Crazy transit ideas over the ages

Something unusual cropped up the other day that reminded my of a crazy idea that a friend mentioned some years ago. When you work within a particular industry, you often find that people are keen to talk to your about your job.

When you work in transport, that desire to talk about what’s going on in your work life seems to be heightened: I think it may be because most people feel that they have some knowledge in this area. If I was a nuclear physicist, to take an altogether different scenario, then I suspect that the talk wouldn’t flow quite so freely. How many of us, after all, feel confident talking to an expert in that subject area, without running the risk that we’ll quickly feel out of our depth.

But transport is different. Most people know something about the subject: maybe they drive a car, take the bus, or hop on a train. If not, they almost certainly ride a bicycle, or even see traffic movements from the perspective of a pedestrian. That’s even before we begin to think about those who are involved in driving or using some other mode of transport for their own employment purposes.

We all, to a certain extent, can claim expertise in this area. That thought brings me back to that crazy idea that I was talking about and the trigger that reminded me of it.

The trigger was that I was searching for a new treadmill and was reading reviews over at shopfarinellis. I’m not really one for pumping iron at the gym and I’m fairly fit, but I wanted to get my hands on a new running machine. Maybe, I should have said that I wanted to get my feet on a new running machine!

Anyway, I was browsing and that reminded me of the conversation from a while ago. Thinking about it, I suspect that my old treadmill had triggered that original conversation.

My friend wondered why it was that we transport experts hadn’t cottoned on to a fairly simple idea. They’d recently been on holiday and had encountered a treadmill at the airport. It enabled their family (together with other passengers) to be moved along quite a long corridor, with their luggage too, with minimal effort. I’ve seen them too, as you may well have done: they were invented back in the 19th century and they are more commonly known as moving walkways.

They do the job in just the way that my friend described, helping to move people and their belongings around. But my friend had bigger and better ideas: why not have them installed throughout cities? You could use them to travel pretty much anywhere, but with minimum effort?

It was a wonder, my friend continued, that we so-called experts were still talking about trains, buses and subways. Why hadn’t we all switched on to this concept?

Taking the idea at face value, you may think that this isn’t too stupid. There are, however, significant drawbacks associated to using moving walkways, or treadmills, in this way. Chief among them being:

Manufacture and installation costs
Maintenance costs
Environmental impact
Safety issues
Susceptibility to vandalism
Lack of flexibility

Some of the potential advantages are, however, considered in a paper that was written in 2016 by Scarinci et al of EPFL. The fact that it’s been regarded as academic study tells you that it’s not the maddest idea that you’ve ever heard.

As if to confirm that, compare it to some other transportation plans that briefly breathed life at various times.

One idea from the past that I loved, but which sadly never took off, was the idea of having an elephant pull a hot air balloon. Yes, you did read that right. It was once thought that an elephant, being an animal of great strength, would be perfect for pulling a hot air balloon.

Let’s think about this concept for a second. A wild animal would be in control of a hot air balloon. I see three main issues with this otherwise great idea: Take off, flight and landing! I don’t know whether the inventor ever got as far as a prototype (I suspect not), but it does go to show that human beings have a wonderful ability to think of ever more crazy ideas. In fact, those treadmills at every street corner are beginning to sound more appealing by comparison!

In the 1920s there was one seemingly mad idea that actually caught on. People manufactured a vehicle and others bought it, for a time. The idea was seemingly simple: a motorised pram for children.

These vehicles, with a top speed of 4mph, had space for the parent (or nanny) to stand and steer using the handlebars. The poor child, meanwhile, was presumably too busy crying as a result of the overpowering exhaust fumes. The noise levels of those early engines must have been impressive too. Despite the seeming stupidity of the idea, I’m not sure that anyone was ever killed as a result of using such a contraption.

Charles Steinlauf is simply not as well remembered as he should be. In fact, it’s likely that you’ve never heard of him. This is a great shame, since he had a great idea for a vehicle and even tried it out with his family.

His wonderful invention was as follows: it would be great if he could travel around with his entire family. This sounds simple enough. He wanted it to be on some form of bicycle. Again, so far, so good.

It’s easy to imagine the entire family out riding a bike in this way, enjoying the country air. There’s not much wrong with the idea here, but it seems that Charles had identified a problem: his family bicycle would allow for increased leisure time and provided a fantastic transport solution, but what about the chores?

If they were all busy riding a bike, then who would deal with those all-important chores? Specifically, how would his wife manage to get her sewing done? The solution, you see was simple. Why not simply attach the sewing machine to the bicycle? With a seat, of course, so that Mrs Steinlauf could be comfortable, sewing on the move. A wonderful idea indeed!

