Sunday, November 9, 2008

More Progress!!

Northampton County council approves passenger rail study

Friday, November 07, 2008

From LehighValleyLive

http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/northampton-county/index.ssf?/base/sports-0/1226034415272971.xml&coll=3

EASTON A second vote on funding a passenger rail study was the charm as Northampton County council approved $75,000 Thursday for it.

The resolution passed 5-3, with council members Ron Angle, John Cusick and Peg Ferraro voting against it.

Paul Marin, a member of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation's transportation committee, wants to include the Lehigh Valley in a New Jersey transit study considering a train connection from the area to New York City.

The study will cost about $250,000 and Marin has asked Northampton and Lehigh counties to kick in $75,000 each.


Northampton County's resolution failed at the Oct. 16 meeting for lack of a majority vote, but the funding was still listed in the county's 2009 budget.

Councilman Michael Dowd re-introduced the measure.
Dowd said if significant federal funding becomes available for rail "the Valley ought to be in a position to take advantage of that."

Ferraro said she wanted to wait a few months before spending the money to see if the county was in good financial shape.

"I feel very uncomfortable spending any money until our own house is in order," Ferraro said.
The approval came with the caveat that the county will not release the funding unless the other entities involved approve their funding.


LVEDC officials have already approved a contribution of $100,000.

Monday, November 3, 2008

THE FAST TRACK


Paul Marin has announced that "We are currently setting up a committee to work on the rail initiative starting in the next 30 days."


Stay tuned!!!!!!!!!


New Article

'Visionary' rail network linking New Jersey and Pennsylvania regions would imitate passenger train system in Europe

Friday, October 31, 2008
By TONY NAUROTH
The Express-Times

http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/easton/index.ssf?/base/news-0/1225425988210560.xml&coll=3&thispage=1


EASTON An effort to bring rail service to Phillipsburg and Easton keeps chugging along a track that could tie in mid-Atlantic population centers via a network similar to that found in Europe.
Local leaders and passenger rail enthusiasts gathered Thursday morning at Lafayette College's Pfenning Alumni Center to hear about a plan college President Daniel Weiss called "visionary."
Paul Marin, chairman of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.'s transportation committee, laid out details.


"The key," Marin told the group, "is legislation; the key is political will."
That means marshaling the support of the mayors of the municipalities that would benefit from a rail line as well as state and national elected leaders who can funnel the money into such a project.
"This is not new," said Easton Mayor Sal Panto, "The idea has been around for 25 years. Now we're looking to have it as a reality in five to 10 years."
In his presentation, with the hefty title "Unified Passenger Rail Network for the Mid-Atlantic Region," Marin pointed to a $250,000 study, already approved, that could start in about six weeks to identify the state of tracks and stations along the proposed routes.
Vision beyond the Valley
But the vision Marin described goes beyond the Lehigh Valley.
"People think a rail line would only be for New York City commuters. That's not true.

"The forward edge of (baby boom) empty nesters will reach 2011, and they won't want to live in big homes in cul-de-sacs," he said, adding that people will want to live close to services, close to transportation and close to each other.
They'll have to give up their SUVs and learn to shop locally, not in huge malls accessible only by roads.
"The question we must ask ourselves," Marin said, "is, 'Are we ready for a lifestyle change?' "

For those who say rail service is too expensive, Marin noted the case of Charlotte, N.C. where, in 1999, a 10-mile light rail line was built, drawing people to live in downtowns that had been failing economically.
"They spent $700 million dollars to build it; the economic investment return was $7 billion," said Marin, who also is a board member with the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority.
Building homes and business around rail lines and stations is called transportation-oriented development.

Marin also compared the rail line potential to what Switzerland already has. Using slides of the mid-Atlantic region next to a map of Switzerland, Marin showed that the land areas are similar in size.
Then he showed their respective rail lines with the central European country well-networked, despite its mountainous terrain.
"Fifty million people live within a 50-mile radius of the Lehigh Valley," Marin said. "Switzerland has 7 million people."
"We have a rail system Bolivia would be ashamed of," Marin added.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Lehigh Valley, attended the breakfast presentation and later said he supports a rail network, but noted, "This issue is more about money than anything else."
He said the federal government typically puts 50 percent into transportation projects. The other 50 percent must come from local governments and private contributions.
Dent said he's "very much aware" of the current Lehigh Valley study and says his hope is to link it with one already in progress in New Jersey that would offer suggestions on the feasibility of extending the current rail line from High Bridge to Phillipsburg.
"We're going to piggyback onto the New Jersey study," Dent said. "This is not a Washington-driven phenomena," he said. "It's got to be locally driven."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From the Morning Call:

Plan could bring commuter rail to Lehigh Valley in five years


Link to NJ Transit: Bridge panel would use millions in toll money to pay for it.
By Matt Assad Of The Morning Call
October 14, 2008


A plan to bring passenger railroads into the Lehigh Valley would tap the millions of dollars that motorists pay in Delaware River bridge tolls to fund a $100 million line that would link Easton to NJ Transit trains.

