Just Outside Philadelphia, Energy Grows to Recycle Former Rail Line

Posted 09/19/12 by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Building Trails

Photo © phillyburbs.com

The success of the nearby Pennypack Trail has inspired a group of residents in Bucks County, Pa., to push for the conversion of another section of disused rail corridor into a public trail.

"Build Our Trail - A Rail Trails Initiative," is advocating for the now unused Fox Chase-Newtown line (right) owned by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA), to be developed into a shared-use trail that would connect to the established Pennypack Trail as well as the proposed Neshaminy Creek Trail.

"Such trails have proven to be safe and valuable assets for local communities," the group writes on its website. "Multi-use trails can be utilized by our future generations and create more appealing, healthy, and livable communities."

Unfortunately, rail-trail advocates in Bucks County, which is less than an hour from the Philadelphia metro area, are hitting a frustrating hurdle common in urban areas. Although corridor leasing agreements explicitly state that the transit authority would be permitted to resume rail service on the line at any time in the future, local officials are concerned the development of a trail would somehow impede such reactivation.

SEPTA has admitted "there is very little chance of that happening." SEPTA's Media Officer Kristin Geiger told phillyburbs.com that "the reactivation of this line segment (which stopped running in 1983) is not included in the long-range plan for the region," citing the "millions of dollars" that would be required to electrify, upgrade and reopen the railroad.

Despite the fact that on the Pennypack Trail along the same line SEPTA retains the right to convert the trail back into a rail line if that ever becomes feasible, Bucks County officials are still wary of supporting a more constructive use of this currently underutilized corridor. According to the phillyburbs article, Bucks County Planning Commission Executive Director Lynn Bush said it was doubtful county officials would play an active role in any effort to turn the unused rail line into a trail. They wouldn't want to run the risk that might discourage restoration of rail service, she said.

However, the towns of Northampton and Upper Southampton, through which the rail line passes, have endorsed the rail-trail plan. If realized, the trail would become a vital link for "The Circuit", a planned 750-mile trail network connecting the greater Philadelphia area.

The Build Our Trail group is now collecting signatures in support of a rail-trail project. Learn more, and show your support, at www.buildourtrail.org

Photo courtesy of phillyburbs.com

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