As we can see, the history of crazy transit and transportation ideas is long and illustrious. Long may it continue!

Feasibility Study: Bus Rapid Transit Adaptation

This section describes an ambitious bus-based option for improving public transportation in the corridor. It reflects an adaptation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) concepts to the corridor and would utilize existing roadways (i.e., U.S. 422, U.S. 322 and I-83) which parallel the rail right-of-way. Unlike many BRT systems, the plan does not call for buses operating on entirely new and exclusive roadways. Instead, existing roadways will be used with consideration of both physical and operational features at select locations to expedite bus movements through the corridor. This could include additional bus-only lanes for selected segments and traffic control features to expedite bus movements.

BRT is characterized by a menu of enhancements designed to attract “choice” riders who have a car available for the trip, but opt to use the bus system instead. Since most persons in the corridor use a car to make their trips, the choice travelers represents a significant potential market for public transportation. BRT is differentiated from traditional bus service by four key characteristics:

• Higher Speed – This could be achieved through a variety of strategies including operation of buses on their own right-of-way (where feasible) or on existing streets with preferential treatment; limited stop bus service which would afford time savings in comparison to local bus routes that stop every block or two; and off-line fare collection or new fare technology (e.g., smart cards) to reduce bus dwell times.

• Reliability – A high level of on-time performance is essential to attract and retain choice riders.

• Passenger Amenities – This could include bus shelters, passenger kiosks, benches and other features that would afford a more comfortable environment for riders, and real-time information displays of the time of the next arriving bus.

• Branding – The objective is to distinguish the proposed service from that ordinarily operated by the transit agencies in the corridor in an effort to attract new riders who currently drive to make work and other trip purposes.
Maximum Bus Service Design – The plan outlined here is a Maximum Bus Plan that could be approached incrementally. The more capital-intensive improvements could be deferred until ridership grows to a point where the investments are more cost effective. The following principles guided the development of alignment and bus stops and are summarized below:

• Simple Route Alignment – The proposed route would extend from the core area of Lebanon to downtown Harrisburg principally along U.S. 422, U.S. 322 and I83.

• Limited Stop – The proposed bus service would only stop in the centers of the more densely developed areas and at major generators. •
High Frequency – As shown in Table 3-1, the proposed “Full Service” operating plan at this stage of the analysis that calls for a significant increase in service. During both the morning and afternoon weekday peak periods, westbound buses destined for Harrisburg would originate every 20 minutes at both Lebanon and Hershey.

The resulting peak headways would be 20 minutes on the outlying route segment between Lebanon and Hershey, while the western segment from Hershey to Harrisburg would have a combined headway of 10 minutes. Proposed hours of operation are shown in Table 3-2.

Integrate with Other Routes and Services – The current service operated by COLT and CAT could continue to operate since they only serve portions of the corridor. Further, in many areas their buses would provide local service. Similarly, steps would be taken to integrate the new service with that operated by Capitol Trailways.

• Flexible – A key feature of rubber tire transit technology is that it can be revised to respond to growth or special conditions such as seasonal activities. Several examples of how the flexibility of the Maximum Bus Plan could be advantageous in the future include:

• Provision of special services oriented to either visitors or employees of Hersheypark

• Operating buses that collect/distribute passengers in the fast growing residential areas along PA 39 and then join the trunk route in Hershey.

• Service to potential developments such as a proposed new mixed use/business park development south of Rt. 422 in the vicinity of Mt. Pleasant Road in South Annville Township and the proposed mixed-use development being discussed in the southwest quadrant of the intersection of Rt. 322 and Mushroom Hill Road in Swatara Township.

Route Alignment and Stations – The proposed bus service and the suggested stops have been preliminarily specified. The stop locations may be revised as this alternative is subject to further analysis during more detailed planning studies. Access to the stations would be by multiple modes including walking, connecting local bus service, auto (include park-ride and kiss-ride access mode), bicycle, and dedicated shuttles for select areas to provide convenient connections to/from major generators that are beyond walking distance to the designated stops. Parking facilities could utilize existing parking lots (e.g., shopping centers) or new construction. The alignment of the proposed route and stations are shown in Figure 1, and a description of the proposed station locations follows.

Feasibility Study: Maximum Bus Plan Concept

The only local comparison to help inform this discussion was the estimated ridership and costs for the Capital Red Rose Corridor. Average weekday ridership on that corridor was estimated at approximately 900 boardings at opening, and construction costs were estimated at approximately $ 19.4 million. While the preliminary ridership estimate for the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor is higher than the Capital Red Rose Corridor, the capital costs for Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon will clearly be dramatically higher than the Capital Red Rose Corridor. Also, while the Capital Red Rose Corridor project has been exempted from application of FTA’s New Starts traditional rating criteria due to its low capital costs, the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor will not qualify for such an exemption.

