Intelligencer: Newtown rail trail construction to begin

Intelligencer: Newtown rail trail construction to begin

Peggy Quann

October 15, 2019

Evan Stone, executive director of the Bucks County Planning Commission, expressed a big thank you to Mother Nature on Tuesday. She delayed the “torrential rains” expected this week so they wouldn’t dampen the groundbreaking for the new Newtown Rail Trail.

As the sun shone brightly, Stone and several other Bucks and Montgomery County officials picked up shovels to start work on the new multi-purpose trail as dozens of spectators watched at the former Southampton railroad station off Second Street Pike.

Years in the making, the trail will be laid on the right-of-way where the former Newtown rail line used to run before SEPTA closed it down in 1983. The first section of trail, for which the ground was broken, will extend from Bristol Road to County Line Road in Upper Southampton.

When it opens, it will be used by walkers, joggers and bicyclists and will connect Tamanend Park in Upper Southampton to the Pennypack Rail Trail in Montgomery County after a small section of trail running from County Line to the Pennypack trail is finished. The existing Pennypack Trail runs through Montgomery and Philadelphia to the Delaware River.

The Newtown project is expected to cost approximately $2.4 million. Design costs were funded by PennDOT’s Act 13 Marcellus Legacy Fund, Montgomery County and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Regional Trails Program via the William Penn Foundation, said Bucks spokesman Larry King. SEPTA is leasing the right-of-way for the project at $1 a year, said Paul Gordon of the Bucks County Planning Commission.

Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County commissioners, praised the two-county project. As a physician, Arkoosh said she knows how important it is for people’s health to get out into nature. “We welcome you down to Montgomery County once the trails are completed,” she said.

Bucks Commissioners Robert Loughery, Charles Martin and Diane Ellis-Marseglia thanked all involved in making the project a reality. Martin, who hails from Upper Southampton, remembered using the old rail line. Since it wasn’t viable for that to be reinstated, he said using the right-of-way for people’s enjoyment was the right thing to do. “I look forward to walking on this trail ... It makes eminent sense,” he said.

Martin said he disagreed with a sign holder who protested the trail project on the grounds that another rail line should be built instead, to ease the congestion on the Warminster line and the shortage of parking at area transit stations. Paul Iverson, of Middletown, said he didn’t object to trails for walking and bicycling but thought the $2.4 million price tag for 2.5 miles was too high.

“To tear up a rail line seems to go against common sense,” Iverson said. He predicted it would cost about $1 million a mile to build a real rail line, but Gordon and Charles Linn, manager of the Office of Environmental Planning for the DVRPC, said the costs to build a commuter rail line would be much higher — with estimates starting at $5 million.

Martin said the former rail line that connected Newtown to Philadelphia was a diesel line. To install a new rail line that would run on electric power would be “too expensive,” he said, and wouldn’t give a good return on investment if the ridership wasn’t there to use it. He said the multi-use trail will soon be put out to bid with construction work to begin most likely in the spring.

In their remarks, both Stone and Linn praised in particular the efforts of Bucks County transportation planners Richard Brahler Jr. and Gordon for their work in making the project possible, even walking through underbrush and into streams to map out the trail.

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