few grant applications I ever wrote that was not funded… northern relief route was not funded either. 

Spurned by the government, we decided that for all intents and purposes we could not have the train as a viable option, because I could not get the alternative analysis funded. Later the alternative analysis was stricken as a requirement for the “small start” program at the FTA.

So fast-forward to today. I received a call from Manny Demutis concerning the planning the greenline. It appears that his plea for the attention to the greeenline has fallen upon deaf ears. He recently attended a meeting in which many of the transportation people gathered to seek input to address some of the concerns of the gridlock on Route 422 and Route 29, and the greenline was relegated to non-existent status. 

As a consultant, I still represent someone who is willing to buy the line from Oaks to Phoenixville and he is willing to move forward with a deal, but the Railroad will not sell half of the line. There is a need for some citizen action if this dream will ever become a reality. I get calls all the time from people who say they want to move the greenline forward. I believe that if this is ever going to happen, it has to happen now or put some dirt on the idea and declare it dead.

I believe that the financing could be easily assembled for the project. Especially if the line is to go through Great Valley Corporate Center and cross the highway at Worthington and go up the hill to the new station like Tom Hickey planned.  Right there is a project, rather than shuttle bus people over the highway on increasingly traffic-laden roads. If a right of way through those properties were to be donated, in fee, and in turn capitalized in an appraisal… I believe you have a credible match for a “small start” project. 

SEPTA is never going to propose that kind of expansion and there are vehicles for funding that can be made available from the private sector versus always looking to the local public sector to match the federal money. The only thing lacking are the people who continue to call me and tell me they want to work on the project to make the greenline a reality… now is your time.  Do it!