After consideration of the preliminary demand estimates of approximately 1,500 per day, the qualitative assessment of relative costs of the alignment alternatives and service concepts, and the comparative information for both local and out-of-state peer systems, the Modern Transit Partnership directed the study team to focus attention of the following two options:
Rail Alternative – Construct a third track along the NS right-of-way, for the full distance from Lebanon to Harrisburg, that prioritizes passenger use during commute periods and is available to NS for freight usage during non-commute hours.

Maximum Bus Alternative – Implement a premium bus service, generally paralleling the NS tracks and following the Rt. 422 and 322 alignments, that employs as many attributes of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as are feasible; given the physical, operational and economic constraints that exist along the Corridor.

The full analyses for the selected rail and bus alternatives are documented in the remainder of this report.

Evaluation of a Maximum Bus alternative is appropriate both as a stand-alone alternative to potentially satisfying the long-term demand for high quality public transit service in the corridor; but also as a potential near term strategy that is part of an incremental approach to ultimately deploying commuter rail service in the corridor. One possible scenario is that through strategic investment in transit capital improvements in support of a frequent, high-capacity Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)-like service in the corridor, near term transit mobility needs can be addressed while also building a stronger transit riding habit in the communities along the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor. The increased acceptance and utilization of transit along with supportive land development patterns could converge in a fashion that enhances the prospects for and the ultimate financial performance of a rail system.

Description of the Existing Bus System

Currently, bus service in the corridor, which includes U.S. 422, U.S. 322 and I-83 and parallels the Norfolk Southern rail right-of-way, is provided by three bus operators: County of Lebanon Transit (COLT), Capital Area Transit (CAT) and Capitol Trailways. Each of the services and the routes within the corridor operated by these three carriers is described below.

County of Lebanon Transit – COLT operates about a dozen bus routes which focus on downtown Lebanon and the passenger terminal at 7th and Willow Streets. Many of the routes operate on a timed transfer basis, with buses arriving and departing at approximately the same time to permit transferring between bus routes without lengthy waiting times. Colt services provide connections between Lebanon City and Hershey (principally along U.S. 422 and Hersheypark Drive) and intermediate communities (e.g., Cleona and Annville).

Colt also operates Twilight service on several routes including Route 8 service to the Hershey Medical Center. As a result of a short-range transit study conducted by COLT while this study was underway, COLT is currently doing operational planning leading up to implementation of an express bus service between Lebanon City and the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg, via Route 934 and I-81.

Capital Area Transit – CAT provides bus service in the Harrisburg metropolitan area with the Market Square Transfer Center serving as the focal point of the system. The system is extensive and includes approximately 32 bus lines that includes local, express (i.e., park-ride), and seasonal service to Hershey.

Of interest in the current analysis are three routes that operate in or adjacent to the corridor. Route 8: Derry/Rutherford originates at the Transfer Center (i.e., 2nd and Market Streets) and operates principally along Derry Street and provides service to major generators such as Harrisburg Mall, Wal-Mart and Swatara Square. Route 322 operates between downtown Harrisburg and the Hershey Outlets utilizing I-83, U.S. 322 and U.S 422. The route serves the Hershey Medical Center and other activity centers in Hershey. Reflecting the importance of Hersheypark as a major employer, Route HP is operated on Monday through Saturday between Memorial Day and Labor Day and connects the uptown area and downtown areas of Harrisburg and the Hersheypark Service Center (i.e., employee entrance).

Capitol Trailways – This carrier operates a Reading-Harrisburg route that provides service within the study area, including both specified stops along the corridor (e.g., Annville and Hershey Medical Center), and flag stops along other portions of the route. The route originates in Lebanon at the Capitol Trailways terminal at Schneider Drive and North Lincoln Avenue. Three round trips are operated daily including weekends. The Capital Trailways service is the only current service that operates the entire length of the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor. (Note: just prior to the publication of this report, Capitol Trailways was acquired by Carl R. Bieber, Inc.)
For the most part, the existing bus services provide local bus service in that passengers can board and alight over the entire length of the corridor. The services are not coordinated among the operators, with service east of Hershey provided by COLT and service west of Hershey operated by CAT.

Feasibility Study: Service Concept Alternatives

Given the available alignment alternatives, the following alternative rail and bus service concepts were developed and considered:

A. One or Two New Passenger/Freight Joint Use Tracks Generally Within NS Right-of-Way – As noted above, there is not always room for more tracks in the existing right-of-way, so additional right-of-way may need to be acquired. Under this scenario, freight and passenger trains would jointly share all tracks in the corridor. This would likely involve considerable expense and could involve substantial conflict between freight and passenger train needs.