Talks to have the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission pay to extend a line 20 miles west from High Bridge, N.J., began two years ago and have been re-energized by high gasoline prices and highway congestion.

Such a deal would mean trains could be running into Easton in as little as five years, helping regional planners avoid what could otherwise be a 10- to 20-year wait to get enough federal funding.

But for now, the plan remains a concept awaiting the blessing of the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said bridge commission Chairman David R. DeGerolamo.

''The frustrating thing is if we had done this two years ago, when I first suggested it, we'd be close to having trains running,'' said DeGerolamo, who is also a Phillipsburg councilman. ''Now it's sort of in a holding pattern until we get some kind of direction from the governors. It's too bad, because I think we missed an opportunity.''

Chuck Ardo, spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, said Rendell supports establishing the line into the Valley and the bridge commission is free to fund the construction if it chooses, but said the costs of running the railroad must also be considered.

''It's unquestionably a worthwhile project,'' Ardo said. ''No one has specifically approached the governor about it, but even if they do, funding is going to be an issue, not only for construction, but for ongoing operations.''

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's office did not comment.

If the commission had approved floating $100 million in bonds as DeGerolamo requested, it would have had to determine whether it could repay them through existing tolls, increased tolls or by adding tolls to one of its 13 free bridges. That's still the case.

The issue of extending NJ Transit into the Lehigh Valley resurfaced in recent months, as Valley highways became more crowded with people commuting to New York City and New Jersey and gas prices rose to more than $4 a gallon.

Lehigh and Northampton counties along with the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. have together committed $250,000 to pay for a study of what it would cost to extend the NJ Transit line through the Valley and what it would cost to operate.

But Paul Marin, a former Wall Street money manager now living in Allentown, says the line would be a small piece of a statewide rail network that he's been advocating throughout the region.

He's spent the past two months meeting with officials, including Pennsylvania Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Yablonsky and Transportation Secretary Allen D. Bieler. Last week, he made his plea during the annual Pennsylvania Planning Partners Conference in Canonsburg, Washington County.

''If we can build a statewide rail plan, then we are eligible for billions of dollars in federal money,'' Marin said. ''Locally, the toll bridge commission is an option that could have trains running within four years after floating the bonds. That would be ideal.

To continue reading the article :

http://www.mcall.com/news/local/all-a1_3rail.6623500oct14,0,7150225.story

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

URGENT: Some Lehigh County Commissioners Threaten cuts to Rail Funding

New Cuts Proposed by
Some Lehigh County Commissioners
Yes, This meeting is being held the SAME TIME as the Northhampton Meeting:
Thursday October 2, at 6PM:



Lehigh County Executive Government Center
17 S. 7th St.Allentown, PA 18101


Don Cunningham, County Executive, and a supporter of our cause, urges us to attend the meeting to support his proposed budget. His budget is rail friendly and balances the books without any tax increases. Yet some commissioners have threatened to cut rail funding!!

Don Cunningham:


"Some or all of the funding proposed in my 2009 budget related to your organization and/or initiative in which we are partnered or you have expressed interest has been targeted for reduction or elimination in a motion introduced by a county commissioner. "

This Thursday (10/2), the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners will hold its final 2009 budget hearing at 6 p.m. in the County Government Center at 7th and Hamilton Streets in Allentown. The board will consider millions of dollars of proposed funding cuts to the following areas:

  • Passenger rail study/mass transit funding
  • Regional economic development funding
  • Quality of Life grants to more than 20 cultural arts and community organizations
  • Farmland preservation
  • Open space preservation
  • Borough revitalization funding
  • Community partnership grants for townships
  • Community police matching grants
  • Urban parks funding
  • Brownfield/industrial land economic development

Don Cunningham continues:

"My proposed 2009 budget is a modest 1.1 percent higher than this year's budget. It contains NO tax increase and continues a balanced investment in the operations of Lehigh County government while supporting our community partnerships, our downtowns, public safety, our cultural arts institutions and community events, regional efforts across municipalities, mass transit and passenger rail development, preservation of open space and farmland and the development of urbanparks. "

"Proposals will be considered and voted upon Thursday that would alter that agenda and affect our partnerships and/or funding. That should not occur without you having a voice in the matter. You may want to attend this important meeting to represent the interests of your group or initiative. "

For more information on the proposed funding cuts, please contact the County Executive Office at 610-782-3001 or the County Commissioner Office at 610-782-3050.

