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Fall Real Estate 2013: On the right track

New station near Harrisburg International Airport in planning stages

By - Last modified: November 8, 2013 at 12:20 PM

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PennDOT owns the property for the new train station in Middletown and Lower Swatara Township, Dauphin County.
PennDOT owns the property for the new train station in Middletown and Lower Swatara Township, Dauphin County. - (Photo / Kathryn Morton)

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is starting to design a replacement train station in Middletown, although it currently does not have funding to build the station.

PennDOT owns the property for the new station at Ann Street and Airport Drive at West Main Street in the borough and Lower Swatara Township, according to PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt. The current Middletown station is within the borough at Union and Mill streets, about a half-mile away.

The agency is in the midst of preliminary design phases.

“We anticipate that all design work could be complete by early 2015,” she wrote in an email.

PennDOT does not have construction funding designated for the project, which is supposed to create a longer platform and improve handicapped accessibility for Amtrak passengers. Waters-Trasatt said construction could start in 2015 if the money is in place.

“We are hopeful that the legislature will pass a transportation funding plan this fall, so we can address this (and) many other transportation needs in Pennsylvania,” she said.

PennDOT initially budgeted $30 million for the new station, although the final design could lead to adjustments in that cost estimate, Waters-Trasatt said.

Investments made in the Keystone Corridor over the past nine years have resulted in increased train ridership between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said.

“Ridership in 2006, the first year of electrification on the line, was 823,097, and that number has been growing ever since,” Schulz wrote in an email.

Twenty-three trains use the Middletown station every weekday, serving an average of 201 passengers daily, Schulz said.

Plans for the new station include bike racks, pedestrian access, bays for local and inter-city buses, and an area for pick-up and drop-off for the Harrisburg International Airport shuttle, which also serves the airport’s long-term parking area, Waters-Trasatt said.

“We’ll be working with the local stakeholders and area rail users as part of this (design) process. ... We have been coordinating with the airport, the borough and Penn State Harrisburg to support linkages throughout the community,” she said.

Harrisburg International Airport Executive Director Tim Edwards said no decisions have been made about shuttles, although officials are monitoring development of the train station. The shuttle decisions will be made later as costs are discussed.

“We see it as an opportunity to provide a rail link to the airport that we don’t have now,” Edwards said, saying research done a decade ago indicated some passengers wanted train-to-terminal options.

The Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which manages the airport, had hoped the station would be built as a multimodal project on airport property itself, Edwards said. However, PennDOT determined the best site would be adjacent to the A.P. Green warehouse, the last portion of which has now been demolished.

A PennDOT website for the project indicates the chosen site was preferred by municipal leaders and the public. Two other possible sites, it states, had engineering flaws and issues with natural resources.

Amtrak and PennDOT have tackled more than $350 million worth of infrastructure improvements along the Keystone Corridor during the past nine years, Schulz said. Those efforts include track upgrades, restoration of overhead electric power, and signal and communication improvements.

“That enabled us to increase top speeds to 110 mph and reduce travel times between Harrisburg and Philadelphia,” he said.

According to Schulz, the Keystone Corridor is the first high-speed rail corridor built this century. He called it a “national model” for development of similar services in the United States.

The Keystone Service operates between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and it continues to New York. It carried more than a million passengers between October 2012 and June 2013.

“We certainly expect the rail service is going to continue to be an important travel option for the residents of Central Pennsylvania. We’re happy (the new station) is going to be in a location ... where we can maybe accommodate passengers with shuttle buses to the airport,” Edwards said.

Learn more

Details about the Middletown train station development are online at www.planthekeystone.com.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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