B. One Additional Passenger-Only Track Within NS Right-of-Way – In addition to the one continuous track throughout the Corridor, an occasional second track would be constructed to accommodate trains moving in opposite directions needing to pass each other. This option would entail many of the same construction elements and costs associated with the first approach, but without providing NS with a commensurate improvement in freight capacity.

C. New Passenger-Only Track Parallel to, but outside the NS Right-of-Way – As noted under in the discussion of alignment alternatives, this option would be considerably more expensive than either of the above options as it would require extensive right-of-way acquisition as well as new under-grade bridges, culverts, and overpasses

D. New Passenger Track Along NS Right-of-Way Between Lebanon and Hummelstown, and then via New Track Along Middletown-Hummelstown Railroad to Connect to Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor and Ultimately Downtown Harrisburg –This option would involve a longer and more circuitous routing when compared to serving the Corridor solely using the NS alignment It does have the advantages of avoiding the more congested portion of the NS Line in the vicinity of Rutherford Yard, more direct connections to HIA if that proposed station were to be built, and a more direct access to the Harrisburg Transportation Center. Implementation would require the full cooperation of M&H management and likewise entail considerable expense. On the downside, the existing M&H physical plant would need to be reconstructed in its entirety along with associated system improvements. This option also would not provide service to inner CORRIDORtwo stations west of Hummelstown (such as the Swatara Square, Rutherford and Paxtang areas). And finally, the M&H portion of the route would likely involve considerable flood plain issues and an expensive grade separation where the line crosses Rt. 322.

E. Premium Bus Service Generally Along the alignments of the NS Right-ofWay and Routes 422 and 322 – this concept would involve adaptation of “Bus Rapid Transit” (BRT) concepts to the Corridor. BRT is a relatively new concept that exhibits some of the advantages of rail service such as quicker speeds and enhanced comfort and amenities, but oftentimes at a lower total cost and with more flexibility to adapt to shifting development and travel patterns.

Selection of an Alignment and Service Concepts for Further Analysis

Realizing that all of the above alternatives would require considerable public investment, and knowing that FTA’s New Starts funding program is very competitive and relies heavily on cost per rider as a selection criterion; the study team proposed and the Modern Transit Partnership agreed to conduct a filtering process to narrow the list of alternatives. That process considered preliminary demand estimates, a qualitative assessment of relative capital costs for the various alternatives, and information for benchmark “New Starts” rail transit systems. It was felt that with that information in hand, strategic decisions could be made as to which alignment alternative(s) and service concept(s) should be the subject of further analysis.

The preliminary demand analysis was developed using of the Commuter Rail Aggregate Rail Ridership Forecasting model (ARRF) which was developed by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and is recommended by FTA for use on planning-level projects such as this Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor study. A purposely optimistic set of demand estimation assumptions including service frequency, travel speeds, catchment areas of stations, etc. was used for this preliminary analysis to avoid premature elimination of alternatives perceived as being more expensive.

Preliminary ridership estimates were developed for service frequencies of 15 minutes peak/30 minutes off-peak, 30 minutes peak/60 minutes off-peak, and 60 minutes during both peak and off-peak periods. The resulting preliminary demand estimate for the most optimistic level of service (service frequencies of every 15 minutes during peak periods and 30 minutes during the off-peak) was approximately 1,500 boardings per typical weekday, which was not considered to be a high number when viewed in the context of the likelihood of relatively high capital costs associated with all of the alternative rail alignments and service concepts. Although these figures were considered very preliminary and subject to revision as the study progressed, they were considered to be sufficiently reliable to use for the early filtering of alternatives.

For a benchmark “New Starts” project, the Utah Transit Authority’s FrontRunner rail service — a new 44-mile new commuter rail line – was viewed as a reasonable peer system to use for comparison purposes. Similar to service option B, FrontRunner will operate over exclusive, passenger-only tracks constructed within the right-of-way of a heavily-trafficked Union Pacific freight line. The majority of the line is single tracked, with several double-tracked passing sidings. The capital cost for the Utah line is estimated to be $611 million. Initial FrontRunner ridership is forecasted to be 5,900 weekday trips and eventually grow to 12,600 trips by 2020.