Monday, September 29, 2008

ACTION ALERT

Northampton County Council Meeting:
Vote on Funding for the Planning Phase of a Unified Rail System
Thursday, OCTOBER 2 at 6:00PM
Northampton County Government Center
669 Washington Str, 3rd floor Easton PA

Paul Marin will be making his presentation and the council should be voting on a commitment of $75,000 toward the planning phase.

BTW: There were about 80 attendees at the gathering last Tuesday at the Third Street Alliance in Easton. Paul did a great job again. There was lots of healthy discussion, even a strong thought provoking comment questioning the effort. That was responded to by equally thought out comments.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lehigh Valley residents TOLD LANTA THEY ARE A TRANSPORTATION AGENCY, NOT A BUS COMPANY !!!




LANTA is in the midst of developing a regional plan to change and improve public transit in the Valley. Three public open house meetings were conducted to gather your suggestions, ideas and comments about what YOU want in your public transportation system:





The numbers of people attending were very good! We put RAIL ON THE RADAR. Some viewers of this blog were concerned that LANTA was completely fixated on only bus service. Do not despair. Our voices were essential in making them realize that the people are demanding a Unified Rail Service.
KEEP UP THE PRESSURE!!
Pressure must be applied consistently and over time to succeed.
WE CANNOT STOP NOW!


More on the Open House Meetings.......



Fellow rail supporters,

It has been a long time coming, but we finally have a legitimate opportunity as citizens to affect a sea-change in the course of rail transportation in the Lehigh Valley. Paul Marin is on the Board of Directors of LANTA. He is also a member of the Transportation sub-committee of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC). He has gained the support of the LVEDC in funding a rail study that will provide an opportunity for the Lehigh Valley to partner with the ongoing study being prepared by New Jersey Transit (NJT) that will evaluate bringing rail to Phillipsburg. Our participation would assure that Easton, Bethlehem and Allentown are included as potential stops in that study. Obviously, Easton is the key link to this system.


The LVEDC has committed $100,000 to this effort. The study will cost $250,000 - the cost of one, modest suburban home in Forks Township. Further funding of $150,000 will be required to move forward. That money will be requested (in the amount of $75,000 each) by County Executives Don Cunnigham and John Stoffa from Lehigh and Northampton County Councils respectively. Lehigh County is probably solidly behind it. Our job will be to make sure Northampton County hears our message loud and clear.

Paul Marin has put his money where his mouth is by hiring Wallace, Roberts and Todd, Architects and Planners (WRT) of Philadelphia to do a preliminary PowerPoint presentation on the potential of rail in the Lehigh Valley. WRT is well known for it's planning of Inner Harbor in Baltimore and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit plan (DART). This PowerPoint will also be presented to County Council on October 2nd. Paul and I agree that you - the Easton transit-using community - deserves to have the presentation personally delivered to you so that you have all your questions answered before the funding request is delivered to the County.

It will be very important to show up in force at the County meeting to let the politicians know we are behind this modest investment to direct our future transit system towards rail and the economic benefits it will enable here. Please do everything you can to attend this presentation and let everyone you know in the Easton area who will be affected by this transit study to attend as well.

Also that same evening, as luck would have it (and coincidentally right next door to our meeting location) LANTA will be presenting their regional transportation plan update for the Lehigh Valley. There will be a presentation, an opportunity to review the plan and to make public comment. It would be great for as many people as possible to also attend part of this meeting.

Let LANTA know that a plan that does not include provision for future rail service is no plan at all. LANTA must be made to understand that they are a transportation agency - not just a bus company. We have a unique opportunity to drive the point home and we should take advantage of it.

I look forward to seeing all of you soon and working together - with Paul and all of you - to lead Easton and the Lehigh Valley into the 21st Century of transportation planning and economic success.

Dennis R. Lieb

Friday, August 29, 2008

WE DID IT!!

The Morning Call: Valley planners support a $250,000 rail study

http://www.mcall.com/news/local/all-a1_4rails-aug29,0,3068682.story

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Downtowns Across the U.S. See Streetcars in Their Future

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/14/us/14streetcar.html

Cincinnati is one of at least 40 cities exploring plans to
build a streetcar system to spur economic
developmentand ease traffic congestion.
The city is looking into using this modern streetcar model,
the same type used in Portland, Ore.


