I’ve been critical of AVR’s plan for commuter rail. That’s not to say that there isn’t value to what they are doing. With that in mind I’ve put together some of what I feel are issues/risks/opportunities for this proposal. I broke the proposal down into construction and operation. The first installment will cover construction and each section will lay out potential issues and opportunities (if applicable)
Keep in mind as well, there is no public report available for this. I’ve gathered my ideas and thoughts through articles and material available on the internet. There are no concrete figures save the $171million “private loan” and the $228 million overall cost. Beyond that, there is currently no detail available.
There aren’t many major issues with the construction of stations from
to Arnold, PA 26th St. in the Strip.
There are just a couple of concerns that I think it is important to highlight.
While I don’t have a problem with this in theory, geography makes implementation tricky, and probably expensive. The east side of the
Allegheny River under the bridge is just a thin strip of flat land, with a steep hillside to one side and the river to the other. There is enough land for at least one track, as this is the former PRR Railroad Allegheny Division right of way. The tracks are gone, but the right of way is still intact. However, there is little room for a station with parking and multiple tracks. Additionally, gaining auto access to this strip of land would be challenging. If the designers envision direct access from the Tarentum bridge (which I am guessing they will), steep ramps will have to be built from the bridge. These ramps will need to provide enough clearance for Tugs to operate underneath them. It can be done, but it would be expensive. Again, there is no word whether this cost is included in the $228 million figure quoted in the Trib/Post Gazette.
Another option that could be used would be to either make an access road off of
Lower Braeburn Road in Lower Burrell or move the station further north so that it would be situated at the bottom of Lower Braeburn Road. Both of these have potential issues as well. I am still not sure there’s enough room underneath the bridge itself for a station, even without using ramps off of the bridge. Also, with the second option, you will lose the convenience option. I am betting they are trying to capitalize on the ease of travel to the and therefore maximize on ridership. If people have to drive out of their way to get to a station that is isolated by geography then there is no real reason to spend the money to put it there. Tarentum Bridge
If the latter is chosen, this point could become particularly important. According to this idea, an intermodal terminal would be built at
26th street and the AVR would possibly interchange with an LRT line coming up from downtown (don’t ask me how this would happen…)
The nearby property owners will become important in this instance. A light rail vehicle can’t just hang a left at an intersection and the Strip is filled with dense development.. To get an idea of what it takes to turn a light rail vehicle, see the below map.
Land will have to be acquired and buildings potentially demolished. This is sure to meet with resistance from local business/property owners. This will add to the already expensive costs of terminal facility construction in an urban environment.
Right of Way Construction:
One advantage that AVR has is that of an existing ROW. (ahh the joys of existing infrastructure). They already own the property and the tracks. All they have to do is upgrade it. They will have to add stations, passing sidings, signaling, and probably upgrade the road crossing protection over what they currently have. While still expensive, the hard part (ROW acquisition) is already taken care of.
That is until…
you get to
As discussed before, the AVR may elect to continue using their right of way and easement to reach
16th St. If this is the case, while not ideal for operations it is ideal from a cost standpoint.
The other option would be to operate at grade on
26th St. across Liberty where it would run on (or alongside) the Busway to the Penn Center Station and onto . This option could end up being very costly, and may not be physically feasible at all. Steel Plaza
As I alluded to earlier, a train doesn’t turn on a dime. The line would have to curve to meet
26th St, and again, would probably have to cross a privately owned parking lot. The AVR would then need permission to dig up the entirety of 26th Street to lay rail. This would involve closing off Liberty Ave and Penn Ave to dig up the pavement and lay rails.
I don’t know the timeframe for how long these roads would have to be disrupted for or the cost to install rails and update the traffic control equipment (both for auto traffic and trains).
The going gets tougher once across
The next challenge is the Busway itself. After having to emplace a hard right hand curve at the Busway end of the bridge, the line will have to deal with the Busway itself. This is not privately owned and is owned by the Port Authority. They must agree to allow tracks to be put into place on their route. (There is also no indication whether PAT will or won’t be responsible for operating this AVR service). Again, IF PAT agrees to this request, the Busway will have to be torn up and tracks laid. As the route would near the Penn Center Station, there is more room and the two routes could operate parallel to each other.
An additional problem would face this proposal south of the Penn Center Station. Soon after the station, the T ROW into
Steel Plaza goes underground and stays that way for the 1000 or so feet to . This would mean that diesel propulsion may not be practical. At the very least cars would not be allowed to idle in Steel Plaza , and may not be able to be operated underground at all without an electrical back up or third rail system. Although this would be a short distance requirement, it still would mean additional infrastructure and vehicle costs. Also, tracks would have to be re-laid because of gauge difference. Steel Plaza
A final construction issue is future T service to the East. I know it’s a pipe dream, but there has always been talk of making the
East Busway into a T line. Right now that possibility will always be there. If you built a different gauge line in from the East, you are removing that possibility.
It’s clear there are some challenges. I like the idea of the line going all the way to
. This line is unlikely to ever be able to link in with a like mode of transportation. Giving people ready access to the T and Steel Plaza East Busway to get elsewhere in the city is critical if this service is going to succeed. It’ seems as though construction is feasible. The question right now is; is it practical?