While detailed cost estimates had not yet been developed for any of the HarrisburgHershey-Lebanon Corridor options, prorating the 43-mile FrontRunner’s statistics to the 25-mile Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor alignment via the NS Harrisburg Line suggested potential Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor capital costs that could exceed $300 million. Likewise, prorating FrontRunner’s ridership estimates to account for the shorter length of the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor would result in FrontRunner benchmarks of about 3,300 weekday trips on opening day. The relatively low Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor demand estimate (when compared to the Utah project) coupled with order-of-magnitude capital costs that could approach $300 million were considered to be significant, given the highly competitive nature of the FTA New Starts funding program. The Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor will need to compete with other projects like FrontRunner from across the country when applying for construction grants. FrontRunner did qualify for New Starts funding at approximately 50% of total project costs.

Feasibility Study: Project Purpose Statement

The Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor Regional Rail Feasibility Study and Analysis of Alternatives is intended to comprehensively and objectively assess the need for and feasibility of deploying high-capacity public transportation service in the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon corridor, and should satisfy the following objectives:

Vision, Innovation and Leadership – The study should identify alternatives that represent solutions that are capable of addressing longer-term needs along the corridor through incremental investments that are doable within known constraints, and have a reasonable likelihood of attracting broad-based community and funding agency support. The alternative set should encompass a range of modal alternatives that represent varying levels of investment and corresponding return, and reflect a willingness to take managed-risks that have the potential to yield high returns on investment. The alternatives should also have long-term utility from the standpoint of cost-effective expandability as travel demand grows.

Comprehensive Approach – The study should be viewed as one element of a comprehensive approach to identifying and analyzing alternatives, and proposing viable transportation solutions that are compatible with and supportive of the region’s transportation, land use, environmental, social and economic development objectives. Extensive Stakeholder engagement will occur throughout the study to ensure that the views and values of the community are given appropriate consideration.

Emphasis on System Performance – The study will strive to identify feasible alternatives that address transportation needs along the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon corridor in a manner that also contributes to the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the entire regional transportation network.
Feasibility – The study is intended to produce practical, doable results. Alternatives will be screened and rated as to physical, operational, financial and institutional feasibility based on known constraints and forecasts of probable future constraints. Alternatives that can be implemented with a lesser degree of community disruption and with fewer irreversible commitments of the region’s resources will be favored in the evaluation process.

Description and Filtering of Alternative Corridor Alignments and Alternative Service Concepts

Physical Corridor Alignment Alternatives

Several alternative corridor alignments were identified in the RFP as being potentially relevant to creating premium transit service between Lebanon and Harrisburg:

1. Utilize the existing Norfolk Southern (NS) mainline over its entire distance between Harrisburg and Lebanon.

This is the most direct transportation corridor for reaching downtown Harrisburg from points east.

The NS Harrisburg Line was once a triple-tracked facility, but much of that capability has been lost to realignment of the two remaining tracks and the easing of curves to accommodate higher speeds. The portion of the line between Lebanon and Harrisburg is currently a two-track railroad with bi-directional signaling and numerous sidings to serve shippers.

The line is one of the more heavily traveled freight corridors in the NS system and is frequently used for moving freight from points west to New York and Philadelphia regional ports. It appears that it is feasible to add a third track with some additional right-of-way acquisition. The additional track would be prioritized for passenger use but available for freight use during non-commute periods, which could be of benefit to NS during peak freight periods and as freight traffic increases.

2. New Alignment paralleling the NS Main – this alternative acknowledges the benefits of the directness of the NS mainline route, but would look to expand that right-of-way in a manner that would allow construction of new transportation facilities that would not consume any NS right-of-way.

This alternative would obviously be much more expensive and cause considerable community disruption due to the extensive property acquisition, displacement/relocation of businesses and residents, demolition costs, and construction costs including creation of the required grade and building entirely new structures.

3. Utilize a combination of the NS Main between Lebanon and Hummelstown – The M&H is currently privately owned, and operated as a short-line railroad between the Amtrak and NS Harrisburg Lines at Middletown and Hummelstown, respectively. This line is almost entirely single-tracked with no signal system, and with a few sidings near its southern end. A quarter-mile section operates in the middle of Brown Street through Middletown. There are few freight shippers along the line, mostly concentrated at the south end around Middletown. About five miles of the line is used for excursion trains between Middletown and Indian Echo Caverns. Reflecting its canal-era origins, the M&H is a circuitous alignment that would need to be significantly upgraded to accommodate commuter trains at acceptable speeds.

Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor would be utilized for a distance of about 10 miles. The alignment between Middletown and Harrisburg is two tracks, signaled for only single directional movement. The line is in excellent condition with track speeds for passenger operation authorized at 110 mph in this segment. Amtrak currently operates a total of 28 trains (total eastbound and westbound) per weekday day over this route. The Capital Red Rose Corridor (Corridor One) project has proposed supplementing Amtrak’s Keystone Intercity Rail Service with additional commuter-oriented rail service operating between Lancaster and Harrisburg.