Portland, Oregon
More than 10,000 residential units have been built and $3.5 billion has been invested in property within two blocks of the streetcar line, according to Portland Streetcar Inc., which operates the system.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Over One Hundred Area Residents Attend Fast- Track Rail Strategy Session at the Allentown Brew Works


Like all Americans, Lehigh Valley residents have been re-evaluating their transportation options, given rising fuel prices.

Over one hundred citizens looking for long term solutions, found hopeful answers at the Allentown Brew Works last evening, Tuesday, August 12.


After last minute requests by several Allentown residents, Paul J. Marin, Transportation Committee Chairman of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, shared his strategy for bringing passenger rail service to the Lehigh Valley: A Unified Passenger Rail Network for Eastern Pennsylvania


This network concept unites six separate rail expansion projects for Eastern Pennsylvania that were seen as independent projects. A rail network will help reduce the need for short-distance airline flights and preserve mobility in the face of rising fuel prices.

Pennsylvania is ALREADY ACTIVELY PLANNING RAIL EXPANSION:

Currently, six rail proposals are being developed in eastern Pennsylvania:
Scranton to New York commuter rail.
Easton to New York commuter rail.
Reading to Philadelphia commuter rail
Harrisburg, Hershey, York, Lancaster commuter rail system.
Quakertown to Philadelphia commuter rail.
The Crescent Corridor/Norfolk Southern freight capacity project


Instead of individual corridors, Marin proposed that these rail projects should be combined into a seamless network that will be far superior to any isolated individual rail line.

Marin argued that there are numerous advantages to this approach:

The corridors would be completely integrated to allow for travel to any other point in the system.

“For example, a Scranton resident could travel by train to New York, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Reading, Allentown, Baltimore, Washington DC, Atlantic City, or virtually anywhere else in the northeast. This is a dramatic improvement in mobility as compared to individual corridor projects.”

Increase of ridership: The network would inherently encourage more ridership because it connects more places together.

Reduce operating costs.

Increase economic development in Pennsylvania’s smaller cities: The network connects the downtowns of the various communities in Eastern Pennsylvania. It will become even more attractive to live and do business in these downtowns when convenient, fast train travel is offered to all the major urban centers in the northeast.

Affordable mobility in an era of rising fuel prices: Rising fuel prices are reducing driving and flying. As long as fuel prices remain high or increase, mobility will be reduced. A regional train network can withstand increases in fuel costs and provide affordable mobility to travel.

Relieve airport congestion: Many flights could be converted into rail trips, freeing up space for longer distance flights to operate without congestion. Many airlines are cutting flights. Some carriers are eliminating 10% to 20% of flights by the end of 2008, and many small cities are losing air service. A rail network offers an important mobility option that can withstand rising fuel prices.


Pennsylvania is already set up for rail service:
“Passenger rail depends on high population densities, interconnected economies, and walkable cities. Pennsylvania has all three.”

Marin exclaimed: “Fast-Track Implementation is possible.” He added: “Because of rising fuel prices and a slowing economy, there is no time to lose in moving forward.”

As an example, he pointed to the State of New Mexico. It announced a new commuter rail line in 2003 and opened it for business in 2006 – just three years later. This amazingly rapid implementation occurred because of firm commitment by Governor Bill Richardson and exceptional professionalism by the department of transportation.

The crowd was extremely enthusiastic and unanimous in its support for passenger rail. Individuals repeatedly asked how they could get slow-moving politicians to make this a priority. An email group was formed. It was agreed by many after the presentation, that the creation of a citizen-action oriented blog would empower residents to make elected leaders understand that unified rail is a huge priority.

A Blog is Born

This blog has been created to meet an enormous unmet need --for the Lehigh Valley to have a unified passenger rail service linked with NYC and Philadelphia. I plan on designing this blog -as not just something you will passively read, but one in which you can USE to effect change to get politicians to wake up out of their inertia. I will soon be posting elected officials' contact information along with letters/ information you can use to communicate your demand for transportation choices for our community. This blog will also inform residents to attend important events that will determine the future of rail in the Lehigh Valley.

Why do elected leaders think nothing of spending hundreds of millions on widening roads (such as a few mile stretch on 22) and hesitate when asked about spending far less on creating passenger rail?

Do not sit silently when some politicians or bureaucrats caution rail service could take many years. We must speak in a more powerful united voice and DEMAND PASSENGER RAIL NOW!
It is every citizens' responsibility to hold every elected official's feet to the fire. They have an obligation to prioritize this and PUT LEHIGH VALLEY ON THE FAST TRACK!