DeMutis Group Funds Study of Options for Rail Service to Phoenixville

Phoenixville Developer Manny DeMutis took time to address the reasons why he is funding a study for the Borough to assess the possibility of options for Rail Service to Phoenixville. His proposal was presented to the borough Infrastructure Committee where it met with approval. It will be forwarded to Borough Council for a vote, where DeMutis expects an affirmative vote to proceed.

DeMutis believes the borough is looking to enhance the quality of life for borough residents and has sought to identify new means of travel in keeping with its organizational goals which are more in line with twenty-first century travel needs.  The road-free connection linking Phoenixville with Great Valley or Center City employment centers could provide commuters with a viable travel alternative that could potentially alleviate traffic congestion on PA Route 29 and 422. 

“There is a need to increase public transportation options to Phoenixville as a result of the recent expansion of residential units in the downtown,” DeMutis said. “There have been 809 new apartments in the downtown and 440 houses built in the borough equating to approximately 2500 new residents. The professional planners must recognize and respond to the reality that Phoenixville is the growing population center in Chester County and has become a small city,” he said, adding, “Phoenixville’s downtown revitalization has been so successful that everyone wants to live near our walkable downtown entertainment district. All we are doing is responding to that need.”

Virtually all passenger rail planning concepts for Eastern Chester County have been oriented along the alignment of the Schuylkill River Valley, passing from Reading to Center City Philadelphia via Norristown.  The river has defined the traditional path of travel and commerce through Phoenixville and the other “canal boroughs” from Colonial days.  This was sufficient through the end of commuter rail service in 1981.

Twenty-First Century commuting patterns and work locations are much more complicated and diverse. Bucolic fields throughout the outlying suburbs have turned from agricultural to commercial uses, although the former farm roads leading to them are little changed. As a result, roads that were never intended for heavy volumes of commuter traffic are choked with congestion, adding time, cost and frustration to Chester County residents. An additional consequence of the suburbanization of regional workplaces is the challenge employers face in reliably filling basic entry-level, service and administration positions. An extensive potential employment base resides in Philadelphia and suburban urban areas such as Phoenixville, drawn to affordable workforce housing options developed around past concentrations of industrial activity.  The regional transit network, predominately a radial network oriented around the needs of a Center City commute, offers limited opportunities for suburb-bound commuters. A prolonged stop-and-go commute by automobile is the only viable mobility option for suburban workforce.

DeMutis led the Citizens for the Train effort a few years ago, which was unable to secure governmental support for the idea, but now is concentrating on the possibility of extending the Manyunk/Norristown Line. The original greenline using the Norfolk Southern Phoenixville Line (NS Line Segment 2588) is an unsignaled, single-track industrial track through Eastern Chester County.  It extends 10.8 miles from Perkiomen at Milepost HP 25 on the NS Harrisburg Line near Oaks in Upper Providence Township, Montgomery County, to terminate in an industrial park in Devault, East Whiteland Township, Chester County.  The line parallels PA Route 29 for much of its length. The idea was to run the along the right of way on Route 29 to complete the line to Paoli.

The greenline’s rights of way will be studied to determine if there is adequate right of way available to complete the line.  Project Coordinator Barry Cassidy stated that he would hate to see the greenline project put on the shelf but indicated it could open other uses for the line if Norfolk Southern decides to sell the line.  “I could see a project creating a direct vehicle expressway from Phoenixville to 422 in Oaks considering the bridge over the Schuylkill River exists on the Northside.  “I think with the right of way you could go from the corner of Rts.113 and 23 to Rte 422 without a light, although I am sure everyone would be against that idea.  But we will look at that option as well as other potential options as we assess the project alternatives.”