4. Existing Routes 322 and 422 – These two major highways have the advantage of connecting all of the communities and most of the major generators along the designated corridor. Both routes experience congestion during peak periods, and particularly during special events or seasonal traffic peaks in the Hershey area. Lebanon County has recently undertaken several initiatives to expedite traffic flows and alleviate congestion along Route 422. The transportation right-of-way is very limited as the routes go through the towns and boroughs along the route, thus limiting the ability to cost-effectively expand the transportation capacity.

5. New Transportation Right-of-Way – In addition to considering the above active rail lines, the consulting team completed a cursory examination of the potential for establishing a new transportation corridor generally paralleling the NS Main and Routes 322 and 244. No abandoned transportation or utility rights-of-way were identified in the study area which would represent a viable alternative. In addition, it was also determined that it is not likely that a practical, contiguous, “green field” right-of-way could be found that would cost-effectively serve the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor service objectives.

Feasibility Study: Introduction and Background

The Modern Transit Partnership (MTP) is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1997 to advance regional public transit goals in the central Pennsylvania region. The MTP supports and promotes public transportation, with a specific goal of promoting the planning and implementation of premium public transportation services in south-central Pennsylvania. This partnership consists of business, community, government, and individual members who strive to develop a regional transportation plan that will meet tomorrow’s transportation and infrastructure needs.

The MTP was created by Capital Area Transit (legally known as Cumberland–Dauphin– Harrisburg Transit Authority). CAT is a provider of public transportation services, including CAT bus service and other services, in the Harrisburg Metropolitan region. This Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor Preliminary Feasibility Study is the latest in a series of studies directed toward the planning and developing of high-capacity public transportation alternatives for the region.

In the early 1990s, CAT identified the need for improved public transit services based on recognition of increasing highway congestion, population growth, the rapid rate of land development in some sectors, and limited options for regional commuters. In response, CAT began a series of planning studies in 1993 to develop a future vision of transit services for the greater south central Pennsylvania region. These prior studies are listed in Table 1-1. The overall goal of these activities has been to define the role and dimensions of transit in the region for the 21st century. Over the last decade, CAT studies have identified a regional rail system as the highest priority and most promising transit improvement in the region, and also identified priority corridors within which to focus the development of this system.

With the preliminary engineering phase of the Capital Red Rose Corridor (HarrisburgLancaster) completed, the MTP and CAT selected the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor for the next phase of investigating the feasibility of and prospects for deployment of premium transit service in south central Pennsylvania. This report represents a summary of the work completed during the Preliminary Feasibility Study.

Corridor Description and Project Purpose Statement

The overall purpose of this study is to determine the preliminary feasibility of deploying high-capacity transit service connecting the communities of Harrisburg, Hershey and Lebanon Pennsylvania. Figure 1-1 is a map of the Corridor with the “catchment area” shaded. The Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor is one of the fastest developing corridors in the region, and links the capitol city, several major generators in the Hershey/Derry Township area, and the Palmyra/Annville/Lebanon areas where significant new development is occurring.

The availability of open land at various locations between the boroughs and built-up townships suggest that the area will continue to experience faster than normal development. While analysis of traffic volumes and levels of service on roadways in the corridor was not part of the scope of this study, congestions issues along Routes 422 and 322 have been extensively documented in reports of other studies.

In fact, several recent studies have focused on current and projected congestion and traffic safety along the Route 422/322 corridor. The Lebanon County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has been very active in assessing current conditions and in developing strategies and action plans to address congestion along the corridor. The Rt. 422 Congested Corridor Improvement Program, completed in 2006, identified numerous intersections where the level-of-service would be at “D,” “E,” and “F” without some intervention. The Federal Highway Administration’s summary definitions of these levels of service are as follows:

level of service D: approaching unstable flow level of service E: unstable flow level of service F: forced or breakdown flow.

Various short-term and intermediate-term improvements are either underway or planned that will improve levels of service along the Lebanon County portion of the corridor. However, as demand continues to grow, the levels of service will eventually degrade since the right-of-way is too limited at many points to support major construction projects to increase capacity.

In Dauphin County, the Hershey area, in particular, is characterized by the concentration of major generators including Hersheypark, the Hershey Medical Center, Hershey Lodge and Convention Center, Hershey Foods, Giant Center, and other significant generators and attractors of trips. While most metropolitan areas have major generators within their locales, the concentration of so many within a relatively small geographic area is not common.

The major roadways along the Corridor, including I-83, Route 322, and Route 422 all experience congestion during peak periods which is exacerbated at certain times by traffic destined to the major generators referenced above. The study is intended to produce a preliminary assessment of the physical, operational and economic feasibility of constructing and operating a premium public transportation service along the Corridor as one element in an overall strategy to improve mobility and encourage more sustainable land development patterns, while maintaining the economic vitality of the region.

To help guide the study effort, a formal Project Purpose Statement was developed and endorsed by the Modern Transit Partnership and the Study Steering Committee. Figure 1-2 (following the map of the Corridor) illustrates the relationship of the Purpose Statement to the identification and evaluation of corridor alternatives. The formally approved Project Purpose Statement appears in italics immediately afterwards

Premium Transit Feasibility Study and Alignment Alternatives: Part 1

Executive Summary

Project Purpose:

The Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor Study was commissioned by the Modern Transit Partnership and financed with funding provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a group of interested stakeholders in the Hershey area. The purpose of the study was to build upon earlier transit studies done for the South-central Pennsylvania Region and the Capital Red Rose Corridor by advancing a preliminary feasibility study to:

• evaluate alternative alignments and preliminarily assess the feasibility of introducing premium public transportation service in the Harrisburg-HersheyLebanon Corridor

• demonstrate leadership and vision by developing strategies and projects that address both current transportation challenges and projected mobility needs • emphasize a comprehensive mobility perspective rather than a focus on individual modes of travel, and

• identify practical solutions that include both short-term actions and long term strategies to enhance mobility and stimulate economic development.

Preliminary Feasibility – Overall Findings:

1. Commuter rail service is both operationally and physically feasible in the Corridor, but significant engineering, operational and financial challenges will have to be addressed.

2. A Maximum Bus Plan, that incorporates many features of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and provides a significantly higher level of service than residents are currently familiar with, can provide near-term transit improvements at substantially less cost than the rail alternative and with minimal community disruption.

3. The most feasible approach to introducing commuter rail in the HarrisburgHershey-Lebanon Corridor would be to construct a new passenger track along the Norfolk Southern (NS) main line throughout the Corridor; but doing so in a manner that does not interfere with the efficient movement of freight traffic by NS.

4. The rail alternative will require institutional cooperation and support among state, county and municipal governments; and between the public sector and Norfolk Southern.

Commuter Rail Alternative:

Recognizing that Norfolk Southern’s Reading-Harrisburg main line is one of their most heavily travelled freight routes, the cooperation of NS will be essential to introducing rail passenger service on the line. Careful attention will have to be given to minimizing potential clearance conflicts between freight and passenger operations on adjacent tracks, and through passenger platform areas.

Most, but not all, of the NS mainline right-of-way can support the introduction of a new third track that would be prioritized for passenger use but made available to NS for freight use during non-commuter time periods. Of the 45 existing structures on the line, 21 require modifications or relocation of the existing NS lines and 11 require partial or full replacement.

• The preferred operating plan would provide 13 round trips along the entire length of the corridor on weekdays, and eight round trips on weekends and holidays. Special runs could be operated to expand capacity and alleviate traffic congestion for special events at Hershey area venues and in downtown Harrisburg. Shuttle service would be required between the rail stops and select major generators.

• Applying a demand forecast model recommended by FTA for use in studies of this type yielded “order of magnitude” average weekday rail ridership estimates of 1,375 at startup and 1,700 by 2030. The FTA model was calibrated based on 2000 Census travel habits and therefore does not reflect shifts in mode choice experienced during the spike in fuel costs over the past few years. Other factors that are not totally addressed by the FTA model include: impacts of transit oriented development (TOD), the collective magnitude of the major generators in the Hershey area, the impact of increasing congestion on parallel roadways, and the synergy that could be created through the introduction of multiple rail services in the area. Therefore, the 2030 ridership estimate is likely understated and the extent of the underestimation would have to be determined through more rigorous demand modeling techniques and special studies of the potential rail demand associated specifically with the Hershey area generators.

Commuter Rail Plan Facts (2008)

Route Length 26.8 miles

30-75 minutes Off- Peak Service Frequency 80-120 minutes

Weekday Round Trips 13

Trip Time Between End Points 55-60 minutes

Average Speed Between Endpoints 29 mph

Typical Weekday Boardings (2008/2030) 1,375*/1,700*

Average Fare (2008) $2.77

Capital Costs (2008) $267 million

Annual Operating Expense (2008) $17.3 million**

Annual Revenue (2008) $1.0 million

Farebox Recovery Ratio 5.8%

* The modeling techniques used for this preliminary feasibility study may not fully account for the potential rail ridership associated with the multiple major generators in the Hershey area. A separate study would be required to more accurately determine the additional rail trip potential.

