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.