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.