** Annual Operating Expense includes $890,400 for feeder bus service and $912,000 for an infrastructure renewal fund.

Maximum Bus Alternative:

• Signal preemption/prioritization, bus priority lanes, and other traffic engineering techniques that emphasize efficient flow of people rather than vehicles will be required to afford the Maximum Bus Plan a competitive advantage that leads to transit becoming the natural choice of more travelers along the Corridor.

• Recognizing that existing development and limited highway rights-of-way represent real constraints on economically implementing capital improvements aimed at creating higher bus speeds, emphasis should be placed on offering both on-board and on-street amenities that are highly valued by regular commuters.

• Separate branding can help differentiate the premium bus service, with its higher levels of convenience and service, from conventional local transit service with which people are currently familiar. • Transit stops must be strategically located to achieve an appropriate balance between the desire to maximize access to the service and the importance of providing attractive travel times for longer distance travelers. Seventeen stops (plus local stops in downtown Harrisburg) have been identified to serve all major markets and most major generators. Shuttle service may be required to connect certain major generators to the premium bus service.

• Estimated ridership for the Maximum Bus Plan was derived using an adaptation of the FTA model to reflect the level and frequency of service for the bus plan, the proposed stopping pattern, and study area demographics.

• The Maximum Bus alternative is the most feasible near term solution due to its more modest operating cost and the fact that major capital projects are not required. While the cost is much lower than rail, the Plan would still require a significant financial commitment. In return for that commitment, the HarrisburgHershey-Lebanon Corridor would benefit from a premium level of transit service and amenities than are currently unparalleled in Dauphin or Lebanon County.

• Since it is common practice to start new transit services at a more modest level and eventually build up to the maximum levels shown in plans that cover an extended planning horizon, a “Startup” bus option has also been developed. Although the Startup Plan scales back service levels and costs somewhat, all other attributes of the service would be the same as the Maximum Bus plan, and the resulting service would still represent a very high level of public transit service in the Corridor. The Startup Plan would supply approximately 27% fewer vehicle hours of service and is projected to attract approximately 19% fewer riders than the Maximum Bus Plan.

Maximum Bus Plan and Startup Bus Option Facts

Maximum Bus Plan Startup Option Route Length 33.0 miles 33.0 miles

Leb-Hbg 20 minutes Leb-Hbg 20 minutes

Hershey-Hbg 10 minutes Hershey-Hbg 20 minutes

Off- Peak Service Frequency 30 minutes 30 minutes

Weekday Round Trips 35 Leb, 50 Hershey 35 Leb-Hershey-Hbg

Trip Time Between End Points 83 minutes 83 minutes

Average Speed Between Endpoints 23 mph 23 mph

Typical Weekday Boardings (2008/2030) 1,750/2,050 1,425/1,625

Average Fare (2008) $2.00 $2.00

Capital Costs (2008) $8.5 million $6.8 million Annual Operating Expense (2008) $4.32 million $3.1 million

Annual Revenue (2008) $.95 million $.72 million

Farebox Recovery Ratio 21.8% 23.20%

Peak Period Service Frequency

Next Steps:

• The Modern Transit Partnership should consult with local elected officials and key stakeholders to assess the level of interest in and commitment to pursuing both short-term and longer-term public transportation improvements for the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor.

• One approach could be to advance the Maximum Bus Plan as a means of providing near-term improvements while longer-term strategies are formulated and refined. An advantage of this approach is that the transit riding habit along the Corridor could be bolstered, helping to strengthen the case for investment in rail service and lessen the attendant financial risks of the larger rail investment. If this step is taken, more detailed operations planning would need to occur to refine various aspects of the Maximum Bus Plan

• Recognizing that the “order-of-magnitude” demand forecasts developed as part of this study may not fully take into account the potential rail ridership that could be generated by the assortment of major generators in the Hershey area, it would be beneficial to conduct a more in-depth analysis of that topic to help inform the decision-making process regarding possible next steps. Another suggested topic for focused study is to assess the potential for transit-oriented development at the postal service site on Market Street in Harrisburg (the proposed terminus for the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon rail service).

If there is sufficient interest in pursuing the rail alternative, a more detailed Corridor study would be required to refine the engineering analyses, demand estimates, and other findings of the preliminary feasibility study to a level that would address the competitive performance requirements of the “Federal Transit Administration New Starts” program and satisfy basic requirements for funding eligibility.

A thorough economic viability assessment to include capital investment and funding sources, direct and indirect benefits of project implementation, and prospects for generating reliable and adequate sources of funding for ongoing operating expenses should be a key element of future project development efforts for the